Before I left for my trip in May, I quizzed my expat colleagues about where the girls and I should eat and drink for our three nights in London. They all recommended one neighbourhood: Soho. Though I’ve been to London many times, Soho is an area that — aside from the theatres — I hadn’t paid much attention to. Now that I’ve explored the area a bit, I can safely say shame on me. Let’s go!
Located in London’s West End, Soho is the city’s nightlife hot spot. It has morphed and adapted over the decades from being the place to find certain company and activities (you know what I mean), to the hub of the rag trade and mod 60s culture, to music central, and now, where one goes to the theatre. Plus a few things in between. With the 21st century came hipsters and a culinary rejuvenation. Mixed with trendy shops, theatres, and a few cheeky reminders of the area’s more notorious history, Soho is now a multicultural foodie paradise.
With that, where to start?? So many restaurants and bars tucked into the nooks and alleyways make the decision of where to eat, and where to find the best gin and tonic (important!) a bit of a challenge. (Particularly when on a budget in a country whose currency is whooping yours’ behind.) That’s where Eating London Tours comes in with their Twilight Soho Food & Cocktails Tour.
The Soho Tour Breakdown
- Walking tour through Soho
- Six restaurants/bars
- Sizable appetizer servings and beverages at each stop
- Amazing tour guide to walk you through Soho’s history and current culture
- 3-4 hours of fun!
The tour starts outside the Palace Theatre, where you can look on with envy at those picking up their Harry Potter tickets. We were a mixed group of Canadian, Aussie, Irish, and Russian nationals, which was a reminder that wherever you’re from in the world, food is a universal language. ❤️
Our tour guide, Ashleigh, was fabulous. Her enthusiasm for food and sharing the history of the area was contagious. Not that we weren’t excited to be there, but having a happy and engaging tour guide is always a bonus!
1. La Bodega Negra
(Website / 16 Moor Street, Soho)
Located in what used to be a peep-show shop, our first stop was La Bodega Negra, for some traditional Mexican tacos and margaritas. Mexican food in London? Si. And it was delicious Mexican food. My love for cooking started in Mexico, so I’m picky about this type of cuisine. But La Bodega Negra won me over.
A zippy spin on British fave fish and chips with mushy peas was served in the traditional house-made tacos and made for a on the British favourites. Frozen strawberry margaritas were on the menu for our group, but as I’m allergic to strawberries, I ended up with a refreshing lime margarita on the rocks.
The girls and I ended up back at La Bodega Negra the next night after going to the theatre, and it was hopping. No lineup, but full and boisterous with a really great party vibe. The margaritas are a bit pricey for the size, but for the variety and quality of tequila, it’s worth it. Also, on point tequila-to-lime ratio.
2. The London Gin Club
(Website / 22 Great Chapel St.)
Our next stop was The Gin Club at The Star. Housed in a 1930’s cocktail bar, it’s a family run establishment where, Julia, the owner, makes the in-house gin. As one of my friends, Alison, is all about a G&T, this was her jam.
On entry, we were brought down a staircase to a gorgeous room tiled to look like tube station so we could enjoy a gin-infused beef pie (yum!). And while we chewed, we were taught how to properly pour and enjoy a gin and tonic. FYI: The bowl of the glass should be large in order to better smell and taste the gin, and — because it’s all about flavour preference — your tonic should be poured by YOU. Not the bartender. (Which means about 90% of bartenders are doing this wrong. Huh.)
On one of my next trips to London, I plan on going back so I can do a proper tasting flight. That way, I can make a (very small) dent in the 360(!) types of gin available to try.
3. Enrique Tomás
(Website / 132 Wardour Street)
This was probably my favourite stop on the tour. More so a shop than an eatery, establishments like Enrique Tomás is essentially the reason I don’t think I could be a vegetarian or vegan. I really and truly enjoy pork products and I am not ashamed to admit it. Prosciutto makes my mouth water. And now I’m crushing on its Spanish cousin, jamón, with its melt-in-your-mouth amazing goodness.
We sat at the large table near the back of the shop, with a placemat illustrating the different kinds of jamón, and how and where it gets raised. Lovely Spanish red wine was poured to go with the strategically plated ham and manchego cheese. Shortly after, a very shy, but passionate employee guided us through our delicious tasting journey. It was an unexpected prep session for the upcoming Barcelona leg of our trip, and I could have stayed there and eaten for the rest of the evening.
*Update (August 2022) – Due to Brexit regulations, Enrique Tomás is temporarily closed.
4. Pix Pintxos
(Website / 16 Bateman St.)
Feeling quite happy, we were ushered by Ashleigh to Pix Bar, where we continued the Spanish theme of things. With four locations in London, Pix Bar is where you want to go to get your tapas, or pintxos fix. (FYI: Pintxos are Basque snacks skewered with wooden sticks. We filed this tidbit away for Barcelona.)
The Soho location is great for people watching and is frequented by a lot of media. If you’re up for a bit of mischief, there’s a cocktail bar in the basement called Rooms by the Hour. Which, P.S., used to be a 1970’s adult cinema. (As I said earlier, Soho has a past.
The tour includes two pintxos skewers. Make sure you scope it all out, like a buffet, before you choose. Because there’s a lot to select from to go with the fabulous white wine they serve you, called Txakoli. As far as white wines go, Txakoli is very dry and has a subtle sparkle to it. Served with great fanfare, it’s rather impressively poured from a height — no spills! Tom Cruise has nothing on these bartenders.
(Website / The Jade Door, 15-16 Gerrard St.)
Our next stop was Opium, located in what we found out is Europe’s largest Chinatown. Chinatown isn’t technically part of Soho, but I’m so glad that it was on this tour. You’ll find Opium located behind a jade-coloured door guarded by a very polite bouncer. Styled like a Shanghai opium den, there are three floors and multiple rooms. Be prepared to climb some stairs — I promise it’s worth the climb.
Our reward for the stair-climb was a Chinese tea cocktail and some incredibly tasty dim sum. The cocktail reminded me of a more exciting version of kombucha. Be careful, it’s easy to drink. Also, take note: Chinese tradition dictates that you don’t ever pour your own drink. This means your cup will never be empty.
6. Basement Sate
(Website / 8 Broadwick St.)
The last stop on our tour, Basement Sate is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gem with an unmarked door and a very discreet plaque. We got to the top of the stairs and the first thing one of my friends said was “I don’t want to leave”. I concurred. We hadn’t even sat down yet. But that’s the reaction this very Manhatten-like cocktail and dessert bar will elicit from most. Yes, cocktails AND desserts.
One sparkly cocktail and an incredible hazelnut treat later, we asked Ashleigh if there was any way we could stay. The tour needs to end in a certain spot, but she made our little quartet a reservation to come back a bit later. We went back and it felt like we were on a girls’ night out in an episode of Sex and the City. Basement Sate is on point. I recommend the Notting Hill.
Life and work have made it so we don’t get to see each other very often, so I really loved getting to be out on the town having fancy G&T’s with three of my best friends.
#GetThrifty in London with a food tour
This tour was a fantastic introduction to the London Soho restaurant and bar scene and was great value for money. It’s definitely the most budget-friendly #GetThrifty way to experience a cool area of an expensive city. Think about it this way: on a girls’ night out, you might take turns buying the next round, but that adds up — especially when you include food and gratuity (usually added on to the bill for you by the establishment you are in).
With that in mind, and if you’re keen to explore more of London’s food scene in an economical fashion, Eating London also has Brick Lane (Indian food) and East End (comfort food) tours. Additionally, the company’s parent company also has tours in Rome, Florence, Amsterdam, and Prague. You can tell they have worked to cultivate relationships with their restaurant partners and everything is top-notch. I highly recommend checking them out.
Make sure you wear your walking shoes and, if you’re in London, have an umbrella. I’ve also shared more London tips here.
#GetThrifty – The lovely Ashleigh gave us a 10% discount code to use for future tours, and I’m so happy to share with you. Visit Eating London’s website and enter ASHLEIGH when at the payment page to get the discount. Every penny helps!
People who love to eat are always the best people.— Julia Child