Mister North happened to be in London at the tail end of last week and after a late night watching election results and bemoaning the state of the nation we needed fortified and soothed by some hearty food. Inspired by Mister North’s recent purchase of Felipe Rojas-Lombardi’s The Art of South American Cooking we decided to visit the Colombian butcher in Brixton Village for inspiration.
A purchase of some of the plumpest meatiest sausages (or chorizo colombiano) I have seen in a long time had us so engrossed in conversation about what to do with them that before we knew it we were on 2nd Avenue and found ourselves standing outside Restaurante La Cabana. Realising we could indulge our craving for Colombian food right then and there, rather than going home and cooking for an hour or two we were seated inside with a menu in front of us before we knew it.
The restaurant is unprepossessing, more like a cafe with tables downstairs and a slightly distracting view out onto Coldharbour Lane. It’s not somewhere for glamour, but even a fleeting look at the menu told us it was definitely somewhere for an empty stomach. And luckily we were starving and keen to try as many dishes as we could.
Mister North ordered that South American staple of empanadas to start since the morcilla wasn’t available, while I went for fried corn balls with cheese, the name of which escapes me. After something so carby and fried to begin, I thought I would go for a lighter main and chose seafood soup or cazuela de mariscos while Mister North was tempted by the Colombian classic of sancocho. The waiter was friendly, but the menu was a little confusing so we felt like we were ordering blind to some extent…so we crossed our fingers and waited to see what would arrive.
The wait was short before the waiter came towards us laden with plates. There were two full sized empanadas and my corn balls were the size of Scotch Eggs. The starters alone would have sufficed. But then a cauldron of thick creamy looking soup the colour of Marie Rose sauce arrived in front of me, bubbling with heat and garnished with juicy prawns. It was much more substantial than I expected and I was astounded when the waiter also placed a plate filled with salad, rice and plantain cooked two ways in front of me. I was just about to suggest to Mister North that the side order was his main course when our waiter was back with another steaming bowl of soup filled so full he could barely carry it and another plate of rice and plantain, this time accessorized with a huge piece of tender looking chicken for him. In our confusion with the menu, we hadn’t realised that the sancocho actually described the soup that accompanied the chicken rather than the meat itself. But we now knew that starters had been unnecessary…
It was honestly hard to know where to start. But like the well brought up kids we are, we started at beginning with the starters. The empanadas had light short pastry casings filled to the very edges with well seasoned pork and vegetables, while my corn balls were soft and light and fluffy with a delicate hint of cheese throughout, almost like a savoury doughnut. Both went down well, but we didn’t dare eat them all, making a impromptu doggie bag from napkins instead!
Time to try the main courses. My seafood soup was still bubbling away in its basket enclosed ceramic cauldron and was almost too hot to eat, but I couldn’t resist any longer. I was handsomely rewarded by a rich creamy texture and the irresistible taste of juicy tomatoes, sweet seafood and fresh coriander. Each spoonful was heaped with baby mussels, bite sized pieces of squid and octopus and tiny prawns along with the five large prawns that garnished the surface. I scooped those out onto my side plate to allow them to cool enough to shell and eat them later. The rich creamy soup was perfectly balanced with the sweetness of the fried plantain and the light crispy plantain fritter served on the side, but in all honestly with a portion of soup as big as this, the sides were superfluous. I didn’t want to spoil my appetite for every last seafood laden mouthful!
Mister North was equally taken with his soup. It was more of a broth than mine with a subtle salty porky hint to the liquid and crammed with meltingly tender pieces of plantain and cassava with fresh bite of parsley to lighten it. It seemed to go perfectly with the rice and juicy tender poached chicken served on the side while the salad with its sweet vinegar dressing stopped anything feeling too heavy. He managed to make much better inroads into all his plates of food than me so I’m guessing it was as good as my little taste suggested!
Despite our best efforts we were both defeated by the mammoth portions. I managed nearly all my soup, but the sheer amount of seafood in one sitting was too much in the end. I had to leave most of the plantain fritter and all of the rice and salad. I’m bringing a tupperware next time I visit to make sure I don’t waste a scrap of such delicious food in future!
This feast of delights, including a homemade Colombian lemonade came to an amazing £22.50 in total. Everything was freshly prepared, piping hot and utterly delicious, arriving quickly and efficiently. Most of the other clientele were South American and used to the hearty portions, leaving very little behind. We left feeling utterly replete just as the lunchtime rush was starting and realised we’d have been lucky to get a seat after 1 o’clock.
There are many wonderful places to eat in Brixton Village, but it’ll be hard to beat this amazing Colombian feast both in quality and in price! Do drop by if you’re in the locale, but make sure you bring your biggest appetite to the table!