What’s better than a lunch date with someone who shares several of the same interests as you? Someone whom you can chat with about everything from the latest good book you’ve read, to the next film post you’re going to be publishing, or the next song list?
Yes, meeting up with a blogger friend is always a joy—and spending time with Harini, whom I got to know only earlier this year (but who, coincidentally, does share a lot in common with me, including having once worked at the same company as I did, though at a different time)—is always a pleasure. We usually go to the same old coffee shop to have a sandwich, followed by a long, leisurely set of teas and coffees, but we’ve been trying to change that. This time, when Harini suggested we go to La Bodega, I agreed with alacrity. Because Mexican food—which I’d love to know better—has been sadly lacking in the Delhi restaurant scene thus far (yes, I don’t consider Rodeo and Taco Bell really representative of the cuisine).
La Bodega sits almost on the inner ‘elbow’ of Khan Market’s middle lane, near McDonald’s. Situated on the first floor, the restaurant is a pretty one, with lovely patterned tiles (black and ivory) on the floor, a stenciled design in red and yellow on the walls, and a comfortable balance between elegant and faintly rustic, though with a pronounced tilt towards the elegant. The music is deliciously Latin, and there are shelves of assorted paperback books under the window overlooking the front of the market. (The books, I thought, were a little misplaced here. Unlike Cha Bar or Café Turtle, La Bodega isn’t really the sort of place one would settle down in for a few hours with one’s nose buried in a book. But who knows?)
The menu at La Bodega is extensive, beginning with small plates of taquitos, tostadas, quesadillas, and more, then going on to soups, salads, main courses, and desserts. Each section is helpfully divided into two subsections, vegetarian and non-vegetarian. There’s a separate bar menu as well—which neither Harini nor I even bothered to open. Both of us decided it would be nice to try a three-course meal, but since we didn’t know if we’d be able to accommodate three full courses per person, a shared soup, individual main courses, and a shared dessert seemed plausible.
Since Harini is vegetarian (and I am more than happy to eat vegetarian food), we picked a chilled avocado and yoghurt soup to start with, and a chocoflan for dessert. For my main course, I picked a duck taquito and Harini too had chosen one of the small plates listed on the first page of the menu. When we mentioned this to the waitress, she—and a lady who I assume is the owner—said that it would be too little. These are really small plates, we were told. If you don’t have a huge appetite, choose this, or this…
Eventually, Harini picked the rice molote, a flour tortilla stuffed with Mexican rice, refried beans, jalapenos and cheese; and I chose a pork belly, served in a flour tortilla with marinated pineapple. We were asked how spicy we wanted our food; I chose medium spicy and Harini chose spicy.
The ordering over, we sat back and chatted until our soup arrived. Individual soup plates (we’d asked for our portion of soup to be divided into two) were placed before us, each with thin crisp triangles (flour nachos?), little dollops of crumbly cheese, and a sprig of fresh cilantro. The soup was then poured over, to form a neat pool of creamy pale green around that.
My first spoonful of the avocado soup won me over. It was wonderful: creamy, faintly tart because of the yoghurt, and bursting with the freshness of the fresh cilantro and mint that had been puréed with the avocado. A fabulous example of how something very simple can be great.
… and the next course proved that complex need not always work. My plate came with two flour tortillas placed half-folded, acting as a base for thick slices of pork belly (marinated, according to the menu, with guajillo chillies, achiote seeds and spices), batons of marinated pineapple, little heaps of guacamole, piped rosettes of a mole of some sort, and a garnish of sliced pickled onion and cilantro. Pretty, but this had several problems.
Firstly, there was the difficulty of how to eat it. The contents weren’t in the flour tortilla as the menu had promised; they were on it—and they were so bulky that folding the tortilla and trying to eat it that way, using my fingers, would have created a huge mess. I had to end up using a knife and fork, and that, somehow, didn’t do justice to the flavours…
…which didn’t seem, anyway, to have much to recommend them. The guacamole was good, and the pork belly, while medium spicy, as I’d requested, lacked depth of flavour. No layers peeling away to reveal something interesting. Even adding the three condiments/sauces provided at the table—sour cream, and two types of sauces made from roasted chillies of different types—made little difference.
On top of that, the pork was badly cooked. Tough, dry, meat that seemed as if it had been left in the oven far too long, and the fat not that lovely custardy type that comes from proper cooking.
Harini, when I asked her for her opinion about her rice molote, said that it was all right, but not great. The spice in the sauce, she said, was as she’d specified: good and spicy. The filling in the tortilla, however, was bland. They probably do all the fillings at one go, with low spice, and adjust spiciness in the sauce alone—which, of course, doesn’t work.
Next up was our dessert, the chocoflan. A vanilla flan on top of a chocolate cake, served with fresh fruit and caramel sauce. This was a fairly substantial portion, so I was glad I had Harini to share it with me. Rich, too, what with the caramel sauce and steamed vanilla custard atop the cake (while on the custard: this neither looked nor tasted like vanilla; more like a light caramel. Not that I’m complaining, but still). On the side were slices of kiwi fruit and halved red grapes: a nice way to cut the richness of the rest of the dessert, though (fruit lover that I am) I could’ve done with a little more fruit.
Our meal cost us just over Rs 2,500, inclusive of taxes and service charge. I loved the avocado soup, was okay with the dessert, and was singularly underwhelmed by the main course. The ambience was pleasant and the wait staff helpful, attentive but not too intrusive. I was a bit miffed that our main courses were brought even before I’d finished my soup—since the table was too small for the extra plate, I had to give up my last couple of spoonsful of soup.
Also—and this was a bad way to end our meal—just as our bill arrived, the restaurant was suddenly filled with the smell of cooking fish. And very fishy fish, the type that can stink up an entire room in a matter of moments (which this did). Even I, who love fish, felt my stomach churn at the smell; I can’t imagine the effect on poor Harini.
Overall, not a place I’d recommend. The soup, yes. The rest: well, not quite worth it.
29, Middle Lane,