The people behind La Bodega Negra in Soho – the one with the neon ‘Peep Show/Adult Video’ frontage – have now opened a relatively understated branch of their speakeasy-style Mexican bar and restaurant in Shoreditch. What was once the elegant-looking Great Eastern Dining Rooms has had its interior ripped out, and it’s been made to look like a squat in Peckham circa 1985. Tat art on black-painted walls, coloured lightbulbs dangling from casually strung wires, folding metal chairs and dark patterned rugs on the floors add to the contrivedly shabby look. The main feature is a counter styled like a bar shack in a colonia (shanty town), complete with a corrugated roof and advertising hoardings. A frozen margarita hit the spot, though, with quality tequilas and fruit juices used.
The tacos were the weak link: the pork pibil was missing the expected citrus tang, while the fish tacos tasted overwhelmingly of vinegar from pickled jalapeños. A main course of beef shortrib was the best dish: a big piece of meat had been slow cooked until it was on the point of falling from the bone; its smoky chipotle chilli heat beautifully pepped up with the sharp sweetness of the pineapple salsa. The result was a mariachi band of flavours.
To think too hard about the food is to miss the point. People come to Casa Negra looking for a Shoreditch scene, and as the music cranks up, maybe they’ll find it. The service was cheerful and attentive on our visit – though wearing stone-washed jeans as part of your waitressing outfit is perhaps a shade of irony too far.