Mexican restaurants are often associated with cheap, and sometimes tacky dining. Mexican food is often mistaken for the American Tex Mex, where fried burritos, cheesy nachos and sizzling chicken fajitas come to mind. Not that I don’t love a good burrito now and again (who doesn’t?!), but for anyone who’s ever been to Mexico, they probably didn’t even come across this type of food.
Mexican food is far more diverse and experimental than the Tex Mex counterpart, with so many different dishes, ingredients and cooking styles. Many Mexican restaurants are trying to shake off that ‘tacky’ Tex Mex label, serving the real Mexican cuisine. The chain ‘Wahaca’ does this very well, specialising in Mexican street food, tasty and reasonably priced. Yet Wahaca is still very casual, as most Mexican restaurants are. Which leads me to La Bodega Negra.
Deep in the heart of Soho, La Bodega Negra sits behind a brazen neon front amongst the countless bars and theatres, luring in diners who want a more exclusive Mexican experience. Imported from America, the sister of New York’s award-winning La Esquina, puts on a chic Mexican show split into two parts; La Bodega Negra’s reservation-only restaurant is underneath a sex shop front on Old Compton Street, whilst the more casual cafe/bar is on Moor Street.
La Bodega Negra’s reputation proceeds it. I had it on good authority, from more that one person, that the restaurant food was “something else” but that it came with a higher price tag than the cafe. I’d agree that the unique location and style of La Bodega Negra (being under a sex shop) sets it apart from other Mexican restaurants, but I was curious to see if the food matched up with the price and the hype…
We went along on a weekday night to La Bodega Negra’s Cafe on Moor Street. It’s no reservations and was already busy at 6.30, so I was put on a waiting list and seated at the bar for 15 minutes. With attentive bartenders, the wait wasn’t a problem and it gave me a chance to soak in the quirky surroundings. Most notable was the lack of light in the room; the dim orangey lighting and dark furnishings certainly added to the feeling that it was more a bar than a restaurant and the place was buzzing.
The cafe menu is a simple offering of small plates and street food, such as taquitos and quesadillas, as well as burgers, ceviche and salads. We spotted the taquitos (extra small tacos) which at £6 a go were swiftly eliminated from our order.
The Gringa quesadillas, however, were far from disappointing. With tender pieces of pork, salsa verde and gooey cheese in a soft flour tortilla, each bite was a delight. The chorizo quesadillas were deliciously smoky but in a crisper tortilla, with a bit more bite.
For those wanting something other than quesadillas, the Guadalajara Salad with seared rib eye is an excellent choice. The juicy strips of beef were complemented by the fruitiness of the pomegranate.
Together with some deliciously smoky black beans and a side of smooth creamy guacamole with corn chips and we had a great Mexican feast. We definitely did not leave feeling unsatisfied, as we first worried.
I can’t yet speak for the restaurant, but the food at La Bodega Negra cafe didn’t disappoint. The pricing might be questionable for some as Mexican food usually comes with a much cheaper price-tag. In La Bodega Negra you pay for the setting and style. The buzzing and upbeat atmosphere was welcomed by us and it gave simple Mexican food a touch of style. No tacky Tex Mex to be seen.La Bodega Negra Cafe, 16 Moor Street, London W1D 5NH www.labodeganegra.com
Price: £15-£20 per head (food only)