No other group of London restaurants better conforms to the rhythm of the working day as the clutch that surrounds Elephant and Castle station and its shopping centre. During the weekday, lunch at these restaurants mainly operates on skeletal menus with the ‘menu del dia’ that offers little choice but huge value in a sopa, a main and maybe even dessert and drink for little more than £6 to £7. What distinguishes these eight restaurants from the ubiquitous cafes is during the evening, particularly from Friday onwards, when the menus come to life. Suddenly, it’s possible to choose from Colombian, Ecuadorean, Venezuelan, Peruvian, Bolivian and Dominican specials that are almost impossible to get elsewhere in London. The following is a complete guide to those restaurants and their specialities in Elephant and Castle.Read More
8 Outstanding Restaurants in Elephant and Castle
Restaurants geared to the community’s working day transform into some of London’s most exciting at night
Leños y Carbon
Out of all Elephant’s restaurants, Leños y Carbon is perhaps the best introduction to the carnivorous side of Colombian cuisine. A mixed grill here comes with chicken, beef and pork steaks, huge Colombian sausages and a rack of fatty, rich and barely-sticking-to-the-bone pork ribs, while the churrasco al carbón is half a cow draped over an inadequately large griddle, a thick slab of T-bone steak blackened, crispy on the outside and still rosy within. It’s not just meat here: patacones con todo from the specials is a riot — green plantains mashed and fried into a crispy base, divided into a Trivial Pursuit pie of chicharron, shredded beef, shredded chicken, guacamole, farmer’s cheese, mayonnaise and pineapple sauce.
In Ecuadorian cuisine, soups are paramount to a good meal. On weekends here it’s possible to trace the whole of Ecuadorian costal food through sopas: acidic bowls of encebollado, a tuna and onion soup, and creamy sopa marinera with mixed seafood and peanut sauce. More adventurous eaters should try the untranslated soups: yaguarlocro, a surgeon’s bucket of delicious tripe, intestines, liver, lungs and tongue, or creamy potato soups punctured either with boiled librillo — tripe made from the soft third stomach of the cow — or grilled tripe. There’s also arroz marinero, a good paella-ish seafood rice, and outstanding chaulafan, a fried, assorted-meat rice dish openly wearing Chinese influence on Ecuadorian cooking.
Forget meat, it’s seafood that brings people here on Thursday-Sunday evenings. Cameroncito Azul showcases excellent frying of king prawns, butterflied then crumbed on the shell, their protective exoskeleton sealing juicy flesh and becoming an edible scoop for other items. The mix grills, of prawns, mussels, squid, tilapia, sea bass, and tuna are so good and generous, even Lionel Hutz would struggle to file a frivolous lawsuit. There are also many non-Ecuadorian dishes on the weekend menu that cater to other Latin American communities, like parihuela, a fiery red Peruvian bouillabaisse, or Bolivian pique macho, an ugly-delicious fridge-raider of a dish, chock full of nothing but god-tier ingredients — stir fried beef chuck and saveloy, mixed with boiled egg, onions, olives, mayo and ketchup and dumped unceremoniously on cheesy chips.
At first glance, it’s another Colombian cafe-restaurant, but La Barra hides a Dominican twist. Chef/owner Maria Luisa cooks the city’s best pica pollo — for £10, you get five big pieces of shallow-fried thigh, drumstick and wing in a heavily spiced batter, along with chicharron, tostones and blackened strips aka bofes and lungs, fashioned into a kind of offal jerky. La Barra is the best fried chicken joint London didn’t know it had.
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El Rincon Tropical
One of the three-and-a-half bona fide Dominican restaurants in London — La Barra is the half — El Rincon Tropical is located upstairs in the same arch as the former. The small space serves more as a bar and meeting place for Dominicans, and while there’s no menu there are normally just three or four options per night. Picadera mixta is a symphony of brown — a mound of juicy fried chicken, heavy on dark meat, fried pork belly, sour spicy sausage and strips of bofes. A small plate of bacalao, preserved salt codfish pungent with oil and chilli, shows off the more overtly Caribbean side of Dominican cuisine. But, the humble frijoles overshadows everything, with its extraordinary depth of flavour. To anyone who grew up on Central American cuisine, it’s a dish that tastes like home.
Paladar stands apart from all the other restaurants on this list. For one, it’s the only restaurant in the area with a pan-Latin American menu, designed and cooked by Colombian chef Jose Rubio-Guevara. It’s also the only restaurant making any effort to attract a new type of diner. The food here is assured and creative — the prawn tostadas have clean flavours and the Mexican carnitas is given a Cuban twist with the use of mojo-marinated pork, giving the meat an acidity which pairs well with fiery habanero salsa. The churros made with blue corn are both visually striking and deeply sweet-savoury and should be washed down with a pisco, mezcal or something from the strong South American wine list.
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‘Fusion’ cuisine hardly reveals the brutal histories it masks — and the Peruvian tradition of chifa belongs here. Brought to Peru by Guangdong labourers to be slaves, they left an indelible mark on Peruvian cuisine and many of these dishes can be found on Sabor Peruano’s menu: darkly sweet and acidic lomo saltado, a beef stir fry dense with soy, vinegar and onions. Better still is the seco norteño, a slow-cooked stew of beef and potato, coloured ditchwater green-brown by the aggressive use of coriander. The non-chifa dishes are well worth ordering too — ceviche is fresh, well-cured and bracingly acidic as part of a trimarinero, while anticuchos come correct as tender parchments of beef heart, marinated with the sting of aji amarillo. The same subtle heat turns up in the humblest and maybe best dish: a starter of papa huancaina, a simple dish of boiled potatoes served cold in a pool of custard-coloured sauce made from queso fresco, aji amarillo and milk.
La Cabana London
Located on a weird stretch on the New Kent Road home to both a Morleys and a fake Morleys, La Cabaña is one of just two Bolivian restaurants in London. This is a good opportunity to try rare dishes such as charquekan, crispy salty beef shredded into glasslike strands resembling jerky and served as counterpoint to a bland, white consortium of boiled potato, soft cheese, boiled eggs and mote corn. However, it’s the grill that brings people in on Friday and Saturday nights, as well as the dance floor which can turn the whole scene into a potential wedding reception into the late hours. The Milanesa de Res is the restaurant’s strongest dish — essentially a beef schnitzel or a Latin chicken-fried steak depending on your reference point — which comes battered and crispy on the outside and pleasingly soft and pink inside, every bit as good as anything in the Delaunay.