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La Bodega Negra, Soho

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Last week, I rekindled an old love of mine. Mexican Food. Following a long stint working for Las Iguanas where I had fajitas, tacos and churros at my fingertips for hours at a time, it lost its appeal. Yes, even churros can become old news. But after some reflection, its about time I came back around. So I set La Bodega Negra in my sights after hearing some good things from some foodies at work.

Based just off of Shaftesbury Avenue in the heart of Soho, La Bodega Negra boasts two locations. One being a kooky cafe/bar with most of the main menu to order and no reservations required. The other being a basement restaurant which you apparently enter through a sex shop. Well, it is Soho – what do you expect.  With no reservations to our name we visited the former location, which actually turned out to be pretty cool.

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Vibrant and eclectic, this dim lit, late night cafe is charming and inviting. Taken aback by the atmosphere, I did that embarrassing dawdle that people do when they don’t know where to look and just scan the perimeter for the host hopelessly. Eventually she saw me and saved me, and was much friendlier than I’d expected. She guided my friend and I to a table at the front, with a window view of the Palace Theatre.

It was a day when I’d been feeling the toll of burgers on the old midriff and was craving something light. Yes, I am human and do have to watch what I’m eating every now and then as my love of food and clothes is about on par. This was an exceptionally tough time for me as there were literally tacos flying out of the kitchen every two seconds and rushing around the tables beside us like freaking Niagra Falls.

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For starters, dishes like the Tuna Tostada (Chipotle, avocado & serrano) £6 and Mushroom Quesadilla (Mushroom, spinach, corn, cheese & crema) £7 are up for grabs. A popular dish that I spotted on most tables were the tacos, which come served in a fancy tray with specialised holders – soon to feature in my dream kitchen. You have to order three with this and one of each is £13. Taco fillers include Pork al Pastor (Pineapple & Salsa Verde), Chicken (Crema Mexicana) and Pulled Lamb (Salsa Borracha).

As I was feeling particularly porky, I just went for a main on this occasion. I decided on the Oven Baked Sea Bass, which was served with a salsa and black olive quinoa. My friend ordered the Pollo Al Sarten (half roasted chicken, freekah salad & anticucho sauce) for £13.

Now I love seafood, whether it’s deep fried shrimp at TGI’s, fresh fish and chips on a British seaside or lobster if I’m generally just feeling like a splurge. But I can appreciate sometimes it can be done badly, and this sea bass just exceeded all of my expectations. Soft, light and full of flavour, this fish had me fall silent and wish there were five more plates of it to devour. The only downside was that I was still hungry when I’d finished, this is definitely a place to order multiple courses.

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On top of their great food, they have some wicked cocktails on their menu which will take you right back to your girls holiday in Cancun. I ordered the Aztiki, the perfect mix of Havana Blanco Rum, Lemon, Lime, Pineapple, Passion Fruit Syrup and Goslings Black Seal Rum. Downed in seconds. La Bodega Negra decor is shabby retro with a tropical vibe, the walls covered in cool event posters and some fun hip hop and RnB playing in the background.

100% my kind of place and I’ll definitely be back there again for the tacos and churros when I’m feeling a little more indulgent. Basically the way I feel about La Bodega Negra is how Cartman felt about Casa Bonita.

 

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Camper, Carnaby St

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Ugly shoe icon, Camper, has some hidden gems which you should most definitely take a look at for the winter wardrobe. (Even though it feels more like spring time and I have low-key been wishing for snow on the daily so I have more of an excuse to whip out my new coats.) But it’s also the time for some serious bargains – the end of year sales can pretty much make you talk yourself into buying anything.

The Majorcan brand was founded by Lorenzo Fluxà Rosselló in 1975 and has been dedicated to combining both comfort and style into their footwear. Factoring in new bio-mechanics only really used in high level sportswear to achieve ultra-comfy pieces. Whilst some of their designs can be a little hit and miss in regards to style, there are a good handful of bulky classics which are a fun alternative to brands like Dr Martens.

 

From left to right: Mil £80, Vintar £80, Mil £85

 

 

Homeslice, Old Street

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I am not someone who goes out for pizza. Pizza, for me, is what I order wrapped up in the depths of my duvet on a Sunday evening so hungover I’m past caring what the carb to dairy ratio is in what I’m about to consume. I thought going out to eat pizza was refined to Pizza Hut when you were ten years old, but I seem to have overlooked an entire alternative cuisine. Recently, a few restaurants have been at the centre of a couple of pizza debates between my colleagues. So I’m sucking up my love for the deep dish pizzas I’ve grown accustomed to and stepped out into the centre of Old Street to try a new favourite, Homeslice.

Homeslice started out as a mobile wood-fired oven hand built by Ry Jessup, and was launched at an event in association with London Fields brewery. They sold out in minutes and since then have opened branches in Covent Garden, Fitzrovia and Shoreditch.

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It was a ridiculously cold evening in London and there was nothing that could have been more welcoming than the wave of heat from the wood-fired pizza oven that greeted us upon entering the restaurant. With its cosy and pub like interior, this place is super inviting and suprisingly not crazy busy – it didn’t really feel like we were in London anymore. My friend and I were guided through to our table, notably smaller than the pizzas that were being served. Our waitress was superb, she found the perfect balance between being friendly but not overbearing.

So, the pizza menu was up on a chalk board behind us which I believe changes regularly, all the pizzas are 20″ priced at £20 and can be served as half and half. You can also buy by the slice on selected pizzas for £4 each. I’d like to highlight that they have Prosecco on tap at Homeslice, a step in the right direction for each and every dining joint. I don’t care if it’s a summer drink, it’s the festive season and I’ll do as I please. The cocktail menu was written on a mirror at the back, which I have to admit was a really cute idea but we couldn’t see half the menu as they’d written it in white pen and the reflection of the ceiling was white so…

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Now be warned that you can’t expect the usual here, this menu is experimental and there is no room for the likes of a Margherita or Pepperoni classic. This restaurant offers the likes of the following: Aubergine, Cauliflower Cheese, Spinach and Harissa – Chorizo, Corn and Coriander – Goat Shoulder, Savoy Cabbage and Sumac Yoghurt. You see what I mean. So my friend and I went for the half and half option (obviously) choosing Salami, Rocket and Parmesan on one half and Mushroom, Ricotta, Pumpkin Seed and Chilli on the other.

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The pizza pictured above is a sham as the food runner brought us the wrong pizza at first. I did think it was all too fast to be true. But I wasn’t annoyed or in any way disheartened by this mistake simply because I was having a bloody good time – Prosecco aside. 5 minutes after bringing the wrong pizza we had our 20 inch meal placed in front of us, hanging off of our tiny table. Paper plates popped down in the empty spaces where they would fit and the absence of cutlery barely noticed.

Looking back I was so impressed. My pizza was delicious, considering I’m more of a deep dish gal I took the thin base in my stride and freaking loved it. The salami was some of the best I’ve ever had – I could not get enough. A little more mozzarella wouldn’t have gone a miss, the parmesan had been cut into monumental slices that was a little overpowering after a couple of slices. My friend’s mushroom pizza was described as “unreal” and the best she’d ever had.

I am so keen to get back here and be a little more adventurous with my menu choice, think I went a little too safe. The vibe is great, perfect for a date or catch up with a friend. It’s just around the corner from some great bars, try The Hoxton Pony for a buzzing urban atmosphere or Joyeux Bordell for something a little more intimate and excellent cocktails.

And I’m highlighting again – Prosecco on tap. 

 

 

Ben’s Canteen, Battersea

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Along with the big burger restaurants we have all heard of in London, I love a local beauty just as much. I found out about this little gem on twitter, where I spend most of my days following restaurants promoting some monstrous burger or gluttonous menu. Ben’s Canteen have a great interactive feed and post some fantastic pictures of their eats and are based in Battersea and Earlsfield, with both a popular brunch, dinner and cocktail menu.

Just a ten minute walk from Clapham Junction station, giving you easy access to all parts of London – the journey back to Stoke Newington was a stretch, but hey I made it! The restaurant itself is really cute, white washed with outdoor seating and the fantastic patio doors which are opened up in the summer. This is something that gets me so excited every time I see it, it’s so childish but doesn’t it just feel like you’re on holiday somewhere beautiful in Europe? My friend and I arrived to find the restaurant in the cool state of busy that you’d expect on a Wednesday evening. The crowd was generally early to mid twenties with a very relaxed vibe. So relaxed in fact we couldn’t actually see any staff about when we first stepped in the door (pet peeve) but after a good wait I clocked the vacant table by the window with my reservation name on a chalk board. We took a seat and started to scan the cocktail menu.

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The cocktail menu is so, so great – it’s not your average joe menu featuring the ‘classic’s such as the Mojito and Pina Colada but really eclectic mixes of sparkling wine and gin. My friend and I ordered the Coconut Cove, a blend of Koko Kanu Coconut Rum, coconut water. sparkling wine, Fiorente elderflower liqueur, lemon balm and pineapple and lime juice. The description left me imagining it to be quite a heavy and sweet drink, but it was so light and refreshing – like a more exotic and classy glass of Pimms. One of the best cocktails I’ve had in London since I moved here last year.

At a first glance the menu felt a little all over the place, there was no real theme and the potential of a chef’s need to be a Jack-of-all trades screaming at me. With starter options ranging from ‘Ben’s Epic Scotch Egg’ to ‘DIY Guacamole and Tortilla Chips’ and mains varying from ’38 Day Aged Shorthorn Steak with Cafe de Paris Butter’ to a ‘Spring Shoot Super Food Salad’. Although the whole thing was a little much to take in at first – it worked. We ended up choosing the ‘Spiced Duck Nuggets’ to start and ‘The BC Burger’ with sweet potato fries for mains.

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I have to admit I didn’t quite know what to expect from the meal, as usually with smaller, localised places to eat it can be quite hit and miss. But I actually felt like I’d hit the jackpot with this one. The Duck Nuggets were lightly breaded and served with thick soy sauce dusted with sesame seeds – six to one serving, so perfect for sharing. Cured for 6 days, the duck was full of flavour and so tender, none of that chewy business you get at the Chinese takeaway next to your local corner shop. One thing to note, they come piping hot – so watch out! The burger arrived shortly after we’d finished our appetiser and my God was it a huge portion. The burger itself was stacked high and the sweet potato fries well, there must have been the equivalent of two potatoes on my plate. I don’t even think ‘fries’ is the right terminology for these babies, they are full on, thick cut chips. Not that I was complaining. They were hands down, the best sweet potato chips I have ever had. Chunky, soft, lightly salted and crispy on the outside – they could not have been more perfect. The burger was also fantastic, the beef patty perfectly cooked and topped with Salt Beef, Homemade Burger Sauce & Smoked Cheese, plus the necessity of the beef tomato and salad garnish. Although, I have to say I really struggled to keep all the ingredients in the bun when I was eating – it was pretty embarrassing. I’m 23, I should know my way around a burger by now.

All in all, a great meal. I didn’t want to stop eating the sweet potato fries or the duck nuggets, they are an absolute must if you visit. The burger was enjoyable but not a main dish I’d be addicted to and keep going back for, such as Red Dog Saloon’s cheeseburgers, in all their greasy goodness. But if you’re in the area, I’d 100% recommend you head down, the food is creative and fun – they even have a DIY donut dessert where you inject the filling of your choice with a plastic syringe. They also have daily specials and happy hour cocktail offers which they promote on twitter, so follow them for updates on their menu. The cocktails are great and the staff are friendly so it makes for a perfect summer evening out.

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