The Elephant Castle/Walworth area seems to be the centre of London's Latino community. A fairly recent influx of immigration from Andean countries, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia in particular has seen the arrival of Latin American grocers, butchers, restaurants and even nightclubs such as the 'Ministry of Salsa'. Each August its streets and Burgess Park play host to the 'Carnaval del Pueblo' Europe's largest Latin American festival.
Stretches of the famously bleak Old Kent road comes to life on the weekend with Latin bars blaring out Cumbia, Salsa and Reggaeton. There are a few really interesting looking places to eat, an Ecuadorian seafood restaurant "Costa Azul' has caught my eye before but recently I managed to drag a few friends to Parrilladas del Sur a Bolivian grill.
I say Bolivian, the restaurant is actually owned and run by Ecuadorians but caters for the area's sizeable Bolivian population with specialities such as salteñas (a type of spicy meat filled empanada or pasty) and anticuchos de corazón ( bite sized beef heart kebabs). As it happens the Friday we went none of these were on the menu but we were treated to the house speciality, a colossal mixed grill (parrillada mixta).
The grill for two included typically Latin American cheap but delicious cuts of beef which aren't readily available or popular in the UK; Flank steak, slightly tough but intensely beefy and juicy, and short ribs, ribs cut across the bone from the chuck, once again they require some gnawing but the meat is rich and flavoursome. Both were cooked well done as seems to be the norm in most Latin American cuisine but were beautifully sealed with a salty, charred exterior.
As well as the steak there was some excellent chorizo (a combination of beef and pork flavoured with coriander and cumin), two huge pork chops, slightly dry but tasty nonetheless and two fine BBQ'd chicken legs made with a secret marinade. Smokey and spicy it tasted like they'd used achiote and a liberal amount of garlic and fresh chili. The grill was accompanied by a fiery chili sauce, baked potatoes, salad and a mound of rice.
In terms of drink the restaurant is plastered with adverts for Bolivian beer "Pacena" sadly supplies were low and we joined the regulars in a can of Fosters. We did get to try an Ecuadorean winter warmer though made from guayusa (a stimulant leaf high in caffeine made into tea), passion fruit juice and sugar cane liquor which had everyone in good spirits.
The place, as with many others I've visited for this blog, feels like you're on holiday it's just such a contrast to the London outside. The site it's on used to be an antique fireplace yard and they've transformed it into a home from home for Bolivians/Ecuadoreans including football shirts on the bare brick walls, posters of Latin popstars, plastic tables and an outhouse toilet that's on the fritz.
The staff were incredibly friendly, although slightly bemused when we came in they managed to dig out the only two menus in English. I'd like to go back when they've got more of the Bolivian specials which seems to be a Saturday night. There's so much to explore in terms of London's South American food, I've already eaten in a few good Colombian places, El Santafereño in Brixton Market is particularly good as is the nearby butchers Las Americas for both Colombian and Brazilian cuts.
My next quest has to be to seek out some illicit Cuy, one of the Andes' most famous delicacies, guinea pig.
Parrilladas del Sur,
186 Old Kent Road,
0207 701 2367