Before I left for my trip in May, I was quizzing my expat colleagues about where the girls and I should eat and drink for our three nights in London. They all recommended one place: Soho. Though I’ve been to London many times, it was an area that, aside from the theatres, I had no paid much attention to. Having now explored a bit, I can safely say shame on me.
Located in the West End of London, Soho is London’s nightlife hot spot. It has morphed, chameleon-like 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 60’s culture, to music central, and where one goes to the theatre. Plus a few things in between. With the 21st century came the 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.
- 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!
Now let’s break it down:
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 incredibly 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. Good Mexican food. My love for cooking started in Mexico, so I’m picky, but I was very impressed.
A play on fish and chips and mushy peas was served in the traditional house-made tacos and made for a zippy spin on some British favourites. Frozen strawberry margaritas were on the menu for our group, but as I’m allergic to strawberries, I ended up with a lime margarita on the rocks. If you know me, you know this made me the happiest camper.
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 multiple kinds of tequila that they use, it’s worth it. On point tequila to lime ratio.
2. THE LONDON GIN CLUB (Website / 22 Great Chapel St.)
Next stop was The Gin Club at The Star. The building used to be a 1930’s cocktail bar and is now a family run establishment where, Julia, the owner, makes the in-house gin. And it’s fabulous. One of my friends, Alison, is all about a G&T. So this was her jam.
We were brought down a staircase to a tube station like room and served gin infused beef pie (yum!) while we were taught how to properly pour and enjoy a gin and tonic. (The bowl of the glass should be larger 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. So 90% of bars outside of the UK are doing this wrong. Huh.) Next time I’m in London, I plan on going back so I can do a proper tasting flight and make a very small dent in the 360(!) kinds of gin they have available.
3. ENRIQUE TOMAS (Website / 132 Wardour Street)
This was hands down my favourite stop of the tour. More a shop than a restaurant, Enrique Tomás is essentially the reason I won’t ever 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 were 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 ham and manchego cheese all strategically placed on our plates, and 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.
4. PIX PINTXOS (Website / 16 Bateman St.)
Feeling incredibly 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. (Pintxos are Basque snacks skewered with wooden sticks. This knowledge was filed away for Barcelona and came very handy.) The Soho location is great for people watching and it 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. (In case you missed it, Soho has a past. Ha.)
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. It’s served with great fanfare, poured from a height, with no spills. Tom Cruise has nothing on these bartenders.
5. OPIUM (Website / The Jade Door, 15-16 Gerrard St.)
Next stop was Opium, in what we found out is Europe’s largest Chinatown. It’s technically not part of Soho, but I’m so glad that it was on this tour. Opium is located behind a jade coloured door with a very polite bouncer standing guard. 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.
We were treated to a Chinese tea cocktail and incredibly tasty dim sum. The cocktail reminded me of a more exciting version of kombucha. Be careful, it’s easy to drink. Chinese tradition is that you don’t ever pour your own drink. Your cup will be refilled, a lot.
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.
This tour was a fantastic introduction to Soho’s restaurant and bar scene and was great value for money. It’s definitely the most budget friendly way to experience a cool area of an expensive city. If you think about it, on a girls’ night out, you might take turns buying rounds, 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).
In addition to Soho, Eating London also has Brick Lane (Indian food) and East End (comfort food) options in London. Eating Europe also has tours in Italy, 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. Enjoy!
#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 ~