Review: Casa Negra, 54-56 Great, Eastern Street, London

'It has a jolly, Mexican-seaside vibe, not something you often find in Shoreditch'

You can tell how cool Casa Negra's going to be when you check its website and there's TV footage from the 1950s, of Salvador Dali on What's My Line?, bamboozling the blindfolded guests by answering "Yes" to all their questions.

The owners of Casa Negra like a drop of surrealism. The décor is a riot of Latino-fiesta colours, with touches of English restraint. The black-and-wood floor tiles are obscured by a carpet from your granny's twilight home. The walls and wood panelling are painted in Stygian-black gloss, contrasting with the bright hues of the Sol bar – poster-paint red, green-and-white candystripes. The dining room is full of larky pictures (one of Frida Kahlo, her eyes obscured, punk-style, by the words, "Thank God it's Frida") and an incongruous English-country-house log-pile is stacked against a window. The whole place has a jolly, Mexican-seaside vibe, not something you often find in trendy Shoreditch.

This place is the site of the old Great Eastern Dining Room; the owners seem to have called in local designers and suggested they impose a lot of faux-Mexican-osity on the old place. It's the new sister establishment of La Bodega Negra, a New York-style café-taqueria which has enlivened the Soho landscape for a year with its street food and cray-zee décor, all Day of the Dead puppets, wrestling masks and other Mexicano impedimenta.

Only a madman could ignore the gorgeous bar on a boiling July night, so my children and I tried a few cocktails. Their Casa Margarita is a decoction of El Jimador tequila, fresh lime and orange sherbet liqueur and packs a wallop. Max needed a thirst-quencher and tipped a pint of Vote Pedro (he's a Napoleon Dynamite fan) down his throat: tequila, elderflower liqueur, cucumber, mint, lemon and soda – intensely satisfying. Sophie's non-alkie Jax Colada (coconut, pineapple, lime and passionfruit) bounced with healthiness.

On the menu, a dozen familiar words swim before your eyes in a score of permutations: chorizo, tortilla, quesillo, jalapeno, chipotle, ranchero, avocado, salsa, habanero – oh and chilli, of which six or seven variants are on offer. What else would you expect from Mexican street food? But the American chef Brad McDonald is a sophisticated guy – his CV includes Noma in Copenhagen and Thomas Keller's Per Se in New York – who has clearly fallen in love with Mexican cuisine.

The charming waiting staff ferried small plate after small plate of things to fight over. Beef tartare on a tostado with lemon, chilli and onion, lifted by slivers of avocado. Chihuahua and Monterey Jack cheese smokily delicious like a sexy mozzarella, served with homemade chorizo. Cochinita pibil, a traditional Mexican dish of pork marinated in orange juice, given colour and flavour by the achiote flower, and slow-braised in a banana leaf, was earthy and unctuous, served with black beans.

The only disappointment was pescado – grilled sea bream served with chipotle, jalapeno and cabbage. The subtle bream felt like a weak-kneed, albino-eyed, gringo wuss among all this manly, meaty company. Overwhelmed by the spices, it tasted… sweaty.

Main courses brought an ensalada verde, overpriced at £10, throwing together avocado, lettuce, radish, tomato and cheese; it was, said Sophie, refreshing after all the beef and cheese, but not interesting. The green goddess dressing (which is Californian, not Mexican, though it originated in Versailles as sauce au vert) lacked excitement. Max's skirt steak arrived sliced and smothered in habanero salsa. I was surprised to learn it had been slow-cooked by the sous vide method (you won't find many water-baths in Mexico City backstreet kitchens) then flash-fried on a flat griddle. It was tightly textured and toothsome.

Fire-roasted sweet potato was a beautiful apricot hue and tasted sweet as kumquats. My Pollo Dorado con Chilito was spicy fried chicken, more Maryland than KFC, served with about a kilo of cabbage and carrot slaw: two immense chicken legs in batter, the flesh yielding, the blanket of batter rather unpleasantly chewy. We shared a side-dish of pinto beans with bacon, tomato and jalapeno until we realised we were full up.

I managed a mouthful of flan, the dark Mexican crème caramel, which was teeth-rottingly sweet. "I feel," said Max, "as if I've been eating for three days."

Me too. Casa Negra is a colourful and characterful sibling to the flamboyant Bodega; but both places make you wonder how consumers of street food, when they leave, make it as far as the traffic lights.

Food ***
Ambience ****
Service ***

Casa Negra, 54-56 Great Eastern Street, London EC2 (020-7033 7360). About £110 for two, with drinks

Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In my grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service