I have London on the brain. The Brit and I stayed in Vancouver over Christmas, but a little part of me wishes we had gone to England, because London really showed up for the party – did you see any of this on Instagram??
Having travelled solo a fair amount, I am comfortable being in my own company; but there are many times when I’ve been away and wanted to share a moment, or just have someone (that I know) to talk to. Be that partner or friend. That’s why I loved being on the recent trip with my girlfriends, particularly when we were in London. It was really wonderful to share a city that I’ve become quite fond of with some of my favourite people.
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!
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.
(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 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. 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 ~
As I’ve been preparing for my upcoming holiday (One week until takeoff!), I’ve been going through the photos from my last trip to Europe in summer 2015. (What did I see, what did I miss?) And I came across the photos from a sunny stroll around London that I absolutely loved.
My Airbnb was in a beautiful neighbourhood in an area called Lambeth, which leads on to the South Bank of the Thames from the Lambeth Walk. My good Edinburgh friend, Jim, travels to London a lot for work and had suggested an extension of my regular routine – with a few of his favourite stops – when I told him how much I love to walk along the South Bank. (And because he knows I am a long-time musical theatre geek. There’s a song called “The Lambeth Walk” from the 1937 musical Me and My Girl that was written about (three guesses!) Lambeth Walk. Needless to say, I had a little bounce in my step as I hummed my way along in my head. The locals must have thought I was nuts.)
Jim also gave me a destination that was right up my alley: the 300-year-old historical Twinings London Flagship Store. And so, from Lambeth to the Strand, this my South Bank Stroll.
Should you not be staying near Lambeth (or not be inclined to whistle or hum your way down the walk – it’s okay, I forgive you), and war history is your thing, a good starting point for this wander is the Imperial War Museum’s London branch (Tube Stop: Lambeth North). The Churchill War Rooms are housed here and the set of exhibits “tells the people’s experiences of modern war from WW1 to conflicts today”. Admission is free – a get thrifty bonus that you will find with most museums in the UK.
From there, get your step on for a 30-40 minute walk along the South Bank.
Never mind Big Ben and Westminster (though they are spectacular). I love these lamp posts along the Thames because they have such fabulous expression and character. They are apparently based on the Fontana del Nettuno in Rome.
While the lineup at the London Eye always deters me from experiencing it, I do love to photograph it. It’s also a good landmark for me if I ever feel a bit lost. This area is very touristy, but is a good spot to pick up some reasonably priced postcards or London themed souvenirs from the street vendors.
One of Jim’s instructions was for me to skip the Westminster and Jubilee Bridges, and though I’m quite partial to Westminster Bridge (the South Bank Lion makes my day), I listened and went to Waterloo Bridge. There’s a song by The Kinks called “Waterloo Sunset” that I was instructed to sing when I got there, but that was not happening. (Sorry, Jim!) Should you know the song, go for it.
When you get across the bridge, you might want to stop at Somerset House to see one of the exhibits. When I was out and about, I was on a tea mission (and it was way too nice out!), but Somerset House is on my list for this next trip. It’s a beautiful building, as is the very impressive Australian High Commission. (My photo does not do it justice…)
If you’re like me and send a million postcards, the post office is en route to the Twinings shop and museum. Pop your postcards in the mailbox and walk thirty seconds to enter a tea lover’s paradise – final destination: the Twinings London Flagship Store. Single tea bags? No sweat. Gift sets? Done. Make your own tea box or buy a fancy tea set? You’re in the right spot. The get thrifty portion of the day was officially over. I bought a lot of tea.
If you have willpower (clearly, I didn’t), initially ignore the things to purchase and march to the back to check out the museum portion of things and have a “cuppa” or tea tasting experience at the tasting bar. The classic Earl Grey is spot on.
I think I clocked about 25,000 steps that day. (At least!) Thank you to Jim for the suggested deviation from my usual Westminster Bridge stroll.
What’s your favourite stroll in your city or somewhere you’ve travelled?
You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.
~ C. S. Lewis ~
I’m incredibly excited to be going back to London in June, this time on a girls’ trip with my besties. Some exciting things have been lined up for this trip and I’m looking forward to sharing our adventures!
I recently had dinner with my friend Stef, who I hadn’t seen in years but had stayed connected with through the wonders of technology. Thank you, Facebook. Stef is one of the most adventurous people I know. (Who else would semi-randomly move to Ghana??) Her most recent adventure has been living in London the past two years.
Stef is also a blogger*, so while we were having a proper catch up over a delicious Asian fusion dinner at Wild Rice (on the Quay in my stomping grounds of New Westminster – check it out. Tasty stuff.), I asked her if she would do a guest post about her adventures as an ex-pat in London. When I read what she sent, it made me think of this quote and what nice segue it would be:
We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.
From the time I was born I was always a little restless – my curiosity can only be satiated for a short while before I’m onto the next musing or adventure. Although this constant need for change and stimulation has brought on many challenges – not to mention occasional sleepless nights – it’s also brought me more riches than I could ever imagine!
Back in the spring of 2012, I knew it was time to end my current adventure in West Africa (That’s a whole other story!) and my next step was an easy choice. Over the course of my time in Ghana I had spent many extended weekends visiting London, and I had completely fallen in love! A little research, picking the brains of some friends and a thorough visa process, I made a quick whirlwind trip home to Vancouver to pack and give my love before becoming a UK resident.
And what a crazy couple of years it has been! I could spend hours talking about my love for this city without exaggerating one iota. It’s the epicentre for all things art, which means weekends are full of shows, galleries, exhibits or strolls through neighbourhoods laden with incredible street art. London is a foodie’s dream, and I credit this on its incredible tapestry of culture. Coming from a diversified city like Vancouver, I thought I understood multiculturalism – but the “melting pot” I was used to at home is nothing like the clearly identifiable nationalities you see in London. You know that your local eats – be it Peruvian to Lebanese – are as authentic as can be.
Yes, this is one of the world’s biggest cities and is full of hype and bustling in the city centre, but there’s no place that feels cozier to me than my little Chelsea neighbourhood where my coffee shop knows exactly what I caffeinate with, and I can cycle through the market on a Saturday to get fresh produce. With so many ex-pats living in one spot, London has been the most welcoming and easiest place to make friends with everyone in the same boat.
Moving to a new city always comes with its challenges, and by far, London posed the most for me. I’ve never been a person to worry about buying a coffee every morning or what wine I was ordering in a restaurant, but let me tell you, job hunting for eight months while converting Canadian dollars to British pounds will suck the fun out of any purchase! My £1,200 rent didn’t seem so “reasonable” when it syphoned more than $2000 out of my Canadian account each month. Also, little surprises like what’s referred to as “counsel tax” in the UK – aka: a neighbourhood specific tax paid by the residents, NOT the home owners, for park upkeep, garbage pick-up and other common amenities. Surprise! You owe another £170 this month – oh, wait, that’s $300. Needless to say, when I finally landed my permanent job I celebrated hard… with really cheap wine.
I have spent the last two years of my life outside of my comfort zone in many different ways, and am definitely not the same girl who arrived to Heathrow in 2012. I’ve made more mistakes than I can count. I’ve nearly fallen flat on my face a time or two, and undoubtedly would have had it not been for my incredible family and friends! But, all in all, I have learned more about my own strengths and limitations, and who I am and what I want out of this life in a way I never thought possible.
If you were to ask me if I would do it all again, the answer is yes. A million times, yes. Would I do things differently? Absolutely. But this is how I know these years have been pivotal for me – if I were to do everything the same way I did, then what would I learn? Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is never, well, comfortable! But it’s truly where self-discovery comes from, and for me the most important lesson was appreciating all of the little things around me that are so easily taken for granted.
So it’s finally happening. I’m officially on vacation/working abroad. With my husband. For a month. 🙂 The two weeks prior to leaving were, let’s say full; both at home (packing, etc) and at work with all the corporate holiday chaos and working my tail off to finish everything before I left. And I only got partly through my holiday baking. Baking and yoga are my de-stressers, and full out yoga has been out lately because of my shoulder. So not having time to do all my holiday baking was a bit of a letdown. But you know what? I’m on holiday/working abroad now. Yay!!!! We are now in Edinburgh after a week in Napoli and I have copious amounts of photos and notes to sift through. And so, on today’s lunch break, I attempt round one.