Tuesday, 1 May 2012
La Bodega Negra, Soho
There's a burrito joint called Adobo just up the road from my office on High Holborn. Anyone who's ever bought a burrito in London will know the kind of place; it's no better or worse than plenty of similar operations, but because it's handy and not too expensive I find myself visiting fairly regularly. I always have the same thing - the pork pibil tacos, with guacamole and habanero salsa, and they are perfectly decent - not amazing by any stretch of the imagination, but just about worth £6 and tasty in a vaguely sterile, proto-chain kind of way. So, in its own very limited style, Adobo - just - represents value.
La Bodega Negra serves very similar food to Adobo. Of course being a "restaurant" and not a fast food bar, the menu is bigger; you can have prawns in your tacos as well as the usual pork, chicken and beef options, and there are a few larger menu items like steaks and roast sea bream (why is the token fish dish in any given restaurant always bream?) if you feel a pressing need to spend over £14 on a single course. But there's still guacamole, tortilla chips, rice and beans, hot sauces and bottles of Pacifico beer. The only substantial difference between the two, in fact, is that while Adobo just about sits on the right side of value for money, La Bodega Negra has an attitude to portion size and pricing that is arrogant bordering on insulting.
It's not that the food is inedible in any way. At least, not quite. A few of these tortilla chips were stale, the guacamole was greasy and insipid and if there was anything else in the tomato salsa other than chopped tomato then it wasn't pulling its weight, but I could at least put them in my mouth, chew them and swallow them without my gut fighting back. And that counts for something, doesn't it?
The raw tuna on this tostadita possibly wasn't quite as neon pink in real life as my iPhone would have you believe, but it did not taste any better than it looks here. The chunks of bland fish sat in a strange, thin mayonnaise that somehow managed to be both oily and wet at the same time, and whilst the effect of taking a bite encompassing the crunchy chillies and soft avocado was reasonably satisfying on one level, it was still underseasoned, underpowered and underwhelming.
But oh dear, look at these tacos. Feeble little things, each containing two or three pencil-thin shavings of spiced beef (my requested pork pibil wasn't available, and you can't mix and match - all three tacos must contain the same filling), some of that bland tomato salsa and a bit of chopped coriander. Three mouthfuls of desperately uninteresting food for £6 plus service - you'll excuse me if I'm not screaming with joy.
Service was prompt and friendly, but then I imagine it's quite easy to be attentive when you only have one customer. Yes, I was the sole diner at La Bodega Negra between the hours of midday and 1pm, and whilst I appreciated the attention it wasn't hard to see what was keeping people away. You can blame AA Gill if you like, who tore the place apart in his usual uncompromising style on Sunday, or you can just blame the fact that tiny portions of mediocre food served at high prices is never going to be popular, especially not in Soho with such brilliant competition elsewhere. I wish I hadn't spent £16.31 on my lunch at La Bodega Negra, but at least now I have, I'll know not to go again. And I guess now so do you.