With so much going on in Soho, gems like the Nellie Dean can pass unnoticed, obliterated by the bigger signs and louder sounds coming from the competition. Miss it and miss out.
Nellie Dean has been serving since 1721 and it looks every inch the classic traditional British pub. The ground floor has the larger of two bars, a padded bench hugging the walls, old-timer chairs and tables, stools by the bar and enough plants in pots, quirky lamps and other random objects to confer some personality. Upstairs, a second room hosts another bar, more seating and - the highlight - a pool table. Nellie Dean may be old but it’s not stuffy: rather than sipping a beer in an imposing historical venue, the place is relaxed and looks very much like your favourite local.
In the case of Nellie Dean, location is crucial: hidden away near Oxford Street, Nellie Dean is far enough from the tourist action to avoid the madness. There are youngish media types but this is not Golden Square - pretentiousness is left outside the door and the crowd is composed of refreshingly normal office workers and friends meeting centrally. Clearly this pub is a local favourite: it’s considerably busier than its neighbours. The reasons for its success? The atmosphere is pleasant and uncomplicated, the environment cosy, and the music contemporary and upbeat. They even have a film club on Mondays and free pool on Wednesdays.
Nellie Dean boasts some of the most affordable pub food in Soho. Don’t expect anything elaborate. Most options are pub staples although there are notable exceptions, especially in the smaller bites (£2.50-£4.50) which include roast vegetable and cous cous wraps, nachos, hummous with pitta and others. The mains (£4.50-£7) bring you back to old Blighty, with battered haddock with chips, Cumberland sausage with mash, Pieminister pies (a bargain at £5.25), lamb shank, their own beef stroganoff and more.
It is hard to find a pint in Soho under £3 - Sam Smith's aside - so Nellie Dean’s £3.50-£4 range is pretty standard. The choice is good with draughts like Pilsner Urquell, Carling, Kronenbourg, Staropramen, Hoegaarden, Becks Vier, and at least four ales, including Deuchar's IPA and rare guest ales like Redemption’s Urban Dusk. Beer bottles (£3.50) include Peroni, Becks, Tiger and Heineken, and you can pick from more than fifteen bottles of cheapish wine - £3-£4 for small glass, £4-£6 for large and £12-£18 per bottle.
The Last Word
Nellie Dean has got it all: a decent crowd, cheap food, a good selection of beers and a location which allows you to steer clear from the worst bits of Soho. It’s no surprise that this historical pub is still going strong.