Serge Becker, the man behind the very cool Manhattan hangout, La Esquina, heads to London to open La Bodega Negra. It might resemble Polpo in many ways (and Wahaca in others) but deconstructing it won't help you enjoy it any more - and there's certainly a lot to enjoy at this very trendy new spot in Soho.
The first point of interest is the double address: La Bodega has snapped up a rare space in Soho, one that stretches across the block between two streets - the café and taqueria on one side, and the restaurant on the other. Rather than going all Mexicana, La Bodega Negra chooses a masculine, simple approach to the décor. There is some colour, but the place is mostly decked out in toffee tiles, brown leather and dark wood. The café (complete with open plan kitchen), is rather bright, while the taqueria is filled with tables and a conspicuous bar with tall stalls all around it. It would look more Chicago than Acapulco if it weren't for the Hispanic music posters stuck on the walls, yet the final impression remains more authentic than the dressed skeletons and garish colours of places like Wahaca.
La Bodega Negra is too young to have acquired a loyal clientele of its own: at the moment the customers seem to span all walks of life, though there's obviously a few dedicated foodies and bloggers getting in there early. And while this venue will surely become a favourite of many, its prominent location on Old Compton Street will always make it subject to an influx of casual clients for impromptu visits. This will not necessarily detract from the atmosphere - the pervasive music and general bustle almost make you unaware of your surroundings, even when you sit at the bar.
You will, however, definitely notice the staff, whom deserve pretty high praise. Service is still slightly tentative (you may be promised your main is about to arrive before waiting ten minutes, or the bartender may shake you the wrong cocktail) but the interaction happens with the broadest smiles and friendliest attitude, and you truly feel well looked after.
Predictably, some (though not all) dishes are shared between the taqueria and the restaurant. The emphasis is on exquisite preparation, with Mexican staples like guacamole (which is slightly grainy) with pico de gallo (£5) just excellent. The quesadillas with black corn truffle and artichoke (£7.50) are not the usual run-of-the-mill Mexican fare, and likewise the roast potatoes (which are divine - £3.50) come served with mole negro - an aromatic chilli pepper paste which you're unlikely to taste elsewhere. The authenticity of ingredients and preparation is outstanding. Other dishes (from £3-£8) seem more generic (think giant tiger prawn and rib eye steak) but the preparation is nevertheless impeccable.
The drinks list is succinct but still more than satisfactory. The Bodega’s forte is definitely the exotic cocktails, all of which are very well priced at £7.50 - which is pretty cheap for the area. Try the Tamarind Margarita to sample a truly new flavor: the drink is cloudy, brownish and sweet and tangy at the same time, while the rim of the glass has some mysterious red ingredient - that's very good. The aquas frescas (£2.75) have the same inspiring flavours, and there are mocktails (£4.50), Mexican beers and wine to choose from too.
The Last Word
La Bodega Negra may follow a familiar formula but it refines it ever so slightly. An impressive venue, with great food, drinks, service and location.