The Restaurateur Makes His London Debut With a New Sex Shop Fronted Mexican Joint
Chorizo, lobster and lime reveal their unexpectedly lascivious side in still life photographers Metz + Racine’s saucy homage to London’s newest hotspot, La Bodega Negra. Using a color palette and mini-sets inspired by the Mexican architect Luis Barragán, Metz + Racine enlisted ingredients from the eatery’s menu. Hidden in a Soho basement behind a sex shop entryway that nods to the neighborhood’s notoriously kinky past, the restaurant offers an unabashedly large tequila selection, plenty of dimly lit corners and Mexican staples like ceviche, tacos and tostados, in addition to grill items like lamb barbacoa. (There is a to-go option from a more casual, upstairs taqueria). The restaurant was dreamed up by nightlife impresario Serge Becker, along with entrepreneur Ed Spencer Churchill and restauranteur Will Ricker. "Most of the Mexican food in London is a dumbed down American hybrid with some Mexican influences,” says Ricker. “I was excited about being able to bring the real thing to town.” Becker, creative director behind some of New York’s most beloved nightclubs and restaurants—La Esquina, Joe’s Pub and The Mercer Hotel—talks to NOWNESS about introducing London to Mexican fare, and what gives a fruit sex appeal.
What are the crucial components of an excellent Mexican meal?
The heart of the cuisine is the salsa. If you nail that, you’re well on your way to a good meal. They are very time consuming to make, but worth it. The perfect atmosphere is always relaxed and informal. We ate some of the best food sitting on plastic chairs on a sidewalk parking space.
The space has some really playful elements, but also lots of moody, dark alcoves.
It’s a playful riff on a certain bohemian Mexican/Cali gypsy lifestyle. It’s meant to evoke a private Hacienda in the style of Luis Buñuel. More residential, less commercial. It has the influence of houses I’ve seen, from Topanga Canyon to Tulum.
How does the restaurant scene here differ from New York?
The food is very good in both cities. As far as I can tell New York has more scene restaurants where the crowd is the main course—or dessert, if you like.
Do you see Bodega Negra as the London outpost of La Esquina, or as completely different institutions?
I’m not involved with La Esquina anymore, so this is a new project with a strictly local site-specific focus. It reflects our take on Mexican culture today. Most of it is personal and not concept driven.
What are your favorite dishes on the menu?
BBQ octopus “El Negro”, guadalajara salad with goat's cheese and caramalized onions, and whole sea bass red & green adobe.
How did the sex shop entryway come about?
I was walking daily from my hotel to work and had to pass all the sex shops and strip bars of Soho. I love the glow of the neon lights and the aesthetic of this vanishing trade. It reminded me how much New York lost when they got rid of all these places. The time has passed for places like this due to the internet, but I wanted to pay homage to them lovingly.
On that note, what's the sexiest fruit?
A special pygmy type of passion fruit I had in Costa Rica—smooth skin and fragrant moist interior.
And the most prudish fruit?
Best edible aphrodisiac?
If Scarlett Johansson were a vegetable, what would she be and why?
She’s definitely not a vegetable. She’s a delicious, juicy fruit.