Brixton Village (formerly the Granville Arcade) has undergone a dramatic transformation, even in the short three years since I moved to London. For years, traders struggled to get by in a semi deserted shopping area in a part of the city with crime rates that made my parents wonder why I chose to live there. Now, suddenly, or maybe not so much so, and right under our noses, the Brixton bubble has burst. Every Saturday when I wander through the market to buy my fruit and veg, I notice a new restaurant, bar or tattoo parlour come ice cream shop. The crime, of course, has also become a non-factor. Except for the one time when i got my phone stolen. Out of my hand. While I was on it.
It started with Franco Manca. Have you been to Franco Manca? One word – sourdough pizza. Fine, that was two words. Whatever. Just go – it’s legendary. Try the organic lemonade.
The occasion for my visit to the market this week however was not for produce, nor pizza. At last, I’d reached the letter C – the perfect excuse to try one of the two Colombian restaurants in the village: El Rancho de Lalo and Restaurante Santafereño. With no prior knowledge of either, we settled on the latter if only because there were flowers on the table, and who doesn’t like flowers? I’m a simple girl. The tables were set neatly with alternating green and red tablecloths in line with the colours of the national flag, and the friendly staff switched on some traditional Latin American music as soon as we stepped in the door. Having said that, I can’t say I would have found fault with the club music mix that they were listening to before we arrived – I like a good dance party every now and then.
We chose a seat in a quiet corner, not that there were many other patrons at 5:30 pm – we’d arrived in time to beat the rush of Claphamites who have started to bombard the once-quiet market over the last several months. Our waiter – his name was Jesus – took our drinks orders right away; we opted for a Chilean red because, according to The Guardian, “Colombian wine is nothing to write home about.” That, and they didn’t have any.
Colombian food consists predominantly of meat, rice, beans and plantains – we’re not talking eloquently presented, Michelin-star food, but rather hearty, homestyle cooking. To start, Duncan chose a calamari tapas dish, served in a creamy tomato sauce.
On the drinks menu, there was a choice of a “fiery water shot.” This eluded me altogether, so I asked Jesus to tell me more. Is this like sambuca? Err, no. Vodka? No. Made from sugarcane, he said, it is some kind of traditional Colombian liqueur. There were a bottles lined up for purchase behind the till, so I believed him.
“I will have that as my starter,” I declared – Jesus liked that. He brought me my fire, in my water, followed by our wine. Jesus turned water into wine. Kind of. Classic.
I declined to taste the calamari, seeing as I’d had a conversation with a co-worker about the similarities between squid and pig’s rectum no less than one day before. I did try the sauce, which I proclaimed to be “very tomato-y.” Not a bad thing.
The fiery water shot – or aguardiente, as it is actually called, was nice. I sipped away as Duncan sopped up the last of his tomato sauce.
The restaurant’s matriarch cooked furiously in the open kitchen – I could hear meat sizzling behind the counter, and couldn’t wait for some of it to end up on my plate. And boy, did it ever.
Duncan had ordered a steak; me, the chicken escalope – I’m going through a breaded chicken phase. But whenever I order an escalope, there’s always that slight fear that I’ll end up with one straight out of the freezer that has merely been heated up. Not the case.
While Duncan’s steak was, although huge, just “alright,” my chicken escalope, also huge, was fresh, thin, crispy and delicious. I pretty much neglected everything else on my plate in the view of being able to finish it – and did not succeed. Both of our huge pieces of meat were accompanied by rice, salad and fried plaintain (my favourite) as well as a fresh and spicy homemade green salsa. The chips might have been a bit much.
The damage: £40 for two mains, a starter, a bottle of wine and a fiery water shot.
The verdict – I can think of only one way to describe this meal – solid. Columbian food, in its simplicity, honesty – and quantity – is solid. I’ll have to go again – it’s possible that El Rancho de Lalo would have been the more authentic of our two choices – although the dishes looked pretty similar, their prices were slightly lower and there were more Latin American people with babies eating inside. But who am I to judge?
Need to know:
60-62 Granville Arcade SW9 8PR
Nearest tube: Brixton
Some of my other favourite restaurants in Brixton Village include:
Authentic Pakistani street food. They do three things, and they do them well. Arrive early or prepare to queue.
Traditional Oaxacan food and groceries. A bit on the expensive side as the portions are small – but they do excellent lunch deals on weekends before 2 pm.