Cafe Society: Noodles bar none
Saturday 10 January 1998
Something that bar/restaurant designers would do well to bear in mind: the more cosy touches you give a place, the colder it often seems. Chain outlets often have a chilling effect: sure, the McDonald's/ Planet Hollywood/ Hard Rock experience may be the same all around the world, but the net effect of going into one of these places is that you don't have the faintest sense of where you actually are. Time spent in a theme bar often feels more like a long airport stopover than a pleasurable choice.
Oddly enough, it can also be true that the more impersonal you try to make your premises, the more intimate it actually becomes. Around the corner from Cheers, one of the finest examples of themed soullessness, lies Hamine, a noodle bar where every detail of design belies the warmth of the whole. This is a splendidly spartan place - off-white tiles, wooden wall-benches, plastic-marble tables, black bar stools - where you pay at the counter before you get your food and absolutely no-one ever bothers you with details like their name or the specials for the evening or demands to know whether you enjoyed your food. Instead, any time between 11am and 3am (and in Soho it is always important to know where you can get a cheap carbohydrate rush in the small hours) you simply order and hand over your cash at the front counter and take a seat among the chopsticks, bottles of chilli oil and people remarking about how cheap it is.
Rice is pounds 1, a cup of miso 50p, things to go with it 30p-pounds 1.50. For pounds 6.50, you get a commode-sized bowl of noodle soup with a bit of everything - wontons, fish balls, char siu, prawns, egg, greens - in it.
Customers are a mixture of theatre-goers, late-nighters and trendy Japanese - I'm sure I've sat next to the same silly striped haircut every time I've been in - who read the home-language papers provided on batons or ignore each other in favour of the news channel playing on the telly. Noisy, busy, warm and tasty: this is a perfect antidote both to the pseudo- eastern mystical minimalism of advertising reception areas and the horrors of choosing between 17 flavours of Haagen Dasz.
84 Brewer St, W1 (0171-439 0785)
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