If you’re expecting a curry house, you might be surprised when you stumble upon the historic, thriving heritage pub and live music venue that is the Spice of Life.
With an imposing presence on Cambridge Circus in the heart of the West End, right next to the Palace Theatre, this majestic pub could easily have become a bland and overpriced tourist trap. Instead, the Spice of Life is a Soho landmark that has charmed Londoners and visitors alike since the 1890s with good food, friendly surroundings and an impressive live music heritage.
Upstairs is sizeable and spacious with plenty of seating, whilst the heart of the Spice is downstairs in the Backstage Bar – a low-key music den that in its time has seen performances by greats such as Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens and the Sex Pistols. These days you can catch live performances of almost every genre from jazz and blues to classical, rock, indie, funk and soul. The pub’s decor makes the most of the building’s historical fixtures with small touches like wall-mounted lanterns, vintage chandeliers, tassel-sashed curtains and tartan carpet adding to the immaculately presented, pleasing surroundings.
Its prominent position means the Spice of Life is nearly always buzzing with local workers, theatregoers and passer-bys. There’s only one TV that is hardly ever on, which means you can avoid rowdy sporting crowds in favour of a relaxed pint and conversation. When the gigs get going, the place to be is in the basement bar downstairs, which packs a lively crowd.
The menu is large by pub standards with solid, hearty dishes that appeal to everyone. An all-day breakfast butty for £5.45 is a notable inclusion while other well-priced favourites like Cajun chicken quesadilla with skinny fries (£5.95) and a grilled halloumi and aubergine burger with tomato salsa (£7.95) are delicious. The Spice of Life is also a great place for traditional nosh like chargrilled ham and eggs, fish and chips, burgers or a steak sandwich - all a bargain at under 8 quid - or mussels, falafal flatbread or mackerel fillet if you fancy something a little different.
The prices are admirable for an area renowned for being overpriced. You can get a small glass of white wine from £3.10 (and from £11.95 for a bottle) and pints from the £3 mark. Beers on tap are limited to Heineken, Kronenbourg, Erdinger Weiss and Fosters plus some McMullen real ales, but in bottles you’ll get Corona, San Miguel, Tiger, Budweiser, Becks and the more unusual Kaliber and Newcastle Brown Ale.
The Last Word
For bands, burgers and well priced beer this Soho stalwart is a must. After all, if it's good enough for Bob Dylan and the Sex Pistols.