Cocktails

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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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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The Paperworks, Elephant & Castle

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Last week was one of my closest girlfriends birthday, as one of my more cool and edgy friends there was a lot of pressure put on her to choose a fitting venue for the occasion. She’s fun to pressurise. I find that the older I get the more amusing I find it to wind people up, perhaps this is just a psychological response to growing older and wishing I wasn’t. I’ve known Sophie for a good five years now, she was literally the first person I saw around my halls of residence in Oxford 2010 and I remember thinking, she’s dressed so well – I hope we become friends. Later that evening we bumped into each other in the student bar, Morals, and she hasn’t been able to get rid of me since.

So she chose Elephant & Castle – which, by day, I have to say is one of my least favourite places in London but by night, it actually pulled it out the bag. Following my overdue welcome drinks at work, I made my way to the pop up venue ‘The Paperworks‘ on my own – only a 5/10 minute walk from the station.

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Inside was I guess what you’d expect from a fancy beer garden, it reminded me a lot of The Big Society, Oxford, but with more lawn chairs, fairy lights and general charm. It wasn’t too hectic either, whenever I visit somewhere in London I just anticipate the large crowds and pushing and shoving but there was none of that here. Everyone was in their little groups huddled around the makeshift fires scattered around and generally being cheerful human beings. Pretty much the way everyone acts when it’s summer. It was like previewing a snippet of summer.

There were food, cocktail and beer stalls at decent prices. From what I remember, there was only one food stall, serving hot dogs – but advertised them with authentic German titles. I ordered a cheese dog, starving, to find them handed me back a numbered ticket and telling me it’ll be around 15 minutes. In my inebriated state I couldn’t quite comprehend how a hot dog would take 15 minutes to cook, I mean how long does it take to boil a frankfurter?! But what I got was much better than expected. When I picked up my order, I was ready to scream when I saw no cheese in that thing – only to get told it was inside the sausage. This was a revelation for me, I had never heard of this before. Alcohol tastebuds aside, this thing was great. Pop up beer gardens, are the one.