When you live somewhere for a long time, it can become sadly old hat. The same pubs, the same restaurants, the same comfy old routines that slip back on like a pair of well fitting shoes. This is especially true of my Mr Kiwi, who has eaten in one particular Soho restaurant for over 20 years. I wish I was joking.
This sad state of affairs and a rather sweet email led to my feet hitting the Soho pavements on a recent Saturday morning – normally the domain of tea, toast and the cat – with Michelle of Scratch London and a merry troupe of Foodie-tourists for a foodie walking tour. We were an eclectic mix; LA gastro-nauts fresh from a night of Ottolenghi delights, a gaggle of seasoned Londoners, a couple new to London and of course moi.
Disclaimer: I was an invited guest of London from Scratch, but my (many) opinions are only ever my own, and I would never recommend anywhere that I wouldn’t happily visit, and revisit on my own dime.
“I need to know 4 things about you” Michelle started off “Your name, where you’re from, your most evocative flavour and favourite cuisine.” It was at this point I knew this would be a tour with a difference. A small group, it evolved we enjoyed Asian/Middle Eastern cuisine, and a variety of sweet and savoury flavours, so off we marched. Introduced to each other in this way, it was a nice feeling to be chatting to a group of flavour fans – especially as I was on my own – comparing restaurants and pop ups over London.
Having been on a few foodie tours before including New York and Spain, I felt pretty certain of the layout and patter, and made sure to prepare myself with an empty tummy and an espresso on the way over.
We zig-zagged through the damp streets of Soho, led by Michelle and our bellies, sampling a multitude of delicacies – hot, fresh and full of flavour. I marvelled at delis I had walked past hundreds of times, bakeries I had never considered and a wee restaurant with one of the best Baba Ganoushes I have had the pleasure of tasting.
We were told about Michelle’s 5 ‘mover and shakers’ of Soho, individuals she feels are cutrently shaping the gastronomic buzz of Soho. Alan Yau, Russell Norman and Jason Atherton all made the grade of mentions.
We explored nooks and crevices that I’d never got around to, even on all of my travels, the odd piece of art, and were given recommendations for later visits. I even discovered a supermarket in Chinatown that sells the only instant Noodle I’d eat (and basically the only thing I had time to eat) as a student, and had spent many an hour pouring over the internet trying to find. Not gourmet I know, but so, so yummy.
As a guide Michelle is exceedingly experienced; a chef, ex-restaurateur and host of Marylebone’s Scratch SupperClub she certainly knows her beans. What I didn’t expect was the level of personal attention she gave to each person on the tour. Remembering names and preferences she answered the myriad questions we had all with a smile and lovely sense of Australian humour.
What’s more her pre- and post-emails were exceptional; laid out clearly and concisely, with links to maps (don’t laugh I get lost rather a lot) and good advice, she even went as far as sending us links to a recipe, extra recommendations to a coffee lover and a full list of the places we visited. All small things, but they make such a difference, especially when you’re a tourist in an unfamiliar city with a short stay.
Oh, wait, the food you ask? Every bite was a delight. From the savoury starters, to the stunning art deco surrounds of the petit four course we chatted our way through the streets of Soho. Pleasantly paced, each new venue had something special about it and we walked away with a nice level of sated fullness.
The best bit? No more eating in the same restaurant with Mr Kiwi – well, not as often anyway. I’ve already re-visited several of the recommendations and discovered several tastes of Singapore in Chinatown and an addiction to those small baked fish pictured above.
Would I recommend you do this walk? Hell yes. It’s the best 3+ hours I’ve spent in a long time. It’s not a cheap, nasty whirlwind around a couple of tinny little premises, but a chance to explore London with a passionate Foodie who knows what she’s talking about. In fact, I’m going to leave you with a tidbit from her own website, as I book myself and Mr Kiwi onto her Marylebone tour (with my own money);
“I feel really passionately about London and the amazing food scene here – but you do need to push past the chains and franchises to discover it’s true hidden treasures, and sometimes you need a little help with that. Food is a brilliant prism for people to use to ‘discover’ a city.”
What do you think of walking tours? Have you been on any?