It could be one or the other or a combination of all three- either I’ve gone senile, my lasered eyes are finally failing or London is changing faster than a quick change artist, but I swear that half the restaurants in the city are new since I was last home in February. Not that this is a bad thing at all, but it does make me feel that I am missing out on the smorgasbord of restaurants that has descended upon London. So it’s fortunate that on this three week break that I’ve taken, that my friends have been determined to fat feed me as much as possible.
One fine day last week, my friend S and I had the hilariously un-pc The Book of Mormon to look forward to at the theatre, but before we immersed ourselves in the world of Joseph Smith and the Church of Latter Day Saints, S took me to the artery-clogging Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Long Acre.
While you wait you can munch on monkey nuts at the door, or, like some people I spied, tut tut, take a whole bagful on the way out. You can have a normal hamburger, cheeseburger, bacon burger or bacon cheeseburger and then you can stuff as many free toppings as you like in between the buns. Clearly I went for the bacon cheeseburger and bit off more than I could chew haha as I asked for at least 6 toppings. You can go for the little burgers, but that just seemed like the wimpy option. They also serve hotdogs and sandwiches, but for us, it was burgers all the way. The American diner approach is also to have unlimited refills of your drink, which I can never take full advantage of but we entertained ourselves by trying squirts of different Fanta flavours.
Word of advice: order small fries. Do not think you can finish the regular fries between two people because you will be eating till the cows come home- ahh the puns. There were chips coming out of my ears by the end of the meal. But how was the burger? Monstrous. I loved the coarse grind of the juicy beef patty and although it was a messy affair, I enjoyed my Five Guys experience. Even if it took us nearly 45 minutes to get through it. The only trouble is the bun does get rather soggy from all the juices, especially if you have one too many toppings. But I would go back again. Perhaps I will share with someone next time- for my arteries’ sake.
After waddling to see The Book of Mormon, which was side-splittingly entertaining- thoroughly recommend it to everyone, we stopped for a sophisticated tea break and mini Austrian strudels at The Parlour at Fortnum & Mason. Love having tea out of their gorgeous silver teapots.
And then we came to the slightly eyebrow raising part of the day- dinner at La Bodega Negra, near Leicester Square. S remarked to me, “This place is quite hard to find….because it doesn’t have a sign and it looks like a sex shop from the outside. So this could be potentially embarrassing.” I didn’t really know what to think. Were we going to end up wandering into some sort of bondage shop and end up eating off tied up patrons? We couldn’t look more clueless or lost when we got to Moor Street and shuffled nervously around the general vicinity of a sex shop- bright neon lights saying “Peep show”. When we realised that we were in fact at the right door- it says, “Private Dance Downstairs” and “COME” in red neon lights, (I confess I sniggered), we walked through and down some stairs, only to be greeted by a mannequin in a PVC gimp suit. Cue nervous hand twitching, until the helpful lady at the desk confirmed our booking for 7 people. Phew.
It’s dark inside. Very dark. Stone walls and arches evoke images of dungeons and handcuffs, though I suppose that is the point. The atmosphere is vibrant and palpable and there is a dark allure to the whole set-up that I enjoyed. Ushered into our seats, we squinted and nearly lost an eyeball trying to make out the menu until I blinded everyone with my phone torchlight. The food served is Mexican comfort, with tacos, ceviche, tostadita and salads, as well as main dishes such as slow roasted lamb and chicken mole. We decided to share a mixture of everything but skip the mains in favour of cocktails.
The starters were surprisingly good. Their guacamole with sesame tostadas was quite beautiful- rich, creamy and chunky and had the right amount of lime juice to give it a clean taste. The Quesadilla Rustica- a toasted flour tortilla with four cheeses and roasted tomato was delicious and had a lovely crispy edge.
We loved their quinoa salad with grilled courgette and the textured roasted corn salad, which had a light piquancy from the Serrano chili. We tried two Ceviche dishes- the mixed seafood (squid, prawn and octopus)- excellent dressing, and the Spicy yellow fin tuna which was gloriously chunky and had a wonderful citrus-fruity tang from the Guajillo chili.
One can’t go to a Mexican without having tacos, so we went full pelt and ordered the pork belly, lamb, soft shell crab and the char roasted mushroom (we had a vegetarian in our group who was immensely happy with the veggie options). The soft shell crab and the pork belly were the winners, though I am still questioning whether two tiny tacos for £8.50- crab and £6.50 for the rest, is strictly worth it.
Dessert was of course, churros, with thick chocolate dipping sauce which were light and delicately sugared.
Portions are a bit on the stingy side, the prices too high to make you feel you can be completely satisfied and the salads in no way feed 6 people, despite the waitress’ insistence when we were ordering, but, I don’t think people come here for the food. The cool, underground vibe is the attraction, the cocktails are excellent and the amusement of being next to a shop that sells adult videos and seeing grown men accidentally go to La Bodega Negra on the way out are definite pluses however, but I’m not sure I would go back other than to feel hip whilst sipping a Tijuana Whore. Another negative is that when S phoned to book, she was told that they do not normally allow same sex groups to dine and there usually needs to be a mix of males and females to secure a booking, which is the biggest load of BS that I have ever heard. Thankfully our friend’s husband turned up. Hmmm.
And so we left, walking past the mannequin dressed in PVC and lingered with wild abandon in front of the sex shop before trotting off home.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries, 1-3 Long Acre, London, WC2E 9LH.
Chopstixfix rating: 3.5/5
La Bodega Negra, 16 Moor Street, London, W1D 5NH. Tel: 020 7758 4100 www.labodeganegra.com
Chopstixfix rating: 3/5
Apologies for quality of La Bodega Negro photos- massive headache trying to take anything in pitch darkness at a tiny table crammed with dishes.