SOHO – London’s famously infamous district where sex shops sit comfortably nestled between artisan bakeries, will always hold a sense of intrigue to everyone who visits. No matter how many times you go to SOHO each time the place will reveal a new facet of it’s colourful personality. I truly believe that there is no better way to discover any place than on foot. And a walking tour that involves eating at 10 very different foodie joints is what you will experience on a SOHO walking tour with Michelle of Scratch London tours.
A chef and ex-restauranter who has worked in some establishments in SOHO it is fair to say that as regards the food scene in SOHO Michelle is an insider. She also hosts Marylebone’s Scratch SupperClub.
On a bright and crisp Saturday morning a few weeks back Michelle met a small group of people including me at SOHO square from where the tour normally starts. After a background into the history of the surrounding area Michelle indulged us with a quick little treat of mini croissants with fruity and chocolaty fillings. Procured from a local artisan bakery. It is fascinating to hear how an area once populated by aristocracy is now home to swanky bars, sex shops and Michelin starred restaurants. Immigrants from various European countries who migrated here like the Huegenots had a profund impact in the development of the area in the pre WWI era.
First stop was Princi – an Italian casual dining restaurant – brainchild of entrepreneur Alan You – who founded Wagamama , Hakkasan and Yauatacha.
Looking at the large amount of variety on counters behind glass panes got us all salivating and craving to dig our teeth into some food.
With our appetite whetted we walked through the by-lanes of SOHO sampling various types of world cuisines taking in the sights, sounds and more nuggets about the history of SOHO from Michelle. Michelle has lived in London long enough to give you a real insight into this dynamic neighborhood. While we spotted Grade II listed buildings, mock-Tudor style architecture and half timbered buildings oozing old world charm we also took in the unmissable sign boards for massage parlours and posters advertising ‘models’ .
Of all the different tastes that we experienced the most indulgent was fresh Oysters. Randall & Aubin – a quaint French restaurant complete with Victorian fittings and a humongous millor ball is a SOHO institution. As a special birthday treat for one of the guests on the tour that day Michelle had managed to get us some Champagne too.
Next we moved onto another fabulous seafood grill and oyster bar where we were introduced to ordering food using an ipad and very tuna ceviche. My past experience of indulging in ceviche at Uni in Victoria has made me a great fan and I genuinely adore the taste of Tuna which in my humble opinion tastes great raw as a ceviche and medium rare in a steak.
When we set out on the tour little had I expected that in half a day we would be taking our taste buds on a world tour while discovering some hidden gems in an area buzzing with energy.
Of course all gastronomic adventures should end on a sweet note and Michelle does not disappoint. Not only did we sample hand crafted artisan chocolates from London’s leading chocolatier we also got a cool discount on our purchases. I managed to find some black truffle chocolates from Mast Brothers which had made their long journey from NY just a few hours ago.
As the danger of the modern property market and campaigns to ‘clean up’ SOHO are rapidly changing the look and feel of neighbourhood from grunge, quirky and a hub of adult entertainment, it is important to experience SOHO and all its varied foodie offerings in it’s original and natural setting. To do so with a knowledgeable guide like Michelle as part of a small group where you do not loose yourself and can actually make sensible conversation is a great pleasure.
For £61.50 per head, a Scratch London tour will include all ten food and drink destinations on the route.
*With thanks to Michelle for inviting me on a gastronomic adventure through SOHO. No monetary compensation was offered for a positive review. All opinions expressed here are entirely my own.