El Pastor, Borough Market

2 months ago

The Vibe

So laid back it’s horizontal. But if you find yourself on the standing benches in the front room, you’ll be propped up in a vertical pose throughout your meal, lending a strange jauntiness to proceedings. This feel like a quick stop that could, at the mention of mezcal, turn into a full session.

Not for those looking for full on romance but perfect for first daters who are constantly on the search for options that sit somewhere between liquids-only and sit-down stuffy.

Decor-wise, there’s some corrugated iron on the walls, hanging lightbulbs, hard surfaces and what looks like formica on some of the tables in the back. Again, not fancy, but really rather cool. Remember, we’re in a Mexican joint, where alcohol consumption takes equal weight with the food, so every cocktail, from Old Fashioneds to Negronis, are laced with tequila.

And should your date dare to question the food credentials, this joint is the from the formidable restauranteurs behind Barrafina and Quo Vadis, Sam and Eddie Hart. So pipe down Princess and finish your salsa.

The Order

Tortillas are freshly made on site and ‘el pastor’ cooking – meaning ‘shepherd style’ – involves meat being marinated on an upright grill, most notably pork marinated in a mixture of dried chillies, spices, achiote, and orange juice. Served in a soft corn taco. Wet your whistle with some sipping tequila or a damn near perfect Margarita.

Food-wise, start with a truly delightful sesame tuna tostado and some guac, then head straight to taco town, with a ridiculously moreish chorizo, sweet potato and salsa verde, followed by a sweet n’ meaty short rib and pineapple taco. For date chat distraction, the carnitas are a Do-It-Yourself dish, so as playful as you guys wanna make it.

The Game

On a date, the mistake would be to head here early evening for a formal sit down. This is more of a bowl up tipsy at around 8/9pm and prop up the counter tables while satiating your hunger, vibing off the energy of the Borough crowd and getting your meat fix. Meet on a Saturday to wander around the market and then end up in Bedales for some slow wine drinking. One glass becomes four and before you know it your stomach is rumbling and you want something a little more occasional than a quick fix at Brindisa. Stay a maximum of 60 mins to keep up the momentum of the date, then wander into the night to snog on the streets and find a night cap.

The Faults

The bill might surprise you; Wahaca it is not.

Sex Factor

2. A very decent pit stop but not the closer.

Barrio Central, Soho

1 year ago

The Vibe

Having spent many of the later hours of my earlier twenties at Barrio Central, this joint has a special place in my heart. Nights out with the gal pals consisting of dancing and too many caipirinhas did not always end well.

A décor and menu revamp have spruced old my old pal – and I’m amazed to say (despite my nostalgia), it’s definitely for the better.

Bold tiling and modern lighting lend an unashamedly fun-meets-classy vibe – industrial, geometric and not unlike the tone of much of the contemporary art seen at the Brazilian galleries showing at Frieze London this year. There must be something in the water.

The Order

Start with some cocktails – a bubbly Bossa Beleza or a Cuba Lima (Pisco, Peach, Lemon, Egg White), both wonderful, frothy, fresh additions for the bar’s relaunch.

Move on to some more cocktails – stronger this time – an Ol’ Dirty Bastard (an Old Fashioned to the layman / an ODB to the barmen better accustomed) or a Wonky Donkey (Casco Viejo Tequila, Elderflower, Ginger) to take you back to a time when Ant and Dec were cool. Were they ever cool? Perhaps after a few of these.

The food menu is where Barrio has really upped its game. They’ve kept some of their favourites, namely the awesome chunky guacamole, but crack on with some other winners to soak up those spirits. Cactus Quesadillas are a crowd-pleaser, as are the tacos – just large enough to satisfy but far less offensive when you are on a date than a full-on burrito. Go for the Frito Fish option or the Lamb Chilli – smoky minced and ‘barbecoa’ lamb with sour cream, pickled cucumber, cheddar and cured egg yolk.

For something a little more sophisticated, I’d recommend the Ceviche Mixto, a fresh mixture of seafood in tiger’s milk with avocado, crispy sweet potato and Serrano chilli. I would not have blinked an eyelid if I’d seen or tasted this in a far more austere Mayfair dining establishment.

The Game

If you’re feeling friendly, grab a dimly lit table downstairs. If you’re up for some fun, though, take a couple of stools opposite the bar on the ground floor – a perfect situation for flirting and topping up the glasses.

Top tip: do your cocktails the right way, meaning, in the right order. Start on the bubblies and the fruities and move through to the heavier, rum and bourbon-based. This is probably a good lesson for all bar situations, but more so here, where the samba sound has the power to turn any space into a dance floor.

When your feet tire, the aim is to end your night in one of those cosy niches downstairs, with an ODB – and your date.

The Faults

It’s quite hard (but not impossible) to be sexy with a butter-laden cob of corn.

Sex factor

3.

Sexy, yes, in a very, very fun way.

 

 

La Bodega Negra, Soho

4 years ago

The Vibe

La Bodega Negra’s basement restaurant can be found in the heart of Soho, behind a sex shop door, down some stairs, through some beautiful hostesses and past a celebrity crew (think Kate, Alexa and Miquita). It absolutely reeks cool, from the dark, cavernous room with roughly plastered walls, to the ironic playlist of 90s hip hop and cheese pumping, way too loudly, from the concealed speakers. Unlike the open-access café upstairs, a cheaper and less intimidating version, the downstairs restaurant requires strict reservations with exact timings (your slot if 7-9 and not a minute longer) and an expectation that serious money will be spent here, from the cocktails to the sharing tacos to the sparkling water, mains and Patrón shots. Take a date here if you are, or want to be, a well-to-do trendster, if you’re happy to spend a lot and, obviously, if you like Mexican food. Like the infamous La Esquina in New York, which is also hard to find and littered with celebs, La Bodega is likely to be popular for a while, more to do with its style than sustenance. But it’s a stonker of a date, slick, fancy, and of the moment- until La Esquina opens in London.

The Order

The mains, such as the Pork Belly with Mezcal and Salsa Verde, are high end Mexican food done really well. However, don’t order for yourself, order for the table. This is the sort of place where the first focus is your tequila based-cocktail and some sparkling water, then an onslaught of dish listing- some soft shell crab tacos, some pulled pork ones, a couple of ceviches, a main and a salad.  Then pick at them for the next hour as if accompaniments to the drinks. It’s oh so decadent- too much food and an appetite that only yearns for it once two cocktails down. Since it’s nice to take your time, and the place stays open late, I’d suggest the later sitting at 9pm- there’s nothing worse than being wacked with a big bill and then hustled out.

The Game

Despite being charming, there’s something discomfort-inducing about the hostesses and whole entrance and reservation checking process. Therefore, if you made the booking, arrive around 10 minutes early and be seated alone. This way you can shed some layers, get comfortable and wait for your date to be presented to you. The first few minutes will pass quickly with talk of how edgy the place is- make sure you draw the La Esquina parallel in the least twatty way possible. Dive straight into drinking and nominate one of you to do all the ordering, with a token request put in by the passive party, just to show they have gumption. Allow the waitress to persuade you into the next cocktail, and the next. When finished with the food, and by no means wipe the plates clean, order some shots to finish. Move to the bar area, which will almost definitely be packed tight enough for you to press up against each other. Register a spark, give up on the queue and head upstairs to find a nightcap spot (B-Soho?)or head home, together.

The Faults

Mon dieu, c’est cher.

Sex Factor

5. So dark, so glam, so money.

Wahaca, Covent Garden

6 years ago

The Vibe

Post work drinking crowds, birthdays, girls nights out and couples who want a fun, not elegant, date night out. If you are having an office affair, you may just end up at Wahaca one Thursday night. Picture a brightly coloured wagamama, with better lighting and eager waitresses/waiters who have an American approach to service. This is not the place for deep and meaningful chats. It’s a place to let off steam and to enjoy food which, although ‘fresh, healthy and ethically sourced’, has all the meat/cheese/carb combinations down to a T.

The Order

Skip the burrito options, the pork soft flour tacos are yummiest, the bean and cheese quesadillas least messy and delicious. Ignore the salads, an embarrassing thing to order in a Mexican street food restaurant. You can’t book tables in advance but start at the bar with their great tequila based cocktail. At the table, sample the sipping tequilas, surprisingly easy drinking, do not shoot them!

The Game

Although the plan is to sip (not shoot) the tequila, after a while it becomes impossible not to slather on the salt, bark at the waiter for lime and imbibe it the fun way . This date is bound to get raucous. You’re already in Covent Garden so suggest a bar for afterwards, continue drinking into oblivion and feel each other up in a club/on the street/back at yours. Not the most demure of dates, but a fun one.

The Faults

Nothing. It is what it is.

Sex Factor

2.5-4.5, depending on tequila consumption

 

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