It started with guacamole. A huge, heavy glass skull full of the stuff. Served with light, crispy corn nachos, with some sliced Mexican turnip (far more tasty than it sounds) and radish, the portion was bigger than one of the Hulk’s hands, and my dining companion and I still found space to order a second helping, it was that good.
Welcome to Bodega Negra, aka the bad boy of Mexican cooking. Originally launched in London’s Soho in 2012, to great acclaim, Bodega Negra has been imported to the Big Apple, with the aim of providing upscale Mexican cuisine to cool New Yorkers.
You enter through what looks like the fire escape of a juice bar, round the corner from the main entrance to the Dream Hotel, within which the restaurant is situated.
‘Are you sure we’ve got the right address?’ asked my partner. ‘I don’t know. I hope not, it doesn’t look very happening,’ I replied. ‘But hang on a minute, what if we check behind these big black doors…’
Et voila: we’ve gone through the wardrobe and into some tequila-fuelled Narnia (seriously, every good night should contain a margarita). We await our table at the dimly-lit but heaving bar, cradling two delicious classic, agave nectar margaritas. Served over ice, they’re some of the best I’ve ever tasted, and I’ve tried a few. It’s good to hang at the bar among the hip crowd: the place is bustling and the ideal Friday-night venue.
Once our table is ready, we’re led through a traditional Mexican curtain and into the dining area, and seated in a comfy leather booth. We devour the (two portions of) guacamole and somehow find room for our mains, ordering a selection of modern dishes recommended by our lovely waitress.
She suggests we go for five plates, so we plump for the tuna ceviche (spicy, fresh, citrusy flesh, with a nutty sesame crunch), crispy pork belly with a pineapple salsa, pork belly carnitas (soft tacos with tender meat and a zingy salsa verde), slow roasted lamb, and the roasted corn salad. If you order just one thing, go for the salad: a mix of popped and fresh corn, with jalapenos, cheese and a lime vinaigrette, the mix of textures and flavours is heavenly.
We follow these with another round of margaritas, plus two alternative tequila-based cocktails: the Spiced Celery Sour, a mind-blowing mix of celery-infused mescal and jalapeno syrup; and the Blood & Fire, a refreshing (in more ways than one) blend of Patron Silver and spiced hibiscus syrup.
We can’t find room for anything else, but we glance over at the table next to us regretfully as they order the signature dessert: the Don Huevo, a molten dark chocolate and beer cake with caramel sauce, all encased in a giant white chocolate bomb. If only we’ve eaten less guacamole – damn those delicious avocadoes.
The ELLEuk Score
Value: 8 (pricey, but the portions are HUGE)
Style of food: Modern Mexican
Good for: A third date, Friday night out with your friends
Prices and Other Details at Bodega Negra New York
Opening times: Sun-Wed, 5.30pm-midnight; Thurs-Sat, 5.30pm-1am
Average price per person: starters range from £4-£10, tacos and tostaditas £5.90-£9.50, entres from £13-£41 (for a 24.oz ribeye steak for two to share)
Set menu: No. A la carte
Price per bottle of house wine: £22.50 for a bottle of 2012 Stella Pinot Grigio Sicily; £27 for a bottle of 2011 Terrazas De Los Andres Malbec
Price of glass of house wine: £6 for a glass of 2012 Stella Pinot Grigio Sicily; £7 for a glass of 2011 Terrazas De Los Andres Malbec
Price of bottle of house champagne: £45 for a bottle Henriot Brut Souverain Champagne
Price of glass of house champagne: £13 for a glass of Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut Champagne
Private dining: Yes
Garden/al fresco dining? No
Best table? Get a booth overlooking the rest of the restaurant
Bar? Yes, a cocktail bar and snack area
Who goes? Couples, groups of friends, office workers
Nearest tube: West 14th Street