One of the benefits of teaching ESL in London to adults is being able to date the students that it has put me in contact with a large community of interesting expatriates. My school has about 20-25 nationalities represented in its ranks, and most students are around my age, which has led to the occasional blurring of professional boundaries. However, I believe the English office drinking culture tends to blur professional boundaries almost everywhere, so I don’t think my workplace is much of an exception.
My students treat me really, really, well. For my last birthday I was given a whole platter of Brazilian coxinha, and I have a fantastic Korean student who regularly brings kimbab to class for my greedy little fingers to devour. I’ve been to Brazilian BBQs, and on their advice I’ve explored some of the outer-regions of London’s transport zones in order to find some of the best, cheapest and most authentic ethnic food London has to offer.
This past weekend, to thank me for my help with a document translation, my Colombian friend took me out to lunch to El Rincon del Sur – a restaurant of whose existence I’ve tried in vain to find evidence on the internet, with no luck. I can only conclude that it is truly an undiscovered gem in the London English-speaking community. El Rincon del Sur is located in SE1, about a five minute walk from Elephant and Castle Station (email me if you want actual directions!). We arrived there cold, wet and starving at around 3pm on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
On the way to the restaurant, my friend K asked pointedly—are you sure you’re hungry? This place gives REALLY huge portions. I scoffed a little (thinking he laboured under the impression that I, like some dainty girl trying to impress a date, wouldn’t eat to my full potential) and told him to quit trying to get out of paying for my lunch.
The restaurant has that nice, down-to-earth, functional feel to it—heavy wooden tables and chairs, fake plastic flowers in vases, posters of Colombia on the walls, and a TV playing Latin music videos of long-ago on the wall. As K assured me that ‘real’ Colombian restaurants look nothing like this, I was really enjoying the atmosphere. It was filled with tables of families and couples, all of them loudly enjoying a special Saturday lunch, singing along to the music, the owner bouncing from table to table making small talk.
K ordered Bandeja Paisa, the sometimes-national dish of Colombia, basically consisting of every type of meat known to man: ground steak; chicharrón (deep-fried pork rind); chorizo; and rellena (cleaned intestine stuffed with rice and meat – think Colombian haggis). It also includes arepa (steamed corn bread), plantain, rice, avocado and finally a large bowl of bean soup. Here is a breakdown of the meal:
I couldn’t fit it all into one picture, so the main dish is pictured above, and here is the bean soup:
Mmmmm, smoky beany deliciousness.I opted for the ‘smaller’ Lomo con Champiñones (or pork loin with mushrooms):
It also came with rice, potatoes and 2 types of plantains (no problem breaking the double-starch rule in Colombia!). I dug in with joyful glee. However, despite threats from the owner that I wouldn’t be allowed to return if I didn’t eat everything, this is where I gave up:
I wanted to cry, I wanted to force the remaining morsels into my mouth, but I suppose I did valiantly well. It was so delicious—so simple, hearty, and down-to-earth, I wanted to weep and then telephone my mother. Or K’s mother. Or anyone who would serve this to me for lunch on a regular basis. Most importantly, K settled the bill so I didn’t even have to pay for the pleasure. It’s something one could get used to. In case you’re wondering, Bandeja Paisa was £10 though it could easily be shared between two people for a normal sized lunch. My Lomo was £11. The portion sizes make this place a great bang for your London pound, and it’s in zone 1!
I give it 4 fingers out of five. (This restaurant review scale being one I have just invented off the top of my head)
El Rincon del Sur – down the street from the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, SE1, Southwark, London—if anyone has more contact info for this place, let me know!
Update August 2010: The restaurant is actually right next to a shop called El Rincon del Sur, and is now named La Paisita. It can be found at 103 Newinton Butts. During the week they serve lunches and a pared down evening menu, but Saturdays and Sundays expect full on Latin American, artery-clogging amazement.