Wanting a night out in London’s most vibrant neighborhood? Here are the best restaurants in Soho and how to best experience them all.
I know what you’re thinking – a food tour in London?! No way! The UK may not be known for its stand-out cuisine, but the past few decades have changed that in London. Especially in the Soho district, an international food scene has developed and it’s certainly worth a taste. And while the majority of the food is international, there are still some classic British spots to visit as well.
Feeling skeptical of the idea of finding great food in London on my own, and with only one night to really do it, I decided to give Eating Europe’s Twilight Soho Food and Cocktail Tour a try.
A brief overview of Soho
The Soho district of London has always been an eclectic village of arts, entertainment and nightlife, known for being home to the sex and music industries. The area was abandoned by the wealthy in the mid-19th century following a cholera outbreak. This lead it to develop as most areas of major cities do when housing is cheap. It became a haven for the music and entertainment industries with iconic clubs popping up and the film industry moving in. The sex industry thrived and the gay community felt safe.
In recent decades, the neighborhood has started to change, with new construction and a shift to residential. English Heritage blue plaques around the area commemorate some of the classic buildings, important to Soho and the music industry’s history, but some residents fear the gentrification is going too far, with cookie-cutter hipster bars and cafes ousting the gritty history that made Soho what it is.
Finding the best restaurants in Soho, London
With new options popping up everywhere in Soho, and trying to avoid chains pushing out classic Soho, it can be tough to find the best places to eat in the area. That’s what I loved most about this tour – I would never have chosen ANY of the places we went, and they were all amazing.
Each of the restaurants we visited are listed below and you can check them out on your own, but reservations are recommended. If you prefer to learn more about Soho and the restaurants themselves throughout the evening (and get a taste from each), I recommend the Soho Food and Cocktail Tour. Especially since so many of the restaurants would NEVER be found without someone introducing you to them.
La Bodega Negra – tacos and the sex industry
While La Bodega Negra served up some delicious tacos and kicking margaritas, I found the history of the restaurant even more interesting. We entered from one side in which it looks like a standard restaurant. But come around to the other side, and it still has the façade of its previous life – a sex shop.
This entrance is the one that diners will approach when using their maps to find the place and it was quite fun to watch groups trying to figure out where the restaurant actually is. The secret to knowing you’re in the right place is that it’s going to look like you’re going into a sex store.
The London Gin Club – gin and pie
Now that I’m safely far from London, I can say it – I do not like gin. I do not like tonic. And I certainly do not like gin and tonic. So going to a place called the London Gin Club didn’t sound like it would be my favorite option.
Here, the tour broke down the history of the gin and tonic and our bartender walked us through tasting it by its components first, and mixing it to the ideal ratio for our own palettes. It still won’t be my favorite drink in the world, but this was the best version I’ve had of it.
And to top it off, the pub makes homemade gin-infused beef pies.
Enrique Tomás – a Spanish butcher
With shoulders of jamón hanging in the window, you quickly get the feeling of being whisked to Spain. We stopped at Enrique Tomás to taste different types of jamón Ibérico (Iberian ham), cheese and wine. It’s a bustling shop with patrons coming in for everything from packaged slices to full ham shoulders.
Pix Bar – pintxos and wine
What’s a “pintxos” you ask? Pix was a perfect place to find out. Pintxos are different foods served with a skewer in them. You go up to the buffet as many times as you want, and keep your skewers – you’re charged by the stick at the end. It’s a great way to get a variety of different tastes from one place without having to share a plate with your friends.
Opium – dim sum and tea
A visit to Soho is not complete without a visit to Chinatown. Tucked through a small door and up what felt like 12 flights of stairs, we found ourselves at Opium. With soft lighting and textiles everywhere, it has the feel of [I assume] a proper opium den, but instead with dim sum and “tea.” The pork bun was the group favorite and the tea was really cocktails in tea service.
Basement Sate – secret cocktails and dessert
We finished the tour at another location that you would never find without a guide. There isn’t even a sign for it out front. But once you know how to get in, you head downstairs to a dimly lit cocktail bar with incredible desserts.
More things to do in Soho
There are new restaurants popping up all the time in the area. But beyond checking out the food and cocktail scene in Soho, there’s so much more to see and do.
Find some live music
As mentioned before, Soho is and was home to some of the most iconic clubs in the city, and world. You can find live music any night of the week all over the neighborhood. Ronnie Scott’s is nearly 60 years old, has live jazz every day and is one of the most famous jazz clubs in the world.
Catch a show
As it is the heart of the theater district, there are always plenty of shows running. The last three I’ve seen, and would absolutely recommend, are the Book of Mormon, Kinky Boots and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.
Don’t skip Chinatown
London’s Chinatown is in Soho and has been there for over 50 years. The streets are brightly decorated and marked with Chinese gates. Stroll through and snack, or if you’re skipping the food tour, have a full meal in any of the authentic restaurants here.
Carnaby Street is filled with shops from new and hip to retro and vintage. Soho is also filled with bookstores if you’re looking to pick up a new read in a neighborhood connected to the literary world.
Look for blue plaques and the Seven Noses of Soho
The English Heritage society uses blue plaques all over the city to mark buildings where notable men and women worked or lived. There are over 900 in London and there’s an app to help you find them and get more information. While blue plaques are everywhere in London, the seven noses are mostly unique to Soho. Three remain outside of the neighborhood, but the rest have been removed. The noses are from artist Rick Buckley; the legend is that if you find them all, you’ll have infinite wealth.
Where to stay in Soho
There are plenty of options for accommodation in Soho (link to all options to choose from). With nearly 200 options in the small area, here are a few based on what you might be looking for:
Budget: If you’re looking for a budget option, SoHostel is a bright hostel in the area with a rooftop terrace, dorm rooms and privates.
Stylish: The Z Hotel Soho is a modern and stylish option in Soho; it is 4-star and located by the Palace Theater.
Unique: Still 4-star, but with unique and elegant decoration, Hazlitt’s is another highly rated option in Soho.
Luxury: Small, but lush, the Sanctum Soho Hotel is a 5-star option right in the thick of things, located a quick walk to Piccadilly Circus, Leicester and Trafalgar Squares.
Other options to stay in Soho:
- AirBnb: There are a few dozen AirBnb options in Soho, from cozy flats to penthouses. Save $40 on your first booking with this link.
- Booking: There are also plenty of Soho options on Booking; save $20 on your first booking with this link.
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