Posted on Monday, 26th November 2012
Utilise a sex shop as a frontage for a restaurant, give it the pretense of a speakeasy den, and you have the trappings of the latest ‘IT’ venue. La Bodega Negra is the London outpost of NYC’s La Esquina, a swanky Mexican café-taqueria from New York nightlife design maestro Serge Becker.
The restaurant can be accessed from Old Compton Street. There’s not a sign in sight to guide your way other than the big number 9 on top of the entrance, so as you enter through the sex shop doors there is an air of the seductive unknown about it. The fashionable dressed maître’d reassuringly lets you know that you’re in the right place, after which you check your coat and then make your way downstairs to the den of exoticism. La Bodega Negra is an upstairs downstairs job, with a ground floor café around the corner on Moor Street.
Cocktails were tasty, but there were many minus points. A supposedly frozen margarita (£8.50) had completely defrosted by the time it reached us, and a passion fruit margarita came out in the tiniest glass imaginable and with so much ice it smacked off being a rip off.
The tostadas in a serving of sesame tostadas with guacamole (£5.50) were very crunchy and really well done. The guacamole yielded a creamy, smooth texture, but had been blended to dilute the flavour of the avocado. The portion was disappointingly tiny.
A scallop ceviche with mango and jalapeno (£13) failed to thrill. It was also meanly sized, and the heavy-handed use of lime juice buried the taste of the scallops and other ingredients.
A BBQ octopus “El Negro” (£12.50) was decidedly average. There was too much BBQ sauce in the dish, and the pineapple pieces thrown into the mix left this dish tasting odd. All in all, this was a rather bizarre concoction.
Rock shrimp tacos with chipotle crema (£7.50) were better. The shrimps were sweet, the soft taco casings were well made, and the chipotle cream was tasty with a little kick.
From the mains, a small portion of mixed seafood and rice cazuela (£16.50) was tasty other than for the use of too many capers that gave this dish too much acidity. Otherwise, the seafood was sweet and the cooking broth used was very good.
Chocolate fondant with mole ice cream (£6.50) had not been evenly cooked causing it to collapse in the centre. There was a thin layer of melted fat oozing out of the fondant onto the plate, which was rather unattractive to look at. Nevertheless, the fondant was rich, chocolate-y and tasty, if a little sweet. The ice cream was delicious and creamy, although one could not taste the mole in it.
I really wanted to like La Bodega Negra but couldn’t, not the food anyway. It looked all sexy and original, and the menu hinted at promise. However, the reality was such that the food was all show and little substance – well-intentioned and interesting conceptually, but lacking in execution and judgment. The portions were also stingy and the service was a wee bit slow.
But La Bodega Negra is very, very cool and uber chic, and it will no doubt continue to draw in the crowds even if the food is only slightly better than average. La Bodega is worth an ogle at the fabulous décor and a taste of the scintillating vibe, but a repeat visit might not guarantee a satisfactory eating experience. The service is at a cheeky 15%.
Food rating: 3/5
Service rating: 3/5
Price range: £40 – £60 per head, excluding drinks and service.