When visiting the UK, your first priority usually won’t be food. Let’s be honest, the food culture is not traditionally the strongest card in England’s deck. Not that you won’t find some amazing things there (oh the glorious beef pies… how I already miss you…) but that’s not why you visit England, that’s not the main reason people would hop on a plane and decide to give London a go and, surprisingly, the majority might just be missing out.
Despite it’s reputation, London has upped its game quite a bit in the past few years, and while people could be forgiven for thinking that Fish and Chips wrapped in newspaper will be the gastronomic high water mark when visiting the British capital, it turns out there’s a buzzing and hugely international food scene waiting to be discovered by outsiders. But for that you’ll need to brave Soho and it’s somewhat less than glistening reputation.
Historically, Soho was London’s red light district, and unlikely to be included on a tourist itinerary except by those specifically seeking out the oldest profession, but nowadays, like Amsterdam and many others, the area has really cleaned up it’s act. Today you’ll find some of the most trendy bars and restaurants that the British capital has to offer, serving up a selection of food and drinks from all corners of the earth. And not a pimp hat in sight.
While my husband was enjoying a (late) bachelor party with his friends in Sheffield, I decided to take my mother-in-law to London to explore, eat, drink and enjoy the town together. Waiting on our London food tour to start and with time to kill, we went on an exploration of Chinatown and had to try out a bubble tea before our adventure. Came 16:30 and our group slowly formed up, joined by a guide full of energy and clearly passionate. Friendly and slightly theatrical (it’s London, after all), if you weren’t excited by the tour just by reading their website, he sure did put you in the mood! And with a group of foreigners and locals it made it pretty clear that this company knew their trade.
A mix of flavours and cultures.
Who thought that in the middle of London, in Soho, could be found such a mix of cultures and authentic flavours?
Living in the North of England for a little while some years ago I had gotten used to restaurants in the area selling westernised foreign dishes that would be regarded as less authentic in their country of origin than a tin of alphabet spaghetti would be to a citizen of Naples. So, when we were taken to the first spot for tacos I expected something very… English? Maybe almost similar to the food found in most Tex-Mex chains. But this first stop did set the tone: real food, authentic flavours with a modern twist. Fresh ingredients are prepared before your eyes in an open kitchen, and the results were impressive. Were it not for the odd London bus passing by, one might even have been inclined the make a quick consultation of the GPS to confirm that yes, this is still England.
Mexican, Spanish, Chinese, Italian, British… The flavours are many and they are all amazing. It’s not just the food, it’s the ambiance of each spot you visit. Eating London seems to have tracked down the most amazing bars and restaurants, the ones that give you a proper feel and complement the food with an interesting and appropriate atmosphere.
The British beef pie for example, is served up in what appears to be an old beer cellar, with many vintage British posters decorating the walls. The dim sums are enjoyed in the most private bar and restaurant that conjures up images of a 19th century Shanghai Opium parlour. The experience is not just about what you eat, it’s about the feeling of travelling to a different time and place in the world, with each short walk to the next venue.
The history of Soho and what makes it so special.
If you’re not into the food (come on, who are you kidding? Yes you are!), the tour takes you through the whole history of Soho, from the musical industry and their debut in this specific part of London, to the darker past and the old clubs where the oldest profession (wait, I’ve used that euphemism already. Let’s call it the ‘horizontal profession’ this time) was at it’s height.
There’s more to Soho than you’d expect and the musical history is immense. From famous Jazz clubs, to recording studios where iconic songs like Yellow Submarine were recorded, if you are into the British classics this part will sure add a little something to this whole tour.
The booze… The alcohol… Oh those drinks…
What makes this tour so special and different from the others is surely the pairing that comes with each food tasting: the drinks.
From a spicy margaritas to a local gin, drinks are also on the map to get you to experience the culture and oh how nice are those drinks!
It’s not too much and won’t get you drunk, it’s just enough to enjoy those new flavours and when the end of your tour approaches you will be greeted with tea and hot chocolate to settle your stomach and get you ready for the end of the night.
I think that’s what makes all the difference. While this tour would be great without this touch, this adds up and makes it unique. It’s perfect to get you to experience Soho at night, to get why Londoners would come here with their friends for a drink and a bite.
Ending on a sweet note.
When the end of the night comes, the tour finishes on a sweet note with the best hot chocolate and tiramisu in London and this article should as well finish on one.
I’ve loved this tour and while of course some restaurants and bars were maybe a bit weaker than the others, everyone left pleased as did my mother-in-law and myself.
It’s great to see that this tour is not just a hit with tourists but with locals as well. It was also great to see how Eating London happily adapted to dietary requests and ensure that a vegetarian meal was prepared in each of the stops for one of the guests.
While the price might seem a bit high for a food tour, let’s not forget that it’s London, one of the most expensive cities in the world, and that, including drinks and food, it actually seemed more than reasonable.
Portions are neither too small or too big and you won’t leave hungry. So if you’re visiting London for a few days, you might want to give it a try. The tour finishes early enough for you to return to your hotel for an early night or to spend more time in Soho by yourself to explore a few more pubs and maybe end the night with a local brew!
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We would like to thank Eating London for providing us a complimentary stay at their hotel. Please note that, as always, all opinions expressed in this review are our own and have not been influenced in any way.