Casa Negra (@CasaNegraLDN)
54-56 Great Eastern Street, London, EC2A 3QR
Bodega Negra was one of our most memorable recent meals in Central London. I don't think that it was really down to the food. Don't get me wrong, we had some great dishes that night - the soft shell crab tacos stood out particularly - but it was more the combination of ambience, decor, service and music which made that evening special. If I had the money to (it is staggeringly expensive), it would probably be a regular choice in Soho, which probably explains why it's one of the biggest celebrity draws in London.
A lot to live up to then. At first glance it's noticeably different from its Soho sibling, ''an English townhouse taken over by Mexican squatters,'' we're told. We visited at lunch, which may be part of the reason why I had the impression that it's a lot more chilled out than Bodega. The upstairs dining room has a fair few, spaced out covers giving the impression of a lighter, larger version of Bodega (not quite as cool in decor terms though). The downstairs bar will be considerably smaller, darker and louder, which sounds quite intriguing.
|Tortillas and Guacamole|
Between us, we ordered a bit of everything, starting with some tortillas and guacamole. The guacamole was good, but steep at £5.50 for a small portion. The menu is also strikingly different from Bodega, which is admirable, but it's a shame we didn't get to try some of our Bodega faves again.
To start with, we ordered two types of tacos - the Lengua (£6, beef tongue) and the Pescado (£8, grilled sea bass). The Lengua was the best thing we had on the menu, and for me one of the best tacos I've had in London. I love tongue (the veal tongue at Bocca di Lupo is one of my London favourites), and this was cooked superbly. It was richly flavoured, juicy and tender without being stringy (not a single toothpick required). The fish (pictured at the top of the post) was less successful, which is a shame since we get such good quality seabass in London. It had a slightly ''fishy'' taste, very unlike its usual mild flavour.
|Coctel de Mariscos|
Owen also ordered a Coctel de Mariscos (£9) - a sort of seafood cocktail. We thought that the bloody mary cocktail sauce was a tad overpowering over the seafood. The strong sweet and acidic flavours didn't really allow for us to know how good the quality of the produce used was.
|Ceviche de Caballa|
I ordered the Ceviche de Caballa (£9.50), a mackerel ceviche. The mackerel was quite good but as far as ceviche goes it was not especially memorable. Ceviche still holds the crown on that (even if everything else about the meal there was disappointing).
|Chili Relleno en Salsa Roja|
As mains we ordered Chili Relleno en Salsa Roja (£18) and the Pescado a la Veracruzano (£16). The Chilli Relleno was a large chili stuffed with cheese in a tomato and chilli sauce. It was very satisfying (it would be a fantastic hangover dish), and comforting. The cheese just neutralised the chili spiciness, leaving only a slightly bittersweet taste. I wouldn't say that the dish was fairly priced though. At £18 (!) you would expect something more impressive, in terms of flavours, ingredients and presentation.
|Pescado a la Veracruzano|
The seabass in the pescado main was cooked better than the seabass in the pescado taco. It was slightly caramelised, whilst retaining its moistness. The flavour was still not quite there with the best of seabass. Again it was ever so slightly fishy for our taste. The combination with the olives, lime and capers worked well though. As a side, Owen had the Queso Fundido (£7), which was gloriously comforting as well, a rich cheese fondue with chorizo and tortilla. However, again for the price you would probably expect more bang for your buck with this one. We had the Arroz Rojo (£3), which was fine.
Lastly for desserts we ordered 3 scoops of the ice cream. The chocolate was good, dark and bittersweet, whilst the coffee one was nicely balanced (and actually tasted like a milky coffee unlike most coffee ice creams). My favourite was the pumpkin by far though. A really unusual sweet and savoury flavour that you'd never think would work but really starred. The ''Negra'' restaurants seem to be very strong on their desserts, (their Mole ice cream at Bodega was amazing) and just shows that even with something so ubiquitous as ice cream, there's still room for innovation.
|Arroz Roja (£3)|
If it was later in the day, we probably would have given the excellent selection of mescals and tequilas a try. The cocktails at Bodega were very impressive, and it looks like the same here.
Overall, I would say Casa Negra didn't match up to Bodega for us, partly because it doesn't have the same atmosphere, but also because the food wasn't quite as spectacular as its other branch. I know that Bodega is expensive as well, but it feels closer to its value there. £18 for a chili dish is very expensive whichever way you look at it. You could spend the same amount (or less) and easily eat at more special places in London. A missed oppurtunity (although that beef tongue taco was still really, really good).
Photos by Nathalie.