Sunday, 19 August 2012

La Bodega Negra - Mexi-can! Aug 2012

On a sultry Soho night, the office Joes and Olympic trippers trooping down Old Compton hardly notice Kate Moss extinguish her cigarette and stalk back into the sex shop. Is it that regular round here to see a supermodel (retired) in a sex shop? Given the in crowd's current predilection for hip Mexican La Bodega Negra, hidden behind the porny facade, it's probably not that unusual dahling.

Following Kate down the staircase to this modish modern Mexican is a crowd definitely more Chelsea than Soho, beautiful blonde embassy types squired by ex Bullingdon Clubbers. This isn't entirely a bad thing. They bray less when they're out of their comfort zone and here just provide a slightly well-to-do wallpaper. The rest of the decor veers from New York Underground cool (distressed brickwork, exposed piping) to second toughest in the infants (the artfully carved cardboard clad VIP room currently occupied by La Moss and the cool kids looks like it was assembled by class 5b). Not that any of this matters, because the 'atmospheric' lighting stops you seeing much of it, or the food, or your fellow guests.

The sevice was disarmingly friendly, with the exception of snappy, fraught bartenders, but occasionally bordered on slightly hapless - We went through three separate clean plates each for our shared starters (one of which didn't arrive until prompted and felt missed) and had our table turned on a ten minute notice in the same breath as being offered desserts. We were offered a space in the barrio chic bar to finish up before being moved on from there for another booking. All minor points, but given the ease you can spend £50-£60 a head without booze, these are things that need not to happen...

The tacos, a bellweather dish in any Mexican restaurant, were pretty good in the main. Street food purists (and most Americans) might baulk at £6-£8 for a pair of the soft shelled snacks, each a two bite pop, but both lamb with a deeply savoury 'drunken' salsa and pork with grilled pineapple were excellent. A prawn number was superbly flavoured if a little too subtle for the likes of Kate's smoke raddled palate. Better than Wahaca? Almost certainly. But at three times the price you'd hope so.

Mains were larger than expected. Given the average waist size of the crowd, I was expecting to sample a range of (very) small plates, but the mains were all plus size, verging on the American.

The Author and I shared an excellent lamb barbecoa, slow roasted meat falling off the bone, cooked till tender in a rich, chocolatey sauce and served in an enormous chafing dish that occupied the table like a meat filled Olympic flame. It's not easy to split one of those up in the half light of the restaurant but we struggled manfully through it. There were some great flavours coming through in the deep rich cooking technique, and my only criticism could be that it left me with barely enough room to finish my (slightly hurried) dessert. Sides are extra, expensive and necessary, the big hunk of lamb came with nothing itself, a bit of a squizz for a £40 shared dish.

The Publisher gamefully went for the sea bass that AA Gill had described as like "antibiotics growing on a pantyliner". The red and green adobe topping was tasty if more muted than described, but the fish was perfectly well cooked and not noticeably like a Bodyform. Like much else, it was a deeply enjoyable dish that I'd order in future. With a surfeit of meat on the table, Dr Vole went for a slightly disappointing mushroom and tortilla salad. She enjoyed the flavours and contrasting textures but it added nothing to my understanding of Mexican cuisine, and was pretty much the only option if you didn't want meat or fish.

I'm not sure how Mexican it is, but they've half-inched the Scandinavian inspired 'Frozen Berries with White Chocolate Sauce' from Le Caprice. I didn't notice any specifically Latino twist to it though it was as delicious as it has ever been. Dr Vole's Chocolate Fondant had the slightest spike of chilli and a quite superb Mole infused ice cream. That one is definitely worth returning for.

Cocktails were excellent and I was impressed by the food on show, though I'm not sure it quite matches the pricing. This is rustic food in the main, with a variety of rich spicy sauces masking a number of usually cheaper cuts. The premium is for the atmosphere, and the bar, and on a buzzy Friday night, I didn't have a problem with that, though I might do on a slower Tuesday service.

CAVEAT - I should note that after previously having a previously planned evening here right royally norsed up, we were treated as guests and had our meal, and a very nice bottle of champagne, comped. So that was nice of them. Given that it was to make up for a customer services problem, and not because I was writing this, I wasn't initially going to mention it, but full disclosure hey.

La Bodega Negra on Urbanspoon

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