I have mentioned my American mate Andy before (he who doesn’t do fried nor think that anywhere outside of mainland US 0f A can put ground mince between two bun halves and make anything tasty from it) and his take on UK Mexican restaurants is that there is nowhere on our fair isle that can produce top-end Mexican food. Now forgive me but, having been to Mexico and having spent a good amount of time in southern California, I am not at all sure that there is anything that could be considered top-end Mexican.
Americans use Mexican food like we do Chinese or Indian: cheap, cheerful and baring no resemblance to the food that you would get in the Yucatán (or Sichuan Province or the Punjab for us). To be honest, there really isn’t a great deal that you can do with refried beans and corn chips, and it is precisely this slop that the likes of Café Pacifico, Daddy Donkey et al have been punting out to unsuspecting tourists for so long.
La Bodega Negra is different. It is a sexy Mexican: the Selma Hayek of the London restaurant scene. The website is sexy: all sepia tinted nudes. The location is sexy. Well, sex shop at least. The clientele is sexy with lots of pretty-young-things and the odd smattering of celebs (apparently Keira was there, who I missed, but I’m pretty sure that the bearded one from The Hangover was in. But as he was serving, I’m not sure it can have been he). And the food is more sex-mex than tex-mex; no refried beans, good chunky guacamole and proper corn chips. And lots of tequila and mescal available, straight up or in a cocktail.
So why did it feel such a let down? Well the evening started well enough (although one of our number managed to fall into the sex shop entrance, totally missing the step); margaritas were brought, guacamole and corn chips arrived and we were asked if we’d like to move to a better table. We were then told we were moving to a better table. Fair enough. Didn’t want to, but churlish to complain.
Starters then came, and they were really rather good: the crab tostaditas were delicate and had a lovely hint of coriander and mango, the squash mole tostaditas nice and spicy, although the veal tongue tacos were a little plain. The mains were what really let the side down: a slow cooked shoulder of lamb should have been falling off the bone, especially as to serve it you are only given a spoon. It wasn’t. It was tough, hard to get off the bone with a knife, the fat too obvious, having not rendered down enough in the long, slow simmer. The prawns were the biggest prawns I have ever seen: the size of lobsters, and as expensive. Nice enough, but no wow factor.
For desert we had but one (along with more margaritas), the chocolate fondant with mole ice cream. Lovely fondant, nasty ice cream: tasted great when first tried, but the chilli aftertaste was way too strong.
Half-a-dozen margaritas each should floor anyone. Alas, despite the waitress telling us that they were double shots, I am pretty sure that there was no more than a whiff of mescal in any of them. And that adds up. In fact, this has to have been the most expensive Mexican food I have ever had. Not bad, just once again underlining the fact that top-end Mexican is an oxymoron, a place where the food always plays second saxophone to the sex. Which is really the way it should be.