One south-east and the other west! These were my first experiences with Colombian cuisine and I’m intrigued by all their meats and seafood and I need to try more!

The first restaurant was La Bodeguita, situated inside the Elephant and Castle shopping centre. I visited with my friend Roxanne for lunch one Saturday and bizarrely, we had to wait for them to open (much later than stated on their website) and then we had to eat our lunch in a freezing cold dining room (they didn’t seem to have their heating on). Still, we pressed on.

Of course we had to try the Colombian national dish of Bandeja Paisa (£12.10). This was a huge platter of rice, pork belly, spiced minced meat, sausage, fried egg, fried sweet plantain, avocado and a small arepa. This was accompanied by a giant bowl of beans cooked with pork.

Platter

Bandeja Paisa

I would have been happy with just the rice, delicious minced meat, egg, plantain and avocado. Sadly, both the pork belly and sausage were overfried and much much too tough. The arepa (corn cake) was small and too dense but I would learn later that this seems to be typical of this kind of small Colombian arepa (unless all Colombian arepas in London are rubbish). The bowl of beans were fine but was much too big and we barely made a dent in them.

We also tried their recommendation of Cazuela de Mariscos (£11.20), a creamy seafood stew served with rice and fried green plantains. This was very good, all creamy and flavorful – the only downside was that the dish was distinctly cephalopod heavy. There was the occasional tiny morsel of fish and then the one grilled prawn on top and then lots and lots of what was probably a default frozen “seafood mix”. With some carefully chosen seafood, this could have been a glorious dish.

Cazuela de Mariscos

At the end of our meal, the staff did notice that we were freezing and kindly gave us some shots of aguardiente to keep us warm for the rest of the day!

La Bodeguita
Elephant and Castle shopping centre
London SE1 6TE

In the west, Donde Carlos is a recently opened restaurant on Goldhawk Road (I’d heard that previously they were in the back of a shop nearby?). It looks a bit like a conservatory in the front, which is great for those of us who like lots of light with our meal! Blai and I visited for Sunday lunch and we were surrounded by lots of Colombians who already all looked like regulars.

Jugos (£2.20 each) – one blackberry and one passionfruit – were delicious fruit juice drinks blended with water (optionally, milk). I had tried one in La Bodeguita but they had not asked me if I’d prefer water or milk and just gave me the default milk (I don’t like milk!).

Jugos

Unlike La Bodeguita, there were no seafood dishes at Donde Carlos. There are main courses, empanadas, arepas, desserts and even a Colombian breakfast. We tried again the Bandeja Paisa (£11.00), here served with rice, fried egg, salad, pork belly, steak, chorizo, arepa and yellow plantain. Like at La Bodeguita, the little arepa was very dense and not very exciting (I need to try their other larger arepas – perhaps those would be more moist). However, the rest was very good – the fried pork belly and chorizo were significantly better than those at La Bodeguita. The salad was also delicious though I missed the avocado. And that steak? Yum.

Bandeja Paisa

Sobrebarriga (£9.50) was the most delicious beef stewed in a homemade sauce and served with rice, salad, fried yellow plantain and another small arepa. The meat just fell apart at the touch of a fork and was utterly fantastic. Oddly, while the rice served at La Bodeguito was a long grain white, that day at Donde Carlos, they chose to serve a very short grained sticky white rice; I can’t seem to determine online what is the norm in Colombia.

Sobrebarriga

We were again stuffed but perhaps because of the more reasonable portion sizes or because I was with Blai or because we said, heck, it’s Sunday lunch, we opted for a little dessert too. Brevas con arequipe (£2.50) were candied figs (brevas) served with a dulce de leche (arequipe). Both were excellent but the combination was tooth-achingly sweet – perhaps brevas with fresh white cheese would have been the better choice. Next time, I’m definitely trying their tres leches cake.

Brevas con Arequipe

Donde Carlos
143 Goldhawk Road
Shepherd’s Bush
London W12 8EN

Good stuff. We’ll definitely be back to Donde Carlos (filled large arepas! Empanadas!) though I’d have to think twice about La Bodeguita. I do want to explore the Elephant and Castle area a bit more however as there are a few other cozy Colombian and South American restaurants in the area.