London’s Soho Food Tour: exquisite restaurants and local cocktail bars

I don’t know about you, but food is a very important part of my life. And if I think about it, that’s probably the reason why I can’t seem to be able to lose any weight and prepare my “beach body” for summer, no matter how much time I spend at the gym.

I love food! In one word, I am a declared foodie and I can never say no to an invitation of trying out new restaurants and new cuisines. During my trips around the world I have joined many cooking classes but I never actually taken a food tour. I have however noticed how these kind of tours have recently grow a lot in popularity and the idea of experiencing a food tour of London has been on my mind for quite some time.

Last month, during the Traverse17 conference I was invited to take part in the Twilight Soho Food and Cocktail Tour organised by Eating London Food Tour, in which I got a chance to experience the amazing restaurant scene of London’s most eclectic and vibrant neighborhood.

Soho is the centre of London’s entertainment scene: a multicultural hub with fantastic nightlife, high quality theatre plays and historic music venues (like the Marquee Club or the Trident Studios), upmarket restaurants, British fashion boutiques (on Carnaby Street) but also the heart of the city’s sex industry.

Soho is where the international food scene emerged in London, back in the 19th century, as a result of the Greek and Italian immigration. Today you will find in Soho a mix of exciting cuisines among local foodie spots that are kept secret and that you won’t know about unless someone tells you about them.

With the map on my phone and with plenty of time on my side I still managed to get lost and be late at the meeting point with Ashleigh, our fascinating guide for the evening. We met in front of the Palace Theatre, where currently Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is playing.

In my opinion, a very important part of a tour is the guide and I must confess that I fell in love with Ashleigh’s bubbly personality as soon as I’ve met her. She was brilliant and she kept us entertained for the entire duration of the tour (over 4 hours!). I could easily tell that she had a background in acting by the way she was telling the stories of the places we were passing by, full of enthusiasm and gestures.

 


La Bodega Negra

The first location of the evening we stopped at was La Bodega Negra, a traditional authentic Mexican street food tavern, with a very questionable but intriguing entrance. The place is divided into a café and a restaurant, one around the corner from the other. The café has an open kitchen and a beautiful large open plan for the tables, with the walls covered in posters and the bar decorated with tequila bottles.

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As soon as we sat down at the bar and we were immediately brought a glass of mango frozen margarita and a plate of tacos to taste. I kept looking and admiring the colours and the arrangement on my plate that I missed the description of what I was about to eat. I can tell you that the flavours combined so well from the first bite. I could feel spicy and sweet, with hints of lemon sourness. I could have easily just stay there and eat tacos for the entire night but our next surprise location was waiting for us.

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The London Gin Club

Now if you know me you will know that since I have visited the Bombay Sapphire Distillery last December, where I also attended a lesson into gin tasting, I have started to enjoy drinking and preparing G&Ts. So you can imagine my excitement when I’ve seen the “Gin, No Gin sign” in front of a restaurant and found out that we were going inside.

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The Gin Club offers over 210 different types of gin and no other type of alcohol. It is a friendly relaxed place, with wooden tables and an impressive bar full of gin bottles. The gin we tasted was the own creation of Julia, the owner of the Gin Club. The gin came in tiny bottles that we poured on top of cracked ice and garnish with an olive. As the waiter explained to us, we only had to pour a little bit of the tonic on top and not the entire bottle, in order to taste the full aroma of the gin.

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The G&T was paired (it’s usually the other way around but here the gin is the main character) with what else than a gin-infused pie?

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Next time I will be in London I will definitely go back and try some of their personalised gin and tonics.

 

Enrique Tomas

When we arrived at our third stop of the evening I thought we entered a meat shop. The aged jamon legs on the walls, the little cones filled with chorizo and manchego cheese, the fresh baguettes on the counter, they all made me believe it.  But as we made our way through the shelves full of meat, I spotted a couple of tables in the back. One of them was arranged for us, with plates of jamon and cheese, and glasses of rioja wine, waiting to be tasted.

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Before attending this jamon tasting experience I had no idea that there is a difference between this typical Spanish type of ham and I could not explain the gap between the prices. Now I know that there are three types of jamon: Iberico, Iberico Cebo de Campo and Iberico de Bellota. The last one is the highest quality one, coming from free range black pigs fed with acorns.

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If you want to learn more about jamon you can actually buy here a tasting book which includes information about the Spanish ham but also a selection of about 500 grams of knife carved meat. Now that’s what I call a gift for a foodie!

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Pin Pintxos

After tasting an outstanding selection of jamon, where else could the tour continue but to a tapas bar? Pintxos are a typical bar snacks from the Basque country in Spain hold together with toothpicks and served with a typical dry white wine called “Txakoli”.

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The restaurant was small but full of character, with a bar stocked with plenty of different types of pintxos, both savoury and sweet. We simply picked up a plate and filled it with what we liked best from the counter. Meanwhile, at our table, a waiter was demonstrating how Txakoli is poured into glasses, from a very high distance.

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The food was delicious and I imagined how this bar would be the perfect place to come for a drink and a snack after work because of its relaxed atmosphere. I would have loved to try some more items from the menu but we still had two places to go. I had no idea what cuisines would follow, which to me, was very intriguing.

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Opium

Before I start telling you about the fascinating experience at Opium, I have a question for you: have you ever tried… no, have you ever imagined a tea cocktail, poured from a traditional Chinese tea pot by your table neighbour, as tradition says you can’t do it yourself?

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Soho is also the home of London’s Chinatown and of course that our food tour wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to take us to a traditional dim sum restaurant. But not any dim sum restaurant! Opium is sign posted with a very small plaque next to a simple door to which you need to knock to get in. A friendly “giant” porter greeted us with a smile on his face and welcomed us inside. After climbing four flights of stairs we entered this beautiful decorated room, with red leather armchairs, candles on the tables and green walls with family photos hanged on them. Were we in a restaurant or in someone’s house?

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As soon as we sat down we were immediately brought tea pots filled with tea based cocktails, a signature drink of the restaurant. For good luck, you should always ask the person next to you to pour the drink in your cup and never do it yourself.

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Soon the food arrived as well, in little bamboo baskets which reminded me of the dim sum I used to have for breakfast when I visited China, from the old woman at the corner of the street in Yangshuo. I was so excited to taste the dumplings, and dip them in the three soy based sauces. We had a selection or pork & prawn and mushroom & truffle dumplings and I can’t choose a favourite out of the two.

 

Basement Sate

We arrived at the last location of the evening after taking a shortcut through Soho’s “dark alleys”, where the sex shops and massage parlours are advertised as legit businesses. We passed by the legendary Madame Jojo’s nightclub, an icon of Soho which was forced closed by the authorities a few years ago. If you want to know more about the history of this famous club I suggest you watching“ The Look of Love”, a movie made in 2013 picturing the life of Paul Raymond, the 60’s baron of Soho and owner of Madame Jojo’s.

But to continue our culinary journey, we found ourselves in front of a red door which could have easily be the entrance to someone’s private home. But behind the door, downstairs, a new world of sweets and cocktails opened to us. The bar was very lively, dark – which gave it a mysterious vibe, with exposed brick walls, private booths dressed in dark wood and comfy leather couches. Basement State is London’s first dessert bar which brings to the town a little bit of the Parisian chic through the focus on the details on each plate.

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I do not know what kind of cocktail we were served but I do remember how delicious it was. To me, it tasted a bit like a combination between pisco sour and passion fruit. The dessert followed soon: a chocolate sphere sat on a piece of brownie, filled with decadent chocolate mouse and decorated with edible gold foil – just a broad description. There was a lot going on the plate, with tiny details that combined created the perfect rich chocolate experience. The presentation of the dessert was so beautiful and it looked like so much effort has been put into creating it that I felt sorry destroying it with my tablespoon.

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The best I could do with my camera in the dark 🙂

With our stomachs full and after an evening full of fun and entertainment the moment came to say thank you and good bye to lovely Ashleigh. It was an amazing food tour of London, much longer than I expected and because the group was very small we got to know each other quite quick and socialise much better.

If you want to book the Twilight Soho Food and Cocktail Tour (£94) or check out the other three foodie tours Eating London Food Tour offers in London, check out their website. I would love to try next their Brick Lane Flavours of India food tour (£46), knowing that Shoreditch is the home of some of the best curry houses in town.

Disclaimer: Please note that I was invited to take part in this tour as part of Traverse17 and it was included in the ticket I bought for the conference.

 

Traveler. Dreamer. Cat lover.
Wondering around the world with my backpack and my camera.
Contributing to make the world a better place.

78 Comments

  1. This might be one of my favourite posts that you have written and that is because even though I love Soho I have not been to any of these spots. I have tried a tea cocktail before and it is delicious but I really like the sound of the other tours that it offers like the ‘curry experience’ it sounds like a tasty outcome haha x x

  2. All of the food looks so delicious! I didn’t know Soho was also in London, I only thought it was in New York. I’ve been wanting to visit London for some time, mostly because of Harry Potter, but I really need to go now! haha. I am a huge foodie like you as well. Also, the photo where the waiter is pouring from a long distance; at first I thought he was pouring water onto the camera (hahaha) Great post!!

  3. As a food blogger, I’d so love to have tagged along with you on this tour. There is always so much inspiration to be had, and all of the places here fit the bill. My husband would spend his day a the Gin Club and I’d venture off to have Pintxos, jamon, and maybe even a pretty tea cocktail! Fun post

  4. Wow a food tour sounds like my idea of heaven, and Soho is such an interesting area. I’ve been meaning to go to the gin club for a while now x

  5. These photos are awesome! I’m sure you had a great time. I’m hoping to visit London in November and really excited about it!!!

  6. Hahaha! The Gin Club sign cracked me up! What an incredible opportunity for you! When I think of London, I don’t often think about it being great for foodies, but it looks like I was mistaken! I really want to visit Opium! What a cool experience!

  7. Oh how I miss Soho Joanna. Wow I never knew there were 210 different types of gin? And those taster tacos look like a work of art. I would need at least week to absorb all this yumminess

  8. I was in London for few days but I have never been on a food tour, and this post just makes me want to come to London and try all the delicious food. The taco looks so colorful and delicious and the tapa looks exquisite too. And yes, part of the Chinese restaurant does look like someone’s house, and it is a great place to relax and have tea.

  9. Yum! All of these look amazing and I actually haven’t been to any of them. I particularly want to try La Bodega Negra – that taco looks to die for! Thanks for sharing this – I’m always looking for new spots to try in London.

  10. I love Soho but I’ve not been to any of these places. I will surely be checking them out. Who needs a summer body anyway!

  11. Love all the different places! There seems to be a lot of choice when it comes to which country you want to try food from! Definitely need to hit up the gin bar when I find myself in the area! Thank you for the great tips!

  12. Your pictures are incredible. our shots make me feel like I could reach out and be there! My friend’s son was just there for a grad trip and said it was a great experience.

  13. Living in Las Vegas we took a food tour here around historic downtown. We visited several restaurants that have now become regular stops on our night out. London has such a wonderful food scene and it looks like you had a wonderful time. Any restaurant with a gin theme is good enough for me and a stop in the Chinese district surely was a must.

  14. Wow, I didn’t know that London could offer a boat load of luscious food during your food tour in different restaurants. They all look so tempting and delicious. You have just made me hungry and how I wish I could taste them as well. I admire you for you were still able to elucidate how all those food taste like. It must be hard on my part and the only thing I could say is delicious.

  15. Oh that is a great custom to have the person next to you pour out the drink for you for good luck! I too just love food, and cant get my summer body together lol. Your food tour has me hungry. The food looks so delicious.

  16. Soho in London and Soho in NWC are the best city places to be to try something tasty and new, of good quality and… in a chic and “instagrammable” place. 🙂 . Once i was in Pin Pintxos, and it was great!

  17. London and Food! Two of my favorite words! I love the spots you’ve talked about here… Lord only knows when I can be there in person,if ever… I had tried a tea cocktail here (in India) once.. Not sure if it tastes the same there though! Lovely and food full post 🙂

  18. I would definitely be interested in trying their Brick Lane food tour, as I’m a huge lover of curries and Indian food in general. As a gluten- and dairy-intolerant vegetarian, I wouldn’t have been able to eat much on this tour, but I was definitely intrigued by the gin bar! G&Ts are such a huge part of London and British culture that I’m honestly surprised I didn’t have a single one while I was there!

  19. Love the gin / no gin sign … but do they serve water? Seriously, it’s fun to visit new restaurants and I never worry about what type of liquor they serve as my priorities are ambiance & great food.

  20. This looks like an incredible tour! I also am a foodie and my waistline pays for it lol. I would love to take this tour. I agree that a tour guide can make or break the experience. That chocolate dessert looked so good, I think I drooled on my keyboard ;). Thanks for sharing this delicious experience with us.

  21. In all my trips to London I don’t think I’ve ever been to Soho and it looks like I’ve sorely been missing out! I’m actually not even a gin fan…but with over 200 types of gin I’d love to check out that little bar. I love artisan alcohols and that looks like a great place to spend an afternoon with friends.

  22. I am also a foodie and I love to eat. However, comparing to you, I always accept an invitation to the places that my friends recommended. I don’t like to be the first one to try the new dish. That’s why I will continue reading your posts. I may need some of the restaurants. 🙂 When it comes to London, I love the ‘meat restaurant’ – Enrique Tomas… that’s the type of food I prefer. 😀

  23. This tour looks absolutely amazing. And the food, well what can I say? Exquisite was the first word that sprung to mind. I’m suddenly very hungry 🙂

    Louise x

  24. Whenever I travel, I see to it that to experience local culture and their local foods is a must. Nice that you are doing it too. Thanks for sharing this and I will check out these places too.

  25. I have never been to London but aside from their amazing landmarks and places, I know the fact that they also have so much great foods and amazing restaurants to offer and your post just proved it so! I love that each place you featured here offers a different kind of ambiance and theme and they are seemingly all worth visiting! Thanks for sharing this to us! Hopefully I will get the chance to visit London and try out any of these amazing resto

  26. This was a very enjoyable food tour! Your guide chose a good variety of restaurants. The sequence was also organized. La Bodega Negra and Opium are my favorites from your post because I love tacos and dim sums.

  27. Wow that looks like a fun night and lots of food testing.

    Think my mum would like the gin place lol currently hooked on the stuff…. love the post will look into soho for a day trip seems lots of things to see and do

  28. I have always wanted to go on a food tour in London. The food you sampled looked so divine. The jamon was to die for. I am not much of a gin drinker, but I would love to sample it as long as I am in the area. Soho will be in my travel bucket list from this day forward.

  29. I am a self-proclaimed foodie too and I am fascinated by how the tacos were presented. It really looks inviting, and the way you describe it, I can imagine how it tastes. Being an Asian, I am most interested in the Opium restaurant. I am sure that they of not just food, but also culture. I find you lucky to be able to experience these.

  30. I have been on a few food tours and they are such a great way to learn and expericne the food of an area. I would love to do this one!

  31. Seem like La Bodega Negra has so much atmosphere and character. Very unique. I love restaurants that are not just dining but actually provide a memorable experience.

  32. 210 TYPES OF GIN! That Gin Club looks and sounds like my kind of place! Looks like you found out about a whole host of eateries and bars through your food and cocktail tour 🙂 I’m super jealous! x

  33. I found Opium and Enrique Tomas most interesting among all that you featured. It must have felt good to go around these restaurants. If I’m going on tour here in this area, I’d probably linger longer to savor the flavors. I like unhurried meals.

  34. Though I wouldn’t go as far as to declare myself as a foodie I do love my food and that too explains why I can’t shake off the extra layer on my summer body lol.
    The food tour looks like such an adventure and one I would love to try one day

  35. FOOD TOUR! Yes. It’s one of the best things that you can do while you’re traveling and exploring a different place or country. It’s awesome that you shared your experience with us. It sounds like a really indulging tour!

  36. I would love to go on a food tour, especially in London! Out of all of the restaurants you visited on your tour, I think I would like to visit La Bodega Negra the most because I LOVE Mexican food. Here in my city (in the U.S.), it is really hard to find authentic Mexican food. There is a small city in my area that features authentic Mexican food, but I wish it was a little closer. I love how La Bodega Negra is a cafe and a restaurant. I could definitely see myself spending a great deal of time here eating and drinking on both sides of the restaurant!

  37. Out of all the restaurants, I loved the La Bodega Negra. The food is so colourful, looks delicious and the ambience is so good. Glad that you had such an amazing time on your food tour 🙂

  38. Food is a very important part of my life too haha! I love everything in this post especially the dimsum part. That good luck tradition of pouring tea to another’s cup is a new knowledge for me. I hope I can visit London soon and go on a food tour myself.

  39. Awesome food and ambience. Love the London dining scene, cafes and restaurants. The photos look amazing. Hope to go back there.

  40. That sounds like quite a gastronomic treat indeed! And with some booze to boot. ^_^ Personally I’ve never tried going on a food tour, though I’d call myself a ‘foodie’ since I love trying out new grub as well. Whenever a new resto or cafe opens within the vicinity, I try to go and sample their fare. It’s a good way to get to know our place more too.

  41. These are some of my fave places in London. This post and images just make me want to go back.
    Thanks for also sharing some new ones I will for sure check out soon

  42. Gastronomical tourism is on a high currently. I would love to go on a food tour like this one. The London Gin club is the most interesting place out of all the one’s you have mentioned.

  43. This would have been so much fun, I can already see. I am salivating at all the lovely food you put pictures of ! Loved the Gin – No Gin signboard 🙂 . Food tour is the next thing I must do 🙂

  44. I haven’t been to London yet, always been in transit. Hopefully next year sometime will get a chance to travel through UK. Exploring Soho is definitely on my list.

  45. I love food so for me the idea of food tours is water mouthering. I tried a similar in NYC when I was last year. It was so much fun. It definitely great way to know what to order when you have no idea about the cuisine. Love this post.

  46. Ah, Soho, a mix of every kind of food, person, activity all squished into one amazing area. I havent been to any of these food establishments though so I have some ideas now.

  47. now this looks interesting and like a place i’d love to visit. 🙂 The food makes me hungry just looking at it. I’m not a gin drinker but oh the food! I would like to goto the enrique tomas as i love chorizo!

  48. A very interesting post as well as food tour. Everything next came as a surprise. The presentations are awesome and I too would have felt sorry for spoiling the presentation while eating it. Gin – no gin sign is pretty cool and so many varieties of Gin! Wow. At Pin Pintxos, the way drink is poured from such a height would be awesome to experience.

  49. Soho Food Tour seems to be a great experience. London being a metropolitan city, I’m not surprised by how much the city has for foodies from across the continents. I would love to visit Gin place and Basement State, they both look too cool!

  50. Food tours are the best kinds of tours arent they! Hehe. Will def go back to London and try this out, were currently planning a few days in Aug 😊

  51. I’d love to be in a food tour but my problem is I can’t really eat much esp after having a drink 😮 but if it is a day filled with food, I’m down! Your photos are very appealing!!!

  52. I love London, especially for its dining, restaurant and cafe scene. The photos are great – they make the food look so yummy, I want to jump on a plane to go there!

  53. Yes food is the most important thing in life . Not only for you but for every one here in the world .
    Reading your article about great place to eat in London make me want to come there . I like to see how’s theLondon Gin pub if I ever come there

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