August 2014

Many creatives are able to lend their eye, hand or taste buds to a variety of different disciplines. However specialising and succeeding in these fields is what makes a true polymath. Soli Zardosht definitely falls into the latter of these categories, as she left her role as a successful menswear designer to combine her Persian heritage and love of cooking, to bring a taste of the Middle East to Dalston.

Soli is the resident chef at Cafe OTO, a music and arts venue in east London that fuses jazz, world music and the mesmerizing Middle Eastern food Soli creates. Living and working in Hackney, we knew Soli would provide us with some nuggets on the best bits of London and so she kindly agreed to give us her guide to the city.

Your spot for people watching The best place for people watching would have to be my own garden in Hackney, which looks out onto Regent's Canal. I love to plant myself there, with the cat at my feet and surrounded by beautiful flowers, and watch the world go by, ideally with a glass of wine in my hand.

Favourite coffee shopI am from Iran, so good tea is more important to me. That said, Cafe OTO in Dalston was a huge favourite of mine long before I became resident chef there. I love the atmosphere, it is the sort of place you can spent hours. I also meet friends on Broadway Market, which is another home from home, or the delicious Violet Cakes on Wilton Way.

Cafe OTO

Which parts of London inspire your workHackney and Soho for their colourful mix of great restaurants, shops, cafes and people. When I was a fashion student, I used to walk around Soho for hours on end.

Favourite building in LondonOn a train back from the south coast recently I was reminded how much I love the breathtaking Battersea power station. I also have a huge soft spot for the neglected beauty of Shoreditch's Boundary Estate, London's first ever public housing estate and a place I lived for many years. I also love the Liberty's building on Regent Street - inside and out.

Street with the best shopsA midweek stroll of the area around Redchurch Street is always interesting. Camden Passage in Islington also has a cosy feel with its combination of vintage stalls, antique shops, cafes and boutiques. A visit to Columbia Road is part of my Sunday ritual - I always return home with a dozen bunches of flowers. I offer samples of my Persian food to my favourite stall holders in exchange for flowers, they like that I'm also a market trader.

Columbia Road Flower Market

Favourite book shopI hate to admit it but I seldom have the time to visit book shops these days. It also does not help that a great friend works in one and supplies me with a regular flow of the best magazines and books.

Where to go to get a cold beerI am not one for beer, but I do like an early evening glass of wine or a gin and tonic, probably at a lovely London pub with great big windows allowing in lots of natural light...The Eagle in Clerkenwell is nice as is The Windsor Castle in Clapton, which also has a lovely garden at the back.

Or a cocktailI think cocktails are very personal, a bit like perfume. I love them especially when the bartender makes you something off the menu. Viajante and Claridges both serve delicious cocktails. But the best in London are made by my friend Bryon Knight from Off Broadway and Liquor Store.

Where do you go to let your hair downMy scape is to spend time with my family, friends and boyfriend.

Favourite art galleryThe Tate Modern if I am showing around friends from out of town. But I also love Hackney's Geffrye Museum. It is just minutes from my home and despite being so close to the busy Kingsland Road it has a tremendous calm about it. I love to escape to the fragrant herb gardens at the back, where I can daydream and pretend to be in the country.

Geffrye Museum

Your place for lunchAt home, where I can make exactly what I want. Having said that, If I was in town, I'd probably drop in at Honey & Co or Koya Bar.

Your standard (lunch) orderDinner is the highlight of my day, so I tend to go light with lunch. Perhaps Padron peppers (when I can get them) or a big bunch of griddled asparagus with sea salt, crumbly feta and a few cherry tomatoes. Perfect.

Your favourite marketBroadway Market of course, where I launched my food career with the help of my family and boyfriend.

Tip for an out-of-townerCome east, walk everywhere and forget about Buckingham Palace and Madame Tussauds.

Recommendation for a romantic dinner for two/dateSomewhere unfussy with great food and a relaxing atmosphere such as Jose Pizarro in Bermondsey, Little Ivy's in Clapton or Brawn on Columbia Road. Just order a few plates and share a bottle of wine - simple.

A must do for someone who has never been to the city beforeIt might be busy but a walk along the Southbank is beautiful. Or stroll along the Regent's Canal from Islington to Victoria Park.

The music track you associate with your life in LondonIf There Is Something by Roxy MusicOne reason to love LondonWhere do I start? I can't think of a single reason not to love a city which has been my home for such a long time. I tried to leave a few years ago but felt so home-sick I moved back three months later.