There are plenty of cheap restaurants in London, but low prices and high quality cooking don’t always go together. Although Soho Joe servers up burgers, pastas and a grab bag of other Italian dishes, its main selling point is its cheap pizzas. Soho Joe occupies what was once the site of the Dean Street branch of Hamburger Union, retaining that defunct chain’s wooden semi-communal tables. Although I’d passed by the place on many occasions, I’d never felt compelled to actually go in until one weekday lunchtime when I was need in of an inexpensive lunch with Higgs-Boson, Socialist Worker, Templeton Peck and Porn Master.
Even with the old Hamburger Union fittings, Soho Joe feels like the merger of a student common room with a canteen given the profusion of local theatre posters, the counter at which you place and pay for your order and the bustling hordes of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed clientele.
Few come more bright-eyed than Higgs-Boson who appeared to have some sort of vendetta against vegetables that day, noshing on meatballs in a tomato sauce topped with parmesan and accompanied with nothing more than a chunk of ciabatta bread. There were no complaints about the warm fluffy ciabatta and its crispy exterior. The meatballs, which were ready to go mere seconds after ordering, were rather ordinary though – mildly coarse, but quite dry and lacking in character. The puddle of rather bland tomato sauce wasn’t very impressive either.
Socialist Worker derived sustenance from the symbolic food of the capitalist overlords – the hamburger. The split ciabatta did a good job of holding the burger together, but Socialist Worker wasn’t impressed with the quality of the beef patty. Cooked well-done and smooth in texture, the patty was far too dry and bland. At least the chips were cut from whole chunks of potato and weren’t dripping with oil.
Both Templeton Peck and I opted for the chorizo pizza, but it seems there’s little to distinguish chorizo from pepperoni when used as a pizza topping. The only differences that I could discern, and they were slight, was that the slices of chorizo were a bit thicker and saltier than the average slice of pepperoni. The thin base was crispy in places and soft and pliable in others. The red peppers were distinctly sweet, but the olives felt like an afterthought and were lacking in zing. The mozzarella didn’t leave much of an impression either.
Porn Master’s Napoli pizza appeared to be almost identical to our chorizo pizzas, but lacking the olives and with the chorizo replaced by chunks of chicken breast. Porn Master didn’t seem to have any complaints, but he didn’t seem especially enthused either.
While the others were content to slurp down the usual assortment of soft drinks, my eye was drawn to the selection of flavoured iced teas and I went for the dansom plum option. It was piss poor though – watery with only a slight artificial saccaharin-like sweetness to relieve the mundanity of it all. A selection of wines, beers and even Pimm’s is available if you’re so inclined.
Soho Joe is cheap, but it’s not especially cheerful. The pizzas can’t hope to match the accomplished beauty of the similarly priced pizzas at Franco Manca, but they’re not bad and are certainly edible. Plus Soho Joe is in a more accessible location for most. The burgers, on the other hand, aren’t worth bothering with at all, especially when better quality options such as Byron and Meat Liqour are mere stone throws away.
Soho Joe isn’t a restaurant – it’s a filling station for your stomach in the middle of a working day or just before a heavy night out and sometimes there’s nothing wrong with that.
Name: Soho Joe
Address: 22-25 Dean Street, London, W1D 3RY
Phone: 07534 1343985
Opening Hours: seven days a week 07.00-00.00.
Reservations: not taken.
Total cost for one person: £10 approx.
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I had been to this place for breakfast a few times in 2015. It is a nice relaxed-looking place and I made a mental note to make it a hang-out and meeting spot when I was in Soho. It was always a shame that the waiting staff would never come to the table to take an order.
A few days ago on a nice weekday summer’s afternoon I had a business meeting with an associate I had never met before. There were probably as many as six customers at the venue. This turned into a two hour meeting in the course of which I had a soft drink and she had a coffee. At the end of the meeting, she left and I went to the cashier to pay.
The owner and his wife were standing close by and she made a comment about that being a nice two hours of office time saved for me. They both complained at me at how little I spent and how if I had come at a busy time and spent what I had, they would have actually thrown me out of the place.
I decided to laugh the encounter off. I said that I had been several times in the past for breakfast and that I liked it because it was quiet and the staff didn’t keep trying to push the menu at me. The husband and wife team then actually took sides against me on this. The husband also said that he had listened into our entire conversation and proceeded to make various comments about what had been a production meeting, saying ‘we get them all in here’. I was trying to decide if this pair were just characters and went along with the encounter.
On reflection, the incident made me feel very uncomfortable and I was surprised that the proprietors seemed to know nothing about all the small orders adding up to quite a lot of money over the course of a month and of the importance of repeat business. I have decided not to go back. I don’t like people fawning all over me when I go to their venue but this was at the opposite end of the scale really.