Sunday, 21 February 2010


La Bodeguita
Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre
020 7701 9166

Apologies for the wait. I've been in Saudi Arabia among other places. There's no Saudi food in London I'm aware of, so in Riyadh I excitedly guzzled handfuls of camel kabsa (chewy chunks of prime Arabian dromedary in spicy basmati rice). The portions were so large we barely made a dent in them. And judging by the size of the lads (there wasn't a woman in sight), my Saudi companions rarely stick to salad. If I lived in Riyadh, I'd eat myself to an early grave too.

It's possibly because I'm a glutton, or because I enjoy the communal experience of eating, but I get far more pleasure from vast plates of shareable food than the dainty slithers and barely-there foams they charge the big bucks for in London. I've craved the bandeja paisa, Colombia's national dish (a speciality of Antiquia in the north of the country), since reading on Wikipedia (where else?) that you're not allowed to serve it on a normal plate. It must be served on an oversized oval dish, perhaps because bandeja means platter. My unconditional love for this evilly calorific fry-fest increased thirtyfold when I saw the link to a website called This Is Why You're Fat at the bottom of its Wiki entry. It was going to be a challenge.

It was a challenge we failed. I'd eaten a particularly well-stuffed tuna sandwich already that day and my companion is hoping to run a marathon later this year, so at La Bodeguita we meekly ordered a single bandeja paisa, a feast of beans, rice, avocado, minced beef, fried egg, plantain, pork rind and a single arepa. It wasn't sophisticated, but it was very satisfying. We also had an empanada each, a (disappointingly cold) pastry stuffed with spicy beef. Like prime losers, we couldn't even finish a meal for one.

The other guests appeared to be Colombian; there's a big South American community in Elephant & Castle. It's not the most atmospheric restaurant, but I imagine live salsa and cumbia would turn the place into a theme park. The Royal Court is staging four plays around the corner from La Bodeguita, so I'll be back four times to try the fantastic-sounding dulce de guayabo con queso (sweet guava with homemade cheese) I couldn't fathom eating on this occasion.

To celebrate La Bodeguita's success, here's the greatest moment in Colombian history.

La Bodeguida on Urbanspoon