Restaurants

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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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. 

 

 

Honest Burgers, Liv St.

Honest Burgers is a name that is familiar to most across the city. My first run in with it came when I was based in Clapham South, exploring the area I caught a glimpse of a queue stretching around the corner of the high street. A queue of over 50 people stretching around a corner just before opening time – well that speaks for itself right?

Photography by Kang L

Photography by Kang L

I’ve had a lot of criticism for dubbing Bleecker St the best burger in London – people have been throwing ‘Honest Burgers are King’ at me from all sides. So, I tried it.

This famous little burger joint began it’s journey in 2010 when it’s owners, Tom and Phil, met whilst working in a restaurant in Brighton. Since meeting they have progressed from serving food from marquees at festivals to opening their first restaurant in the oasis that is Brixton Village. Being the first of its kind in Brixton, where they couldn’t even have high quality meat delivered to their door and consequently cycled to Marlyebone every morning for their ingredients, these boys established themselves not only in the borough but in the city.

First glimpse at the menu and there is just enough range to appeal to the masses. If you want a classic burger with no frills, you can have that for £8.50, stripped to basics with bun, patty, signature red onion relish and lettuce. Feening for a Cheeseburger? Choose between Mature Cheddar, Red Leicester or Blue Stilton for £9. I thought it’d only be rude to go for anything but the ‘Honest Burger’, consisting of ‘beef patty, red onion relish, bacon, mature cheddar, pickled cucumber and lettuce’ for £10. There’s also a Chicken Burger and Veggie option up for grabs. And all are served with their Rosemary Salted Chips.

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Thanks to a late night in the office and dinner on the client, I jumped at the opportunity to order from the wonder on wheels that is Deliveroo and finally try an Honest Burger. The order came within 40 minutes and compactly packaged with an array of sauces which I’m still not sure whether I ordered or not. At first glance, this burger is pretty perfect looking but I have to admit – I didn’t think it was enough. I like to eat, and I like it to last. I could tell right away this thing was going to be delicious and it was going to be over way too soon.

Usually, I’m a no frills kind of gal when it comes to burgers, but each of the toppings complimented the others and individually tasted effing divine. The red onion relish? You can see why they drop this onto every beef patty on the menu. The brioche bun, soft and sweet. The patty, I think was outshined by the delicious toppings and the bacon was slightly more chewy than I would have liked. But I’d also like to give some leeway due to the fact I had it delivered and didn’t eat in the actual restaurant. The rosemary chips were to die for, perfectly seasoned and sitting on the delightful cusp of being too crispy. Just a warning that they are pretty salty, you will be apologising to your body incessantly whilst eating them.

I can see why this burger holds the top spot for so many people. It’s significant focus on combining both sweet and salty nominate it to be the McDonalds of the gourmet burger. Not in a bad way, I mean back when McDonalds was freaking fantastic and people just couldn’t get enough. I’d definitely recommend everyone to try it, this was a great meal and I like the entrepreneurial spirit that oozes from this company.

Personally, I prefer a burger that makes me feel guilty about eating it. I mean so guilty that it is no longer a cheat meal and it becomes a full on gluttonous rampage that then unfolds into a state of ecstasy that is the food coma. So Bleecker St still reigns King in my book I’m afraid.

 

Avenue, Piccadilly

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Avenue introduced me to something special, something I’d never even dreamed acceptable in society. But as someone who is new to London and urban life, it appears I’m one step behind, once again. Brunch, with unlimited Bellini’s, Bloody Mary’s or Prosecco, is apparently a common thing in places like New York and a growing trend in the UK capital of London. People getting sauced between the hours of 11am and 3pm, classing it as acceptable just because it’s Prosecco and it’s being drank with a meal. There are plenty of places which have made the Evening Standard’s top list for these so called ‘boozy brunches’, such as Bourne & Hollingsworth, Cookbook Cafe and Flesh & Buns. Although, my friend presented a trusty buzzfeed article which had a little more choice, including that of Avenue, a New York inspired bar and restaurant based in-between Piccadilly and Green Park.

This brunch actually took place on Easter’s bank holiday weekend, so I was suffering from the worst hangover of the year so far, bar January 1st. What is it about bank holiday weekends that just make you feel like Christmas has come early? I well and truly acted like I was ballin’ for those four days and have been struggling for the rest of the month. But despite the night before’s little portion of crazy, I managed to make it to the restaurant looking fairly presentable and on time.

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The place is beautiful, 100% one of the fanciest places I’ve been to since I moved here. All the staff were in suits and super polite and there was an incredible buzz coming from the back in the dining area. The decor was insane. The bar was insanely classy and chic, featuring some high bar chairs and some vintage looking seating opposite; I would have never say it out loud but my pay cheque is not made for places like this. Although, once I reach Carrie Bradshaw sassy, I will make it my spot.

My friend and I had reserved a table for 3pm and upon my arrival I was told the kitchen would be open for another 15 minutes. Straight away I knew this was a problem, my friend is never on time – and not like fashionably late. Usually between 40mins to an hour onwards. So I set myself up on one of the stools at the bar, ordered myself some ice water trying to hide my hangover and waited. And the longer I waited the more pitiful looks I was getting from the staff surrounding me, the bar man actually slid over a bowl of mixed nuts for me, to quote on quote ‘cheer me up’, like they do in those movies when someone has been stood up.

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45 minutes of staring into space, wishing the ground would swallow me up – my friend arrived and because I’d had such a long time to bond with the manager, they’d kept the kitchen open for us. The menu boasted a range of breakfast(y) dishes from Granola, Yoghurt and Berries to BBQ pork ribs and Southern Fried Baby Chicken, with the option of dessert too. We quickly ordered a round of pancakes, bacon and maple syrup and waffles with bacon and mixed berries. And of course 2 glasses of unlimited prosecco. Now I had some doubts about just how unlimited this would actually be, but I really needn’t have worried. They just kept that shit coming. Every time our cup reached the half empty mark they ran over with that bottle like there was no tomorrow.

My friend and I were the last ones left in the restaurant, the staff had started preparing the restaurant for dinner and we hadn’t even noticed the lights dim we were so sauced. So the brunch did the trick. For the amount I paid for the waffle, I have to say it was pretty worth it. Made fresh to order and the berries worked wonders for my hangover. All together my meal came to £35. A little shock – £20 for a waffle is a little much, but for a treat with an old friend what’s money right? I’m so good at making excuses for spending inappropriate amounts of money on food. The staff had been so great and patient with us, that I wouldn’t even have minded paying service – which they discounted for some reason. Probably another little something to ‘cheer me up’.

For the rich folk out there who could afford to do this every weekend, please do it. For me.

Benihana, Chelsea

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So, last weekend held the day that some singles dread, either throwing some form of Galentines party or crying into their pillows with a box of tissues, Netflix, wine and array of chocolate surrounding them, like a moat of misery. And couples, well…I guess they could be dreading it too, pouring effort into a day which has no real romantic credibility to their relationship but has been drilled into our heads from a young age that this is a day to show just how much you love your partner. The stress of this day actually causes a rise in anxiety and puts pressure on relationships, research has actually shown that the highest number of break ups happen on Red Tuesday, the Tuesday before Valentines Day. Just a fun fact for you. As someone who has been single for the entirety of my life until a year ago, please rest assured this blog post isn’t to boast about my relationship but to honestly tell you how amazing the food was. I am not one of those people who posts selfies of myself and my partner giggling into each others faces like teenagers in a 90’s chick flick. But at the same time, props to my boy for choosing an awesome place to eat, he’s a good one.

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This restaurant probably adds a little more flash than my usual posts, it’s a little more fancy and definitely a lot more pricey – but totally worth it. The venue is gorgeous, the entrance is ambiguous, placed on the corner of a building with a small corridor leading down some stairs, where at the bottom you are greeted by the concierge who will take your coat for you and take you to your seat. Leading you through their huge open plan area where the bar is located with modern sofas and seating, following a gold and grey colour palette – then through to the dining area where you’re seated onto a half moon shaped table. The seating plan is very different to anything I’ve seen, the tables look as if they were oval shape and split in half then separated to fit in a Teppanyaki (Flat Iron Plate) and two chefs. Each table holds 8 people and you are directly facing another, 8 which has a slightly eery feel to it before the chefs join the table. Staring at a bunch of other couples in anticipation of your food is odd when they’re total strangers. Another element was that the music was oddly upbeat for such a dim room which had such an ardent atmosphere but this would all come together once the chefs started.

We took our seats between two crazy, young couples. One couple so young they didn’t have any alcohol within arms reach and definitely spoke of their school peers the entire meal. Voices were kept low and the atmosphere was intimate – perfect for valentines day. We had one server to our table who catered for our drinks and explained the Valentines Taster Menu to us, we’d be having all 5 of the starters (joy) and had the choice of either mains from Menu A (Teriyaki Chicken, Black Cod with Miso Sauce & Sirloin Steak with Mushrooms) or Menu B (King Prawn with Sesame Sauce, Filet Mignon with Mushrooms or Cod and Grilled Lobster Tail) and to finish an Ice Cream Sponge Cake. I clearly chose Menu B, seafood is my favourite thing to eat out and it feels kinda fancy – I also wanted to try Filet Mignon as to this day I haven’t tried a steak I like. Plus it’s one of those things I’ve only heard of in rap music – the title itself just makes me sing that Lil’ Wayne song in my head. I’m going off topic. My partner chose Menu A, for gains.

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So, the thing with Benihana is that everyone on your table starts their meal at the same time, as of course you all eat your starters together which are prepared by the kitchen in time for the chef to come out and prepare your mains. We started with Benihana’s own Onion Soup which was light and aromatic, a perfect appetiser, and then on to a crisp salad with homemade ginger dressing which really cleansed the palette. Next was a cute heart-shaped soy sushi with avocado, best sticky rice ever. Then the chef came in to prepare the Prawn, Courgette and Onion Volcano which turned out to be this impressive show of slicing the onions and piling them to the shape of a volcano, cranking the Teppanyaki to max and adding God knows what to create a blast of fire which pretty much threw me off my seat. But very impressive all the same. The lobster and prawns were delicious and very filling when paired with the egg fried rice the chef had prepared for us earlier, I was stuffed by the time my steak arrived. Now, the filet mignon was lovely but I’ve decided that steak just isn’t for me but from my boyfriends reaction it was excellent and blew his sirloin steak out of the water.

The next hour was filled with lots of impressive knife juggling, flipping bowls with a variety of cutlery, catching eggs in hats, super speedy chopping and shaping food into various valentines shapes – we couldn’t keep our eyes off him. Our chef was so fun and interacted with every one of us, it was such a fun dining experience – not only was the food good but you also realise that you’re not just paying for the food but also a show and a damn good one at that.

 

BRGR.CO, Soho

brgrco I had high hopes for BRGR.co as it features on Time Out London’s Top Burgers and it did not disappoint. With dim lighting, buzzing atmosphere and alternative music playing, this makes a good date location, whether you’re on your 1st or 50th. The staff were so welcoming, even the chef and this didn’t waver throughout our meal. At first look I felt the menu was a little sparse, the burgers really just varied in size and meat used and not really in toppings which I am used to expecting after visiting places like Red Dog Saloon and BOBO Social. But what I did notice was great prices, a 6oz burger was £7.25, known as the ‘Tender Blend’ and toppings and sauces at the additional price of .99p. After spying on another tables order and saw those fries, all doubt left my mind. Ranging from cheese to chilli fries and our choice – parmesan truffle fries. They were something else.BRGR.CO Soho - Butchers Cut Burger (8 Oz) comes with salad on the side. So in the end I went for the ‘Tender Blend’ Burger with vintage cheddar and BRGR sauce. And I tell you they got this burger thing down to a science.  Putting the salad and sauces on the side leaving you to build your burger one step at a time everything just enhances the dining experience and it honestly just makes you appreciate each flavour more. The brioche bun was the best that I have had so far, perfect bun to patty ratio – there was no bite shy of beef. And the burger sauce was incredible. I would eat here everyday if I could and if my metabolism hadn’t slowed down to a ridiculous pace – long gone are the days when I can eat whatever I want with no consequence. The Parmesan Truffle Fries were thin and crispy and the flavours really complemented each other although maybe just a tad too much cheese for me to finish the portion. All in all, excellent dining experience. All burgers served on a tin tray with red and white checkered paper really gives you the feel of informality to your meal which I am such a fan of at the moment. Our waitress was so great and friendly but at the same time not too invasive. The food was to die for and definitely sits rightly as one of Time Out’s top burger restaurants in London.

BOBO Social, Fitzrovia

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Once a week at my work place we have a ‘treat yourself’ day. A few of us have strict diets, with allergies to gluten and lactose included but some foods are just worth the pain they bring afterwards, right?

So in search of burgers and more sweet potato fries we headed down to BOBO Social. The place is gorgeous, the interior is all warm beiges and nudes with fairy lights scattered around, chandeliers and a beautiful engraved silver bar. And really just looks like the insides of someones house, someone who lives in Kensington. As there were 9 of us we’d booked a table in advance and they led us downstairs and to this little cove, so we were totally enclosed surrounded by said fairy lights and to be honest kind of squished as the table could only really seat 6. It would have been great for them to have set up the table before we arrived so we didn’t have to pass chairs down to the end of the table with them.

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Anyway, forget the service. The menu. Most of my colleagues went for the BOBO burger option as it simply came with salad and sauce and you had the option to add toppings, such as bacon, guacamole, shitake mushrooms and so on. Another went for the lobster and crab burger, which I was so tempted to get but the peanut butter burger was just calling me. I’m a sucker for mixing both savoury and sweet (I love the restaurant Duck and Waffle, whose menu is dedicated to that) and this burger consisted of a patty, bacon and crunchy peanut butter. I swear to God it was one of the best things I’ve eaten in my life. I didn’t want it to end. The peanut butter and bacon complemented each other so well and added moisture to the patty which I can sometimes feel is too dry. So I highly recommend.

Although, the burgers took 45 minutes to come out, probably spending a hefty number of minutes burning that ‘B’ into the bun, and the service had already told us we have the table for an hour and 15 minutes. So we felt fairly rushed, particularly when they ended up kicking us out early. Giving us those 15 minutes you promised would probably have saved you your 12.5% service charge.

All in all, the food was great, everyone was happy and the table had that satisfied silence you hear when people are enjoying their meal. Sweet potato fries could have been a little crispier, they were not so impressive in comparison to Bubbledogs’. The peanut butter burger was everything I’d dreamed of and more, thank you for not using sunpat and giving a healthy dollop of the stuff – it exceeded expectations. But the atmosphere of the restaurant was really quite stuck up and I don’t appreciate getting kicked off a table I had pre booked and they were aware of. I think I’d only return if I could get take out.