20 April 2012

Upstairs, Downstairs: La Bodega Negra Review

La Bodega Negra ('the black store'), which opened near Leicester Square a few weeks ago, is a tale of two restaurants; both serve Mexican food but each has its own floor, entrance and style. At 16 Moor Street, you can enter into the more casual, diner-liker cafe, which serves tarted up Mexican street food and fruity cocktails. The Old Compton Street entrance (painted black and with a 'sex shop' sign, which doesn't really narrow it down very much in that part of the world) leads down into the dark, sleek basement where bigger and pricier dishes are served.

La Bodega Negra, Moor Street entrance
Two friends and I decided to go for the no-bookings cafe last night. We arrived at about 7 pm and the place was bustling, but we perched at the bar and enjoyed a cocktail while we waited for our table. My watermelon margarita was very good--fruity and sweet but with enough kick to set the right sort of tone for a Thursday evening. The service was a little inconsistent--Balham Babe and I got our drinks quite quickly but it took our other friend nearly 10 minutes to pin down a bartender. After a hectic day in the office, I had lost all sense of time by this point, but we probably only had to wait about half an hour until we were seated at a nice, cosy corner booth.

Watermelon margarita; other flavours and
frozen margs are also available.
The menu isn't huge in the cafe; basically, you can have various forms of street food (tacos, quesadillas, etc) or, if you're in the mood for something meatier, there are steak and roast chicken options. As La Bodega Negra feels like a brunchy sort of place, I decided that huevos rancheros at 7.30 pm was perfectly acceptable. The dish--two fried eggs with black beans on a tortilla--was pretty tasty, although with very little in the way of carbs, I might not have found it filling enough had I been hungrier. You could opt to have it with bacon or steak but I'm quite fussy about my bacon and didn't want to risk it. BB was thinking about having one of the quesadillas but we weren't sure what huitlacoche was. A quick Google suggested it was a corn fungus, although the word 'truffle' did also appear in the search results. We asked the Hispanic waiter and he concurred that it was 'corn fungus,' so BB decided to have the same as me instead. They definitely need to work on a more appetizing translation of huitlacoche: 'Mexican truffle' perhaps. Our third amiga ordered the prawn tacos, which were pretty but small, although with decent-sized portions of beans and rice on the side, the portions seemed about right. We did also order some corn chips and guacamole to share, but the aforementioned spotty service meant these didn't arrive until we had nearly finished our main courses.

I wasn't really tempted by any of the puddings, although if I had been hungrier, I might have gone for the panna cotta with hibiscus fruits. It's a shame that churros feature only on the downstairs menu and aren't on offer in the cafe. We had to order the bill twice, which we didn't mind, because we were happy to sit and chat, but the people waiting for a table might have been less pleased. The bill, when it arrived, came in a decorative box, which is original, I suppose!

Overall, we paid about £20 each, which included a cocktail, corn chips, main course and service. This isn't too bad, given you would pay a similar amount at Wahaca and La Bodega Negra is a much cooler hangout, with its old-style posters and intimate, candle-lit setting. The food, drink and ambiance were very good and it was only the service that let the side down a little. Nonetheless, I plan to go back to try out the tacos and another cocktail or two in the near future, and when the buzz has died down a little, I'd also like to check out what goes on below the stairs.

La Bodega Negra. 16 Moor Street, London, W1D 5NN (Tube: Leicester Square/Tottenham Court Road). Website.

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