Whoever says that British food isn’t good, and is heavy and unhealthy, isn’t eating the right dishes. A common misconception is easily broken once you check out London’s ethnic eating enclaves and sit down for a true Sunday roast at a neighborhood pub.
One of my favorite things about visiting a destination is checking out the food. During my recent visit to London, I had the honor of going on a tour with Eating London. I’d heard good things about their East End tour, but they suggested I check out the brand new Twilight Soho Food Tour. My mom and sister tagged along as we met up with our guides in front of the famed Palace Theatre to start our history to one of London’s most famous neighborhoods.
Before I get into what we ate I have to emphasize how much I learned about the area between venues. Our walk took us to Soho Square, which was formerly home to a brothel and today is where Paul McCartney has an office. We saw the former Marquis Club where legends like Jimi Hendrix, the Who and Eric Clapton played, now a building of lofts in true Soho style. Our guides pointed out the blue placards that denote where Mozart lived and where Karl Marx wrote his Communist Manifesto. We were introduced to Chinatown and the part of the neighborhood known for the sex trade. And most importantly, we saw a pub named John Snow right after we saw an actress from Game of Thrones. The Soho mural reminds us of the many stages the area has gone through, from impoverished to luxurious. But now, for the food.
La Bodega Negra
La Bodega Negra was our first stop of the tour, located right around the corner from our meeting place. I wasn’t overly excited about Mexican food since I eat it at home almost daily, but was impressed with this spot. Owned by a descendant of Winston Churchill, the food is on par with what I’ve had back home and even in Mexico. We sampled pork and shrimp tacos set in their own holder. The restaurant also has a bar with a secret entrance that looks like sex shop. Even when you go in, you have to say something scandalous to gain entry.
The London Gin Club
When you think of London, you probably think of gin. The Star Cafe was opened in 1933, but the owner’s granddaughter Julia turned it into a gin club in 2012. The London Gin Club offers gin tastings and a full menu. We dined on a traditional British meat pie made of gin-soaked beef, which we washed down with Seven Dials Gin, tonic and a Sicilian olive. I was amazed by the staff’s knowledge and the fact that the olive could change the flavor of the drink so much.
Before we arrived at Enrique Tomas, I was already excited. I could feel myself being cured as soon as I entered the Iberico jamón shop. The front end of the shop offers cones of ham to go as well as Spanish food items like meats, cheeses and wines. In the back, you can take a class on the jamón, taught by one of the shop’s experts. The dry, cured jamón starts at £50 per leg and include the knife, stand and a bottle of wine. Our tasting included an 18 month aged cured white pig, a pada negra farm and forest variety and a 36 month aged pada negra, which almost melts in your mouth. While I abstained, they also gave us a 12 month aged goat cheese, a semi cream sheep’s cheese and a 24 month aged hard cheese, paired with a cabernet Sauvignon. You can also order their products online!
Pix Pintxos Bar
Since we were already in a Spanish mood, we went to Pix Pintxos, a cozy neighborhood tapas bar. As soon as you walk in, you’re confronted with all the bites to choose from, which must be served with a drink. You choose from two, so I got a meatball and a slice of jamón on toast. Our server also brought us sweet white wine poured from above, aerating it. Sitting behind us was Rose Leslie (Ygritte from Game of Thrones) and an actor from Penny Dreadful. Our guide saw Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine the week before!
Leong’s Legend is a Chinatown staple. I’d never had Taiwanese food before, but I wasn’t disappointed. We dined on sauteed eggplant, make your own duck pancakes, dumplings and hot Chinese tea. They roast their own ducks and steam the buns fresh. The restaurant is also known for their xiao long bao (soup dumplings) and dim sum, which I’d love to come back for.
SAID dal 1923
And no food tour, or meal, is complete without dessert. SAID dal 1923 is a historic chocolate maker originally from Rome. The London shop has indoor and outdoor seating with walls decorated with vintage chocolate molds. Here we were served traditional hot chocolate in dark, milk or hazelnut varieties with choice of toppings like cinnamon and red pepper. As if that wasn’t enough, we also had tiramisu, the perfect ending to a food tour.
So the question now is, was the food tour worth it? The Twilight Soho Food Tour costs £75 and lasts around 3 hours. Dining venues are subject to change, depending on dates and hours. If you’re concerned about not getting your money’s worth of food, don’t be. The guides reminded us not to get too full at each spot, as we had appetizer-sized portions or larger every time. The walking isn’t far and you can be back to the starting point within 15 minutes. If you want to learn more about London’s history while dining at some of its best restaurants, I recommend checking out the Twilight Soho Food Tour with Eating London, part of the Eating Europe Food Tours group.