Archive for LONDON

New London restaurants: La Bodega Negra (Elle)

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , on June 28, 2012 by markcoflaherty

Despite every intention, I’ve never made it to Le Esquina, Serge Becker’s notorious SoHo Mexican restaurant, accessed via secret door and clipboard patrol. Like all such scenester spots, it’s no longer the impossible-to-book place it once was, so of course, I don’t want to go anymore. But then, his beyond-hot MK nightclub was the first place I ever went in New York, about 1000 years ago, so, kudos to me. Yay. La Bodega Negra is a Soho reinvention of SoHo’s La Esquina – right down to a more overt, no-reservations cantina around the corner. From the outside the main restaurant looks like a sex shop, albeit an unnervingly pristine one. Its neon is more Tim Noble and Sue Webster than the Old Compton Street of pornier days now past. Once you’ve made it inside, past two check-in desks, and a lady in a polka dot shorts-suit with feathered trilby, you’re in what might be the prettiest, buzziest basement in London.

It’s very dark, very sexy and very 2012. The décor is all vintage-looking estancia tiling, rough plaster, reclaimed shopfront letters, upturned pianos, taxidermy and curtained-off alcoves. Despite a few buttoned-down banker types and a single baseball cap sighting (with blazer and shirt too, people!), everyone looks like they “might be someone”. The bar staff have Alex James/Nuno Mendes flicks and the punters are rake-thin blondes throwing their heads back to pour another grapefruit margarita in. The music – a fastidiously hip mix of Carly Simon, Ice Cube and Depeche Mode covers by Johnny Cash – gets louder and louder and – “what’s that you say!?” – louder. As much as you might want to hate it, it’s quite fabulous. Becker knows his stuff. It’s such a great party, the food is perhaps a moot point.

After working my way through the menu, I’d say that this isn’t really somewhere you want to come for a full-on dinner, it’s somewhere to book and rock up to as late as possible, for a casual mix of nibbles, liquor and nightlife. As Mexican food goes, it’s not half bad. I bastardise the cuisine at home to decent, cosy, sludgy effect, but frankly, London’s Mexican restaurants – most notably Mercado in Stoke Newington – are uniformly crap. Only retro Greek seems like a less appealing option. This is a big step up, but is it really what you want for dinner? With a heavily policed two-hour table turning policy? At these prices? Yes and no. With a bit of maybe.

First, a word on those prices: A small plate of red snapper ceviche at £13.50 and a seabass in alternate green and red seasoning for £26 is spendy. With a few tacos, salads and bits and bobs, you’ll blow £50, or much more, with ease. This is London-small-plate-hazard-red-alert territory. But then, some of it’s very good. From the starter list, BBQ octopus is dark, tender and tasty, and a seared tuna starter near perfect. Grilled corn with cream would be better off the cob and with less herb on it. The steak tacos (£6.50 for two) were much-moreish but the chorizo version was so spiced that I needed an emergency glass of milk. A single tuna tostaditas was light, tasty and creamy, but a side of white beans with chorizo was anaemic and lacked seasoning. A plate of roasted vegetables looked dark, leaden and unappealing, with aggressive chunks of onion. It didn’t taste much better. The main problem at La Bodega Negra is that everything tastes curiously similar, and everyone at my table hankered for at least one thing a little lighter.

Come to La Bodega Negra for lashings of margarita-based cocktails and trays of tacos to soak them up, or have some ceviche and a main (the chicken paillard or slow roasted lamb for two are stand-outs). It’s such a shame about the two-hour turnaround, because this would be a great place to linger, revelling in the candlelit funk and glitz, running up a ridiculous bill on drinks and finger food. It’s such a fun room. But then, hey, at least you can book – and let’s face it, most London restaurateurs choose to insult you one of two ways these days: make you wait in the rain for a table or ask for you chip and PIN while your halfway through your pudding. And if the main restaurant at La Bodega Negra was “no reservations” there’d be a very weird, very long unlikely-looking queue outside of Soho’s most salubrious sex shop.


New London restaurants: JOE’S (Elle)

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , , on November 23, 2011 by markcoflaherty

I didn’t try chef Maria Elia’s food at the revamped Whitechapel Gallery when she cooked there. This was largely because the gallery’s opening exhibition – a retrospective of sculptor Isa Genzken – was so bloody dreadful that it put me off ever going back. But anyway, here she is, taking over what used to be Joe’s Café and, for a period in the in the late 80s and early 90s, a space so highly charged with monochrome flash, fashion and cool that my best friend called her first born son Joe in tribute. Actually, it wasn’t just the Café she loved. Her christening decision was made in homage to owner Joseph Ettedgui’s whole empire: his boutiques (the flagship opposite the restaurant was a place of pilgrimage for first-wave Alaïa fans), his “it” fragrance, Joseph Parfum de Jour, and his swish way with typography. I never named a child after the restaurant, but it was always a favourite – and largely successful – third-date location.

Joseph himself sadly passed away in 2010 and JOE’S (as it’s now been reinvented and capitalised as), looks very different these days. The bold, silver and black Eva Jiricna interior that was immortalised in Patsy and Edina’s “Champagne for Lulu!” lunch in Absolutely Fabulous has been torn out, with only a stair rail and portholes in the doors downstairs left to remind us how beautiful it was once. It’s a less intimidating space now, with breezy, chatty service, warm leather and wood and weirdly chilly mushroom walls, but promise of more framed David Bailey photography to fix the latter. I miss the old look, but I don’t miss the old menu. What Elia has brought to Brompton Cross is largely fantastic, and should attract an infinitely more discerning, foodie crowd.

The menu is arrestingly modern with buzzwords and buzzier ingredients: Carpaccio; pearl barley; marinated beetroot… it just doesn’t get more au courant than beetroot these days. Amongst the starters there’s slow-braised octopus, mackarel with gooseberry chutney and a haddock (carpaccio, natch) with crème fraiche, lemon and chilli that’s the bees knees. It’s light but sharp, with a lot of spark.

Elia goes out of her way to create splendid plates for veggies. Her book, the Modern Vegetarian, is Quorn-free food porn for the meatless and her most interesting dishes at JOE’S are alternating “Textures of…” platters of one veg done several different ways. I shared the Textures of Peas, which included a soup, a mousse, pods and an orrechiette; each emerald green, each delicious and when grouped together, pretty enough to warrant reaching for the Hipstamatic. Monkfish with preserved lemon cous cous was similarly wonderful, although I found her strawberry risotto with bitter radicchio (something I make at home from a very different Guy Grossi recipe) overly complicated with too many ingredients in the mix. Many will love it though. Puddings are appealingly small, and big on fresh fruit. Elia’s cooking gives an overall impression of being offbeat but gently so, and full of lightness and freshness. It’s bringing culinary chic back to JOE’s, and one of London’s most enticing fashion districts, in a big way.


Food 9


Ambience 6


Service 9


Value 9


JOE’S, 126 Draycott Avenue, London SW3 3AH, 020-7225 2217


9am-11pm Tue-Sat; 9am-6pm Sun-Mon


STYLE OF FOOD: Contemporary British/European





SET MENU: Lunch Mon-Fri, £15 (two courses) or £17 (three courses).


PRICE OF BOTTLE HOUSE WINE: £21, Rodero Arneis, Vigne Sparse (white); £19 Cabernet/Malbec, Finca Los Prados (red).




No private dining.

No garden/al fresco dining.

Bar for cocktails.

BEST TABLES: The tables in the back area have less noise from the street, but can feel cut off on a quiet evening.

WHO GOES: A very international Chelsea crowd, and of course Brompton Cross “ladies who lunch”.

NEAREST TUBE: South Kensington




Quick bite after work

Pre theatre

Special occasion

First date

Group dinner

Work lunch/dinner