Cafe Monico is a recently-opened brasserie effort from Soho House, in collaboration with chef Rowley Leigh.
Only a few blocks down from the original Soho House (which is under renovations until 2018), Cafe Monico is their new French-Italian brasserie concept, sitting on a piece of prime Shaftesbury real estate; across from China Town and not far from Piccadilly Circus.
The original Cafe Monico was opened back in 1877 – before Shaftesbury Avenue was even a street! Founded by brothers Giacomo and Battista Monico, the cafe was at the midway point between Piccadilly and Soho – and survived the 1885 initial construction of Shaftesbury Avenue.
The Cafe finally was forced to closed its doors in the 1950s, when Piccadilly Circus was expanded – a victim of the ever-evolving landscape and city planning of London’s West End.
The new Cafe Monico is right down the street from the original and feels straight out of the Great Gatsby roaring ’20s. It’s a two-story art deco design that features a mezzanine level where diners can look down on one of the most complete, vintage bars I’ve ever seen. Wood paneling, beautiful floor tiles, and leather studded chairs abound as all attention is drawn to the central chandelier and bar. Leonardo Di Caprio, eat your heart out.
It’s important to note that despite the posh interior and classy wait staff, a breakfast at Cafe Monico will only cost you around £6-10. Not too shabby for an eggs benedict or scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. My lunch – with a starter, burger, and drink – was only about £25. The brasserie has somehow managed to offer up incredible prices (at least for now) despite what you’d expect in the W1D post code.
They specialize in shellfish, pastas, salumi, grilled meats and fish in a traditional brasserie setting. And the cocktails and aperitifs made by neatly appointed bar staff are excellent as well.I began with the grilled octopus starter, served with heirloom tomatoes and hummus. It was delicious and meaty, served simply with no fanfare or fuss. It was a good sized starter for a casual lunch meeting, and a great lead-in to the burger!
The Cafe Monico cheeseburger is a pretty sizable affair. £15 gets you the cheeseburger topped with red wine shallots, melted cheese, fresh veggies and a decent portion of chips. £15 is higher than you’d pay for a burger at a Byron or Honest Burgers, but less than the upper-end of the London burger spectrum, like Hawksmoor, where £15 gets you a burger by its lonesome, with no cheese or fries.
The size of the beef patty is XL. It’s huge. Behemoth… Hand-packed to the exact circumference of the bun, pleasing my inner OCD kid, the patty is thicker and juicer than many I’ve tried in London.
The meat is cooked a bit beyond what I asked for, but I’ll forgive them that trespass for the fact that the beef was flavourful, peppery, and delicious. It reminded me of the burgers at Meat Mission, but clearly stood out from them as a higher quality of ground beef.
The brioche bun was fluffy on top and just barely up to the task of containing the juice on the bottom. Structural integrity was waning towards the end! The cheese and red wine shallots didn’t get in the way of the beef as the star; and the fact that they served the tomato and lettuce on the side means I could customize as I saw fit. Something I wish more burger places would allow for!
The fries were good and top-quality as one would expect with the £15 price for them and a burger. Again, a generous portion that I didn’t finish, unlike the burger which was gone in a matter of minutes. The staff is still new and getting their feet under them, but the overall experience at Cafe Monico was great. I would recommend it at any time of day for a nice breakfast, a client lunch or a post-work cocktail.
Cafe Monico stands out on ‘new’ Shaftesbury Avenue as a nostalgia for what once was – a classier version of this major London thoroughfare. Now specked with a coffee shop every few meters and a West End theatre ticket re-seller on every corner, Soho House has established a refuge from the Shaftebury bustle in the spirit of the 1920s that I’ll definitely be coming back to in the near future.
You can visit Cafe Monico at 39-45 Shaftesbury Ave, W1D 6LA or check out their website here.
Cafe Monico Burger – 42/50
Beef (9): Large and in charge. This juicy beef is huge in proportions and flavour
Bun (8): Grilled brioche with a light fluffiness that few burger places can match
Toppings (7): Understated, yet fresh and in the right proportion to the rest of the burger
Value (8): at £15 for the burger and a side of fries, this is an above average value for a upscale burger
Ambiance (10): I really enjoyed my lunch on the mezzanine, looking down upon the bar staff rapidly preparing for the 6pm after-work crowd.