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THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE

The American masthead
1040 Abroad

La Bodega Negra

9 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 5JF
By Michael M Sandwick
Published on July 9, 2021
www.labodeganegra.com

La Bodega Negra

“Peep Show” in neon and an androgynous slim Jim smacking a riding crop in the palm of his hand promise something other than culinary titillation. Don’t be fooled. This IS where you want to have dinner.

Walking downstairs feels absolutely like entering a sex club. Don’t ask how I know that! It’s a cellar, with vaulted ceilings and a décor to die for: leather banquettes, metal tables, a snug in an arch, edgy art and not a sling to be seen. The upended carcass of a grand piano dividing the room is genius. Music is blasting, lights are low and spirits are high. I felt right at home.

Our waiter was excellent, on top of things from start to finish. Scanning the menu in an underground vault isn’t easy but we finally managed. Gee I miss paper! A jalapeño margarita (£10) was my first order of business, Batanga Blanco tequila, lime, and chili in perfect balance. I stuck with it for two more rounds. The hibiscus version was tart and tasty, but no longer a margarita. Pepino (£12) mixed Ojo de Dios mezcal with pineapple juice, cucumber, chili and agave syrup. Complex and refreshing, I still preferred my hot margie.

La Bodega Negra La Bodega Negra matcha cheesecake with raspberries

The new head chef, Gustavo Giallonardo is solid. The food is authentic though not as punchy as in Mexico, toned down, no doubt, for the UK gringos. Plates are small. After sharing 6 dishes, I was pleasantly satisfied, but then I’m 102. My 34 y.o. guest was still hungry.

Guacamole (£8.50) with fresh, multi-colored totopas (corn chips) was the chunkiest ever. Well-seasoned with fresh herbs and tomatoes.

Sea bass ceviche (£9) won the day. The fish was beautifully cured in Amarillo (hot yellow pepper) and leche de tigre (Peruvian citrus marinade). The balance of flavors was just right.

Taco el pastor (£8) is a classic. Slow-cooked pork with pineapple. The ratio of meat to fruit was spot on but the dish lacked edge. Neither did a light salsa verde add the kick I was looking for.

Truffle and black mole quesadilla (£8) had a great mix of Monterey Jack cheese and truffle, nicely elevating what is normally a very simple dish. The promised mole eluded me. I never found the dark, rich sauce I was expecting, but the lack allowed the truffle to shine through.

Chicken tamal - tamale in English - (£14) was a joy. Corn meal paste, filled with spiced, minced chicken and steamed in corn husks is such a treat and Chef Giallonardo executed it beautifully. The accompanying roast breast of chicken was cooked to perfection.

For dessert, a matcha cheesecake with raspberries (£6). In keeping with the “negra” (black) theme, the pudding is deliberately burnt. The taste is miraculous. A light matcha cheese, burnt sugar and zippy berries is a seemingly simple knockout.

On the way out, slim was still thwacking his crop. I gave him a look and got nothing. I had to beg for it!

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