Old Compton Street struts its way through Soho, draped in rainbow flags, and bouncing to its own Euro-disco beat. A well-known gay mecca for Londoners, Old Compton Street never really sleeps. Even in the early hours of the morning, hyperactive energy still buzzes through the bars, gaming arcades, restaurants and clubs. On a corner, opposite the Prince Edward Theatre where Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons reprise their hits each night, sits a small bar and French bistro. Step inside and one leaves behind the camp craziness and enters an alternate Parisian universe, through the doors of the glamourous Café Boheme.
Refurbished a couple of years ago, the bar and restaurant rock a sort of French bistro chic look; pale tiles in a range of shapes and sizes, polished brass rails, and a high metal-topped bar, agleam with sparkling glassware. The bar itself is always popular, rammed with self-satisfied media types who take themselves a tiny bit too seriously. Anytime after 6pm, therefore, space (even sufficient elbow-room to raise a beautifully-shaped wine glass to one's lips) is hard to come by. If one is lucky however you can bag an old wooden pew outside the restaurant, where the dishes on the people-watching menu are second to none.
The wine list is extensive but exclusively French. Beer is more varied, and the cocktails swing from the classics to the Boheme house specials. The restaurant works longer hours than a City banker; producing croissants for breakfast, full lunches and dinners, and burgers and blinis until 2am for hungry post-night-out revelers. I usually meet the Accidental Cousin at Café Boheme expressly for the Steak-Frites, which comes accompanied by a close, and extremely welcome, friend; one of the best Bearnaise sauces in London.
Service is swift, if not exactly with a smile - this is a truly French restaurant, where waiting on tables is no joke. There is always a slight cloud over the freshly-laundered tablecloth however, as one is usually granted a table with the caveat that it is yours for two hours, and not a minute more. I always imagine a row of little stopclocks behind the bar; "Alors, Marie! Ze couple next to ze weendow have unly deux minutes more. Prepare ze leetle table scraper and ze clean wine glasses!"
I never regret either a meal or a single glass of post-work wine at Café Boheme, but if one wants to eat I advise reserving a table in person or over the phone. A recent online booking I made was denied existence with the ferocity of a Frenchman defending the honour of his cheese against an upstart English dairy-farmer. Such shrugging and eye-rolling is rarely seen outside of a Parisian tabac. And with such truly French touches as these, Café Boheme has created a wonderfully unique corner for itself within a very British city - Viva la vie Boheme!