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We know what you’re thinking: London food tours? Yes, British cuisine has long had a negative reputation. Ask anyone to name a dish from England and you’ll probably get a unanimous answer: fish and chips. Such views die hard. However, wandering the Soho neighborhood in Central London, we discovered there’s a lot more to British cuisine than beer batter. We joined Eating London for their Twilight Soho Food Tour to see what’s new on the British culinary scene.
It’s important to understand the destination. London’s Soho neighborhood has a checkered past. Originally the location of aristocratic hunting cottages, this rural stretch of countryside was quickly enveloped into the rapidly expanding city (although technically just outside the city limits of London proper). Those hunting cottages gave way to wealthy town homes, which fell into disrepair. Soho has been the home to the wealthy and the marginal of society. This is where a young Mozart played for fans, where Karl Marx wrote his Communist Manifesto, where the Rolling Stones got their start, and where prostitutes set up shop. As a neighborhood, it’s been a great melting pot. And each group has added its own cuisine to the mix.
La Bodega Negra
The Twilight Soho Food Tour started at a Mexican taquería. I know what you’re thinking, Mexican food in London? Yup. In this case, it’s a Mexican restaurant started by the grandson of Winston Churchill, and it’s super authentic. Mexican is our favorite cuisine and this place is outrageously delicious. At La Bodega Negra, we sampled the pork al pastor and the camarones (shrimp) tacos along with a delicious frozen mango margarita.
Don’t be deterred by the entrance to the restaurant – it’s a sex shop with only the number “9” telling you that you’re in the right place. But if you dare to enter, you’ll be rewarded with some excellent tacos. We loved La Bodega Negra so much that we went back a few nights later to sample their carnitas tacos, which were exceptional. If you can’t make it to London, they also have a La Bodega Negra outpost in New York City.
The London Gin Club
The British discovered gin during the War for Dutch Independence and the country hasn’t been the same. Gin is still the spirit of choice for most British. In the 1930’s, a small café opened just off Dean Street. Today, the granddaughter of the original proprietor has turned it into a fine drinking establishment called The London Gin Club, which features over 200 different gins.
While gin & tonic is served, I skipped the tonic and enjoyed mine on ice. To accompany the beverage, they served a gin-infused beef pie. Meat pie, once served with birds (usually magpies), is a staple of British cuisine and the London Gin Club makes an excellent one.
The Enrique Tomas location is the Iberico ham shop from the Spanish company of the same name. The London outpost is run by “Jamón Ron,” who lives up to the image you have of someone going by that name—he’s gregarious, passionate, and loves his cured pork products. And he’s quick to share his passion and knowledge with you. We thought we knew about jamón from our Barcelona food tour earlier this year, but we were wrong. Jamón Ron started by sampling a serrano ham from the white-footed pig.
However, the real delights were the acorn-fed, black-footed Jamón Iberico. We sampled both a 24-month and a spectacular 36-month ham, the latter being absolutely buttery. Each had an accompanying cheese, and the wine-pairing was a Tempranillo.
Around the world, it seems Spanish tapas is all the rage these days. The local chain of Pix Bar in London has a location serving pintxos, the long-stick tapas from Basque region. This location is also known as a bit of celebrity hangout, with actors and rock musicians being frequent guests. It was about this point in the tour that our guide Joe mentioned that we might want to pace ourselves, which turned out to be solid advice.
However, that didn’t stop me from having the albondigas (spicy meatballs) and the patatas bravas (roasted potatoes with a spicy red sauce), paired with a white Cava wine (naturally).
The first clue that Opium was something special was the burly bouncer at the door. He greeted our guide and directed us to the top floor. The bright lights of London’s Chinatown were blacked out, and we entered the dimly-lit underworld of an opium bar. It wasn’t really an opium den, but it had that vibe.
This is a decidedly high-end establishment serving fine white peony tea paired with two, large steamed dumplings: mushroom with truffle (deeply earthy) and crab (sweet and savory all at the same time). The dumplings were addictive.
Before we concluded our London food tour, it was time for dessert. The folks at Eating London came up with a winner at Said Chocolate. Originally from Rome, this shop feels more Persian than British or Italian. The smells of chocolate permeate every corner of the café and linger on your clothes long after you leave. It’s delightful! We sampled the milk hot chocolate paired with individual servings of tiramisu. It was the sweet finale to hours of walking through Soho.
Soho is a rocking neighborhood, and there’s no better way to get a feel for it than on a food tour. We didn’t know what to expect, but we encountered a melting pot of cuisines that challenged our concept of British food. Even the dishes that had originated elsewhere (tacos from Mexico, tapas from Spain, and dim sum from China) were steeped in British culture and came out feeling somehow unique.
The Eating London Twilight Soho Food Tour
When: Tuesday through Friday at 4:45pm. The tour runs from 3 ½ to 4 hours.
Cost: £94 per person.
Location: The meeting point for the tour is near the Palace Theatre. The nearest underground stop is Leicester Square (on the Northern and Piccadilly lines). The tour will end near the Piccadilly Circus underground (Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines).
What to Bring: While the walk is not strenuous, comfortable shoes can be very helpful. The tour runs rain or shine, so if rain is expected, be sure to bring a jacket or umbrella.
Notice: As there are alcoholic beverage pairings, you must be 18 years of age or older to take the tour.
Helpful Advice: Outside of Soho, London’s food scene is hopping! We strongly encourage visitors to seek out food markets in some of the other neighborhoods like Camden and the South Bank. Of particular interest to us was the Borough Market, located just a few short blocks from both London Bridge and The Shard. We usually eat lunch here at least once every time we visit London. If you decide to go, please check out this fantastic guide to Borough Market.
Where to Stay: London has a ton of hotels, although the city is known for being very pricey. We’ve found some sites that you may want to check out that offer good London hotel deals.
We were the guests of Eating London food tours. As always, all rocking opinions of the sweet, salty and savory are our own.
What’s your favorite food to eat in London?