What do you get when you cross the Mexican-suave of Gael Garcia Bernal, a soft shell crab and the rambunctious attitude of your eclectic mate Dave who played in that Mariachi band that one time? While you'd think that many may jump at Rafael Baledon's 'Man and the Monster', you'd be wrong, or at least very buffed up on your monster movies. Instead, you should expect finger licking food, cocktail chuffing, and some of the best service in Shoreditch.
Okay, so don't let that off-tangent first paragraph fool you, Casa Negra is a venue that really has it together. Split between bar, restaurant and basement club room, this menagerie of lucha libre inspired lounging, mahogany casked walls and rustic nit bits really plays homage to a sensual South America. While the main restaurant (just off of the street facing bar) was a candle lit cavern of booths, dotted paraphernalia and the subtle dashing of neon lights that you'd expect strewn across a garden in Guadalajara, the basement echoes these interiors with a rampant touch. Called the Playroom and living up to its name, this mix of private party booths, vintage sofas, broody corners and dance floors was bustling with the shuffle of a private hire event. Those heading to the Playroom event get their own private entrance, if they want to avoid the rabble like me that is.
The Food and Drink
Almost three coursing it, Casa Negra is too true a testament to the current evolution of Mexican food in London. While we cracked out a plate of nachos and guacamole like any good girls would, our starters promised more than a continental happening. Starting on their seabass ceviche (Ceviche Baja at £9) with a freshy and fiery blend of chipotle vinaigrette and pomegranate, which textured perfectly with the pliable fish, we then dosed on their tacos. While the soft shell crab taco (Cangrejos at £3.50) looks like it coming to, and will likely get you, stick those little pereopods in your chops; you'll be pleasantly by the fresh twang, and the fact that it doesn't bite you. Our mains of spatchcock chicken (Pollo Anticucho at £14) with ancho and guajillo, alongside their beef short rib (Costillas De Ternera at £18) with caramelized carrots and morita proved that Casa Negra know their way around a marinade, and even the often spicy shy. Here's looking at me kid.
Not only are Casa Negra not marinade shy, they're not afraid to hammer the spirits in their cocktails home. Hoofing back a 'Mexican Penicillin' at £8 with agave syrup, El Jimador reposado, and egg whites, my cockles were suitably warmed and Casa Negra proved that they can adapt prohibition inspired classics with a Central American twist. We also tried their 'Pepino' at £9 with Mezcal Vida, fresh jalapeno and pineapple, pretty much a must for those that like their cocktails a little tart yet dry. Closing off with a peach and pomegranate frozen margarita at £8, Casa Negra sealed the dinner deal.
Kudos to Kevin. Looking for a host, a waiter, or simply a chap to announce your wedding nuptials? Try this mezcal man on for size. In terms of service, I can safely say that this is the best experience i've had in a restaurant yet. While the hospitality industry often nags on the phrase 'what would you recommend?', and I can understand why, Kevin and the rest of the Casa Negra team went gun-ho on providing us with details on every dish and drink that took our fancy. Even going off menu to provide us with some deliciously hard drinks that would strip the palate paint off of most mouths.
In terms of the venue, this place was a bustle come sundown on Friday. While downstairs locked lips with a private party, the rest of the venue held a steady speed from around 8pm onwards, with barely an empty table in site. While not a trainer toting affair, Casa Negra is a really relaxed venue, and won't be hard too hard-pushed to see you in a t-shirt, just iron that sucker first.
A few people have said that Casa Negra is suffering an 'identity crisis', but in an attempt to be down with diversity, I really don't think that's so. While London may be rampant with Central American eateries pushing the boat out in terms of topped up tacos and brimming burritos, Casa Negra is bringing something a lil' more slinky to this beloved culture. And the slinky sold over 100 million units in its first two years.