Two weekends ago, I made the long trek from west London to south-east London to have a first taste of Ecuadorian food, a cuisine which I knew nothing about and had never tasted. There were a couple places my friend Mirna knew on Old Kent Road and we were there to try her favourite, Costa Azul. I met both her and Rachel nearby and we walked the short distance over, passing a black and white tank and some graffiti art along the way.
The restaurant was empty save for one large group of South American friends but later, the restaurant would fill up. The place reminded me of a local community centre, with everybody knowing everyone else and once, the place burst into synchronised song, singing along to what must be a popular music video that appeared on the big flat screen TVs!
We were given two menus – an Ecuadorian one filled with mainly seafood dishes and a Bolivian one with mostly pork. We chose to focus on the seafood this time and we placed our orders after a short deliberation. When Mirna mentionned a counter with food on the other side of the restaurant, I took a little walk over to it to peruse the offerings. There wasn’t much but there were two platters piled with homemade empanadas. Freshly baked too! Just looking at them was enough for me to order one for our table (no hesitation); it was filled with chicken, vegetables, olives (careful, the pits are still inside) and boiled egg.
It was delicious and I ended up eating most of it, not really paying attention to the size of the meals being served around us. Silly me, my eyes are soooo much bigger than my stomach. Our just as massive dishes arrived not too long after.
Rachel had the parihuela – a very rich soup with spices and coriander (according to the menu) with king prawns, mussels, octopus and squid. She also ordered fried plantains on the side and partook of some of the rice from our dishes. The gigantic portion of soup was indeed rich and had lots of delicious unidentifiable bits swimming within. However, while it was gorgeously flavoured, it was quite salty – the only downside to the soup.
Mirna had the picante de mariscos, a rich, spicy stew with white wine and
king prawns, mussels, octopus and squid, their usual seafood mix again. It’s again very rich and deeply flavoured, with plenty of wine and herbs, and was served with a mound of orangey-red rice. Could it be coloured with achiote? There was definitely butter – that we could tell!
I had the sudado de mariscos, a fresh tomato, onion and red pepper sauce featuring king prawns and squid. I totally loved this; there was also wine in the mixture and the sauce was sweet and tart and savoury and very drinkable. Unlike the previous two dishes, I thought mine tasted fresher with all the vegetables in the stew. And again unlike the two previous dishes, both that reddish rice as well as fried plantains sat on the side; this was carbohydrate overload! The plantains were not as crispy as I had hoped and they sat like lead in my stomach but they went very well with the tasty sauce and the very hot fresh chili sauce on the table.
One thing that requires special mention are the “king prawns” that came with our meals. Forget about those shrimps you get at your Chinese takeaways – these were massive! Served on the shell and sliced in half lengthwise, these things were two bites to each half – that’s a big prawn! Check out this half a prawn:
With a drink for each of us and another two empanadas for takeaway, the total was £44 for the three of us. Not bad for so much seafood (and especially those ridiculously large prawns) and if you’re wondering, we didn’t do too badly at clearing our plates! I definitely want to go back to try a few items from their Bolivian menu and again to try the restaurant next door too which specialises in grilled meats. Go figure, it turns out I like Ecuadorian food!
190-192 Old Kent Road
London SE1 5TY