Casa Negra, Shoreditch
March 2012 is when Mexican food in London became really slick. Before that it was Wahaca this, Benito that, but the strains of cheap thrills Americana were still in the air, no matter how fresh or roughly chopped their guac. Then La Bodega Negra opened in Soho, a dark, sexy basement restaurant with ironic hop hop and pricey tacos, and the daters flocked. Its sex shop entrance welcomed A-Listers and models, fashion PR powerplayers and hipsters with bank balances. It was fantastic.
And now, thanks be, its sister restaurant has popped up in Shoreditch. Case Negra, a few minutes from Old Street, is Bodega’s slightly bratty teenage sibling. Unlike its picky sister, Casa will let almost anyone in, providing you book in advance or attempt a walk in with a pinch of charm. It also serves food till very late, so no party pooping here. The decor is jovial – bright reds, greens and candystipes, Frieda Kahlo pics, and a beach shack Sol bar- but there’s still some of the sexiness of Bodega, with flashy chandeliers, black glossy walls, over-the-top waiters greeting you with a ‘fab-you-lous‘ and a very frisky buzz in the air. It’s also likely you’ll fancy more than your date in here.
The Yank chef, Brad McDonald, formerly headed the Brooklyn kitchens of Gran Electicia, an earnestly trendy Mexican small plate restaurant where the drinks and decor are known to overshadow the food. But what are the critics heckling for anyway? Fundamentally Mexican street food is pretty basic, so an assessment will come down to how lightly battered the fish tacos, how piquant the sauce and whether anything new has been done to faithful meat/carb/cheese combo. Beef tartare tostada, braised pork tacos, and spicy fried chicken are all noteworthy and yummy as hell. Order 3 or 4 plates to pick at but commit yourself to the Casa Margarita with homemade orange sherbet liqueur. Drink four.
The best thing about this place is that you can reserve a table late, real late. Go for a 11.30pm Friday night sitting, giving you ample time to warm up and prevent awkward table chat. Copy the following sequence for a tried and tested winner:
Meet at 9pm at Happiness Forgets, a dark and hidden basement bar in Hoxton Square. Drink an Old Fashioned or three, get controversial and playful with your chat, and insinuate that, whatever happens in the future, tonight’s going to be wild.
At 11pm pay up and make your way to Casa. You need to be tipsy but not drunk, God forbid you inhale the Mexican food like it’s your late night refuel. Enter the restaurant and banter wildly with the peppy staff. Go to the bar for your first margarita while you wait and heckle them for the best table in the house. Once you’re seated, carry on as you did in the bar, no seriousness allowed. Don’t overthink the menu, just nominate a decision maker and get the drinks in fast. Stay no longer than 90 minutes to keep the momentum. Pay up, splitting it like boozy friends and leave.
Wander down the road to Hoxton Hotel, line up the glasses
of red and people watch the nutters for a bit. Lunge up against the bar, piss people off and leave. Then continue towards Old Street station and either have a final night cap at Shoreditch Grind or head back to theirs. Pure fun.
If you want to join the fun in the Playroom downstairs it can be hard to get through the angry gatekeepers.
5. Fun, silly, tequila-fuelled.