These days, it is not unusual to find decent food in the strangest of places. Did you ever imagine you could find good food in a sex shop? No? Neither did I, until I went to La Bodega Negra on a recent trip to London.
I’m not talking about the cute, turquoise-fronted La Bodega Negra on Moor Street; that’s the café. I’m talking about its naughty sister just around the corner, emblazoned with provocative neon lights that make you stop outside, totally bewildered, assuming you have been given the wrong directions. There is no name outside, but this is number 9; it has to be the right place… You quickly look left, then right, check that no one is giving you a dirty look, and duck inside, only to be greeted by a man(nequin) in a gimp suit, beyond which, thankfully, is a nice lady with a clipboard, waiting to check that you have a reservation. Don’t expect to just walk in; despite its rather peculiar exterior, this place is really quite popular!
Keep going down the stairs into a dimly lit cavernous ‘bodega’, or cellar, that has nothing whatsoever to do with a sex shop. It is in fact a restaurant, serving, in its own words “Mexican food, street, beach and free style.”
After a couple of frozen margaritas at the bar while we waited for the rest of our group to arrive, we were seated in a cosy booth table and immediately offered some sesame tostadas with some of the most delicious guacamole I have ever tasted.
La Bodega Negra’s quesadilla rustica is unusual in that it is open, without the second tortilla on top, exposing its topping of four cheeses, roasted tomato, epazote and, on some slices, some pretty ferocious chillies. Despite being like no other quesadilla we had ever had, we enjoyed it so much we ordered a second.
The soft shell crab and pork belly carnitas tacos had hints of deliciousness, but unfortunately, with only a small dollop of chipotle crema or salsa verde respectively, they were just a little lacking in flavour. Aside from the beautiful presentation, I also found the £8.50 (HKD108) price tag for only two soft shell crab tacos a little steep.
Perhaps they do ceviche very differently in Mexico, or perhaps it’s just different at La Bodega Negra, but the ceviche rojo, with squid, octopus and prawns, was not ceviche as I know it. For starters, the seafood was cooked, not raw, and it didn’t have that distinct citrusy flavour from the lemon juice in which it is cured. Nevertheless, the tomato salsa, despite making this more of a ‘seafood cocktail’ than a ceviche, did have a nice flavour and the seafood was deliciously fresh.
The roasted corn salad with Serrano chilli and lime dressing was one of my favourite dishes of the night. The ingredients were simple yet fresh and merged together perfectly to create a delicious dish with interesting textures and a pleasant yet subtle chilli kick.
The final dish of the night, from the specials menu, was a lovely slow-cooked beef cheek. The meat was beautifully tender and was served atop two very different sauces: on one side there was a tangy mango chutney, whilst on the other a very spicy tomato-based sauce. The meat worked wonderfully with both, whether you can handle your spice or not.
Due to La Bodega Negra’s strict two-hour seating policy, we were told that we did not have time for dessert. Although slightly disappointed by this, we knew that it was probably our fault for being pretty slow in ordering and had had an enjoyable meal nonetheless.
The bill, not including the margaritas and a lovely bottle of Tempranillo came to £25 (HKD320) each. Considering we didn’t leave uncomfortably full and hadn’t even had dessert, this was perhaps a little higher than it should have been for London, but pretty average by HK standards. The service was personal and friendly, making it fully deserving of the 12% service charge. It was a fun meal in an interesting venue that I would definitely recommend. Just don’t expect this kind of food nor service from any old sex shop!
La Bodega Negra
9 Old Compton Street
London W1D 5NH
Tel: +44 (0) 207 758 4100