Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong


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Five Guys, Two Girls and a Sex Shop

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.

Inside Five Guys- sadly too busy thinking of toppings to take photo so this is from web again!

Inside Five Guys- sadly too busy thinking of toppings to take photo so this is from web!

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.

Bacon cheeseburger

Bacon cheeseburger

20131016_131257IMG_7455After 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.

The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon

Mini Austrian Strudel

Mini Austrian Strudel

Tea at The Parlour

Tea at The Parlour

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.

La Bodega Negro Entrance

La Bodega Negro Entrance

Fancy a peep?

Fancy a peep?

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.

Guacamole with sesame tostadas

Guacamole with sesame tostadas

Quesadilla Rustica

Quesadilla Rustica

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.

Quinoa salad

Quinoa salad

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.

Soft shell crab taco

Soft shell crab taco

Dessert was of course, churros, with thick chocolate dipping sauce which were light and delicately sugared.

Churros

Churros

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.

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Chopstixfix rating: 3.5/5

La Bodega Negra, 16 Moor Street, London, W1D 5NH. Tel: 020 7758 4100 www.labodeganegra.com

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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.

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Socialito Shimmies onto the Scene

The Mexican wave (of food), continues with hot newcomer Socialito. Taking over Prive’s former location on Wyndham Street, Buzz Concept’s latest and boldest venture is a three-in-one package of ‘taqueira, restaurant and discoteca’. Hoping to embody the essence of the name and replicate a Latin-American social vibe on the streets of Hong Kong, Socialito aims to provide a space for people to mingle, play, eat and drink.

The 50s-style shiny, metallic taqueria (taco-stall) out front is brightly lit and playful and serves up an array of tacos, gorditas, tostadas and tamales. You can stroll in, pull up a stool for a quick bite, quench your thirst with one of their margaritas or just grab a take-away. Don’t be fooled by the laid-back, funky exterior however, as a discreet silver door on the left gives way to a sleek and dark, formal dining area. The softly-lit bar at the back draws you into a sophisticated space of high ceilings, wrought-iron gate features, plush leather seats and dark-wood panelling, evoking images of old Mexico. After dinner, this space transforms into a club from 11.30pm, Wednesdays to Saturdays, complete with DJ booth set up and the tables converting into bar tops.

As I perched at the bar waiting for the rest of my dinner companions to arrive, I got a head start in drinking and tried one of the fun and original Specialty Cocktails created by Eric Stephenson, bar manager of Lily & Bloom. After three sips of my delicious, refreshing Zumbido (Havana Club 7 and Denizen Rum with passionfruit, honey and lime), and later a Sociarito (Jalapeno infused Alacran Tequila with lavender-honey and peach bitters), I found these cocktails pack a punch too. Beware of drinking one of these on an empty stomach! I loved the Zumbido with its Mojito-like tones and the Sociarito was a perfect blend of sweet balancing out the fiery tequila.

Eric Stephenson, bar manager of Lily and Bloom sipping on one of his signature cocktails!

Soon after, dinner was in full swing and we started with the Lobster and Swordfish ceviche topped with coconut chili sauce, pickled shallot and herbs served with cucumber noodles. Pieces of the seafood combo were fresh and delightfully fleshy, the sauce and shallots adding a lovely zing, while the cucumber noodles gave it a cleansing after-taste. Next up was the Cauliflower Almond Soup. A visual crowd-pleaser, the soup was poured into bowls of pickled cauliflower, caramelized apples, almonds and morita chili at our table, leaving us to clamber for action shots. As soothingly thick and creamy as it was, the soup was a tad oversalted, but had a lovely blend of pickle with a subtle hint of heat. 

Our next two dishes were a triumph though, the Wagyu Tacos presented with a flourish, eyes feasted on the line up of fresh homemade tortillas encasing tender beef slices topped with salsa, guacamole and crispy onions. The Seared Pork Belly surrounded by a sea of green peanut mole was flavoursome and succulent, the outside seared perfectly. The mole itself wasn’t as distinctive in taste as its colour, but I loved the chicharrones (fried pork rind) and the accompanying sautéed onion and jalapeno.

Our mains of Grilled Scottish Salmon and Seared Duck Breast were both competently prepared. The salmon was evenly grilled but still pink and moist inside and we enjoyed the shimeji, queso fresco and potato puree with the green pumpkinseed mole. The Seared Duck Breast had an attractive presentation, with slices on black beans arranged on a long plate separated by little islands of corn tortitas atop corn puree. The duck was moist and wonderfully seasoned but I felt the dish was slightly let down by the black beans which were a little dry and glutinous and the corn tortitas which didn’t really add enough dimension to the dish.

Washing down our mains with a couple of gulps of our cocktails, we eagerly awaited the desserts. No matter how full you are, you must try the King Banana. This ridiculously cool-looking dessert with arrangements of fried milk bananas, sour cream sorbet and King banana chips on cumin crumble was a delight to the taste-buds. The cumin crumble was a great savoury contrast to the sweetness of the bananas and the sour cream added a faint tang to the ensemble.

The Molten Chocolate cake was equally sublime. The sponge gave way to the sexy ooze of warm chocolate and I adored the contrast of the cold coconut semifreddo that it came with. I was also intrigued by the Candied Ancho Chili fried chocolate that added decorative detail. The fried chocolate was achieved through mixing tapioca with molten dark chocolate, then solidifying, dehydrating and deep frying it. Clever stuff.

And so ended the evening; my dining companions and I a touch merry from the cocktails, and stuffed to the rafters with Mexican food. Although I find the three-in-one concept commendable I do feel people may be confused as to what Socialito has to offer, especially as the taqueria is so prominent. Would diners be more interested in the casual or the finer dining side of this establishment, I wonder? Another issue is finding the restaurant! I myself couldn’t find the door to the dining room at first and although the door is marked “Abierto! Pase Usted” (which means “Open! Come on in”), it doesn’t really help the non-Spanish readers!

That aside, the menu and the cocktails are exciting and I think Socialito will be enjoying a steady stream of fans flocking to the taco stall and dancing to La Bamba, drink in hand.

Chopstixfix rating: 3/5

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Socialito, Shop 2, G/F, The Centrium, 50 Wyndham St, Central, 3167 7380; www.socialito.com.hk. Taquería : Mon-Tue midday-midnight & Wed-Sat midday-2am. Restaurante: Mon-Sat 6pm-11.30pm. Closed Sun. Limited number of tables available for reservation for groups of 6 or more. 

You can also read this review on Sassy.


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Ay Caramba!

I love chimichangas, ever since watching “Meet the Fockers”, I find the name not only hilarious but it’s a darn good satisfying meal with the carb overload. It’s hard to find a good Mexican restaurant at the best of times, I’m definitely not all clued up on what makes one place “more genuine” than the next, seeing as they all serve nachos, fajitas and burritos. But, after failing in my chimichanga quest back in London Town, I was pretty happy to find: 1. Agave (in Central and Wan Chai) which does the most ginormous plate of nachos- topped with guacamole, cheese, jalapeno peppers, sour cream and extra beef, I challenge anyone to try and finish it between 2 people, (my friend R and I have failed several times) and 2. !Caramba! in Soho, which maybe serves the best Mexican food out here.

!Caramba! models itself as a cosy Mexican cantina. It has an impressive, or scary (depending on how you see it) wall of Tequila and chilli sauce behind the bar and a mouthwatering menu of ensaladas, appetisers, burritos, fajitas, chimichangas, nachos, and desserts.G ordered a beef burrito and I got my hands on a grilled beef chimichanga, which is a burrito deep fried. Mmmmmm. Thankfully we were sensible and didn’t get a plate of nachos or any appetisers, else someone would have had to wheel us out of the restaurant. Our servings were huge, but the menu did say “whopping” on it, so they weren’t lying. Our tortilla wraps came with toppings of guacamole, pico de gallo (traditional uncooked Mexican condiment made from onions, chillis, tomatoes and lime juice), sour cream and lay on a bed of black beans, red salsa and Mexican rice. Wow. I feel full just writing this.

The grilled beef filling was lovely, tender and juicy. It’s difficult to get the beans right, but the black beans were great, not too stodgy. I loved the Mexican rice and they were generous with the guacamole and sour cream which I think is extremely important, as you need to slather loads of it on each forkful of tortilla. A brilliant, hearty, hugely satisfying, food coma inducing meal.

Anyway, to accompany our meal, we ordered a pitcher of Sangria de la Casa for $260 (versus a glass for $57), which was bloody strong! G and I were pretty merry and had verbal diarrhoea at the end of the meal, even after all that food, so apologies for the quality of my photos haha. The Sangria was very summery and fruity, I recommend it. They have a decent drinks menu of a variety of margaritas, sangria mixes, wine and of course tequila, to make you happy 🙂

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

Caramba, 26-30 Elgin Street, Soho, Central. Tel: 2530 9963/ Discovery Bay Plaza, Discovery Bay. Tel: 2987 2848

$$-$$$$$$$$$$ (including a pitcher of alcohol between 2)