Friday, 16 March 2012
Serge Becker: La Bodega Negra - Hitting the Right Notes for London's Coolest Mexican
He is variously described as a "night life impresario", a "cultural engineer" and a man with such magnetism that his mere presence can assure an attractive clientele. With all of this hype, it sounds like he could be the Messiah for all things Mexican. Can his just opened Soho gaff lead us to the promised land?
Whilst the restaurant has not yet opened, the bar/cafe/taqueria shows all of the hallmarks of the Messiah's touch: think a cross between a retro student diner and your favourite hole in the wall bar. Very new world, very urban cool, very much the place where the cool kids of the West End will hang out.
From a culinary perspective, we have new takes on old favourites. Starters consist of the likes of red snapper ceviche with tomato (£9), chorizo and coriander lettuce cups (£9) or grilled corn with crema mexicana (£3.50). Standing out from the crowd however if the wonderfully rich and limey guacamole with sesame tostados (£5) - this is pure guacamole heaven that almost (but not quite) surpassed Ms P's perfect take on the Mexican favourite. If those don't call your name, try the three tacos selection (£6): six choices, some of which are the seared steak with salsa picante, chorizo and potato or cochinita pibil pork with salsa verde. I tried the cochinita - a wonderfully rich slowed cooked pulled pork that was meltingly tender and enlivened by a tangy salsa verde that was on the right side of taste bud wham.
Mains consisted of the likes of huevos rancheros with frijoles negros with added bacon or char grilled steak (£7.50 - £14), whole grilled sea bream with al mojo de ajo (£16) or the skirt steak with salsa rachera (£13.50). I opted for the chilaquiles with slow braised shredded beef and ancho chilli (£10.50) - to the uncool (like myself) this is a fussed-up nachos with part toasted corn chips slathered in a rich tomato sauce and covered in a mount of meat. The shredded beef was flavoursome with hints of corriander and certainly better than anything I have seen topped on nachos before. However, overall the dish lacked the kick of flavour I expect from Mexican - it seemed to be missing zing or the whack of spice.
In the drinks department and for those that love tequila, it will be shots all round (£3.80-£27.10) with an extended list that is likely to induce dancing on the colourful bar. Cocktails are imaginative (£7.50), with the hibiscus frozen margarita waiting for me for next time.
Serge's La Bodega Negra didn't take me to the promised land, but in time it might - it is early days. Let his magnetism entice you through the door of this new Soho haunt, have a tequila or ten and enjoy some new takes on Mexican favourites.