Ever agonized over the perfect place to go on your first date? The right choice can affect on how well it goes – the wrong choice can end up in tumbleweed silences and a polite handshake goodbye. Well no more, because food writer/single girl and Grazia Daily columnist Tess Ward is on a mission to roadtest the perfect restaurants to take your date to. Tess Ward is a food writer, Le Cordon Bleu trained chef and host of West London’s exclusive tailor-made cookery programmes. She is also a twenty-something singleton, on the hunt for the best date-night eateries in our new weekly column. If you are looking for a spot to wine, dine, schmooze or snooze, the newest food trends, best rooftops, dark corners and vodka martinis, check here every Thursday for a nibble of the action…
What happens when you run out of dating options? The social pond has been drained, and you just don’t fancy dating your friends. Well, you may well wonder. Of course the best thing to do is to turn to a specialist. This week, with no prospective date lined up, I turned to the experts at Social Concierge to source a man and a dining spot. Elite as they come, the Social concierge is London finest invite-only dating service (although they are pretty open minded for applicants) and have a number of attractive, young twenty something singletons interested in a mingle on their books. After attending a couple of their mixers and parties in the past, I was sure they would come up with a winner.
The man I got paired with? Well, let's just call him the Burger Flipper. I kid you not he makes, and breaks hearts with his burgers all over London. They are completely worthy of swooning over. A hint, he owns a company that rhymes with fatty and run. (oh ok, I will tell you, just because their burgers are too damn good not to, the place is called Patty and Bun) Suffice to say, the social concierge experts did well. This burger flipper was fun, loud and a little bit mad, exactly what a stressed chef needed on a monotonous Wednesday night.
Our spot for the night was Casa Negra, a supposed Mexican neighbourhood restaurant in Shoreditch. With a stag party taking place in the corner and a gaggle of lively city boozers making their way through the cocktails menu, it felt a little more jukebox than neighbourhood. After a couple of disappointing frozen fruit slushies, we hit a winner with a Rosita Corazon. Made up of El Jimador reposado tequila, French vermouth and bitters, it was a refreshing, vibrant and full flavoured cocktail, with no more fruit in it that a slither of orange peel. After a few tastes of the other cocktails on offer, we settled on this one and it kept coming in rounds.
Unlike most of my other dates thus far, we were here more for the ambiance and drink than the food, but we ordered a few nibbles all the same. To start we shared the big bowl of guacamole with homemade tortilla chips. The guacamole was thick creamy and unsurprisingly avocadoey, but unfortunately lacking in citrus and salt. The chips were rather disappointing, not the corn tortilla Dorito style chips I had envisioned. They looked more like the deep fried scraps of other punters leftover tortillas than chips per say and were too thick and overly oily, which practically ruined the guacamole experience.
To follow we decided to go all taco and ordered both the soft shell crab and the fragrant achiote and orange braised pork. They both arrived, beautifully presented to our little bar table (we had taken up refuge in the corner from the rowdy city boys) on little stands. The soft shell crab was delicious, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, exactly as I hoped it would be. They also weren’t stingy and packed a full crab into each mini taco. The generosity didn’t go unnoticed… they were served with a more soft avocado, and a good dollop of smoked chipotle chilli. am a big fan of almost everything smoked so I was a happy chef from first to last bite.
The pork tacos by contrast were expectedly meaty and pleasingly full flavoured. The flavour of the orange certainly coming through the rich meat. Unfortunately I'd had a similar taco the week before, which made this pale by contrast. I was hankering for the texture of some crispy shallots, crisp fresh lettuce and maybe a dollop of crème fraiche, but all that was on offer was a bit of pickled onion that even a ploughman’s sarnie would have spat back out. Not letting the taco defeat me, I got creative and fashioned a new version. I threw out the pickled onion, slathered in the leftover guacamole and finished with a sprinkling of crushed tortillas. A new taco for the menu, no doubt!
THE VERDICT - WILL TESS SEE HER FIRST DATE AGAIN?
After a few more Rosita’s and plenty of foodie chats, we made a speedy Gonzales and headed back westwards. From what I remember, the date was a hoot and the cocktails, well, they were certainly too good. I would definitely head back to Casa, but probably just for the harder liquor and soft shell crab next time. Will I see the man again? Well I am certainly due a burger restaurant review sometime soon, so you will have to stay tuned…
Casa Negra, 54-56 Great Eastern St, London EC2A 3QR, 020 7033 7360.