Apart from high street Argentinian steak houses and Burrito bars, traditional Latin & Central American food is pretty hard to track down in Central London. Hence, every couple of years or so, a group of friends and myself find ourselves making the pilgrimage down to the heart of South-East London. Our destination: a rather low-key Latin American joint on Old Kent Road… so off the beaten track, the nearest tube station is a 25 minute walk away.
Serving a range of grilled meats, seafood and an entire confederation of other Ecuadorian, Bolivian and Peruvian staples, Costa Azul offers a gastronomic home away from home for South London’s Latin American folk. The place has the feel of a local community centre, everybody seemingly knowing everybody else. Turn up on a Saturday night when the local band are out in full force and you just might experience the closest thing to a proper Bolivian fiesta-cum-sing-along this side of the Atlantic.
But here’s the reason why we continue to go back to Costa Azul time and time again…
Their glorious Parrillada de Mariscos is the stuff which cravings are built on… the sorta dish which gets you sweating in anticipation even before the food shows up. Served rustically on a large wooden chopping board, a seafood-fest of meaty Tilapia fillets, large chunks of Tuna steak, ginormous King Prawns, Squid and Mussels await. The seasoning is simple and uncomplicated… a light spice blend that’s a cross between cajun and turmeric that lets the seafood do the shouting. A little squeeze of lime and it’s happy days ahead.
And then, there’s the Carnivore edition: the equally epic Parrillada de Carne. **Vegetarians, scroll downwards at your own risk.** (I’ve put a salad beside the meat platter in an effort to save some of you…)
Served yet again on a huge chopping board, you get piles and piles of Steak, Chicken breast fillets and Pork Chops… all topped off with one stonkingly large home-made sausage. I mean, just look at the meat juices oozing out all over the board! If there’s one drawback with the meat platter, it’s much more about quantity and a little less about quality and finesse… so if you’re expecting a perfectly cooked medium-rare steak that melts in the mouth, you’re in the wrong joint and this is the wrong dish for you. But if it’s a seemingly endless meat-fest you are after and don’t mind if some of the steaks and chicken breasts are a little overdone, this platter will be right up your street.
Breaking from tradition, we decided it was time to try another dish apart from our usual staple platters. We opted for the Parihuela this time – a rich Peruvian fish soup packed full of coriander and spices. The bowl was stuffed so full of jumbo prawns, squid and octopus that it was literally over-flowing with seafood-y goodness. While the sweetness of the broth was intense, I thought the flavours were too similar to the Seafood platter. Also it was a wee bit over-salted for one person to lap up the entire bowl alone. Their Cerviche (which they only do on weekends and we’ve had on previous occasions) is a much better bet…
Parihuela (Peruvian Fish Stew)
With our salivary glands in savoury overdrive by now, I for one was in desperate need of something sweet after the main event to quell the overload. Their homemade flan was just the remedy. Albeit a little burnt and over-caramelised at the top, the sweet, caramel flavours and very generous portion brought proceedings to a velvet-ey end.
Damage for the 5 of us, including a couple rounds of Coronas came up to just over £100 in total. Yes, maybe the platters were a tad larger 5 years ago when we first discovered the place…. but it’s still easily the best £20 quid any of us have spent in a while and definitely worth the long bus journey (78 from Tower Hill, 21 from the City / London Bridge) down to no man’s land.
Boys, mark your calendars for next pilgrimage.
190-192 Old Kent Road, Southwark, SE1 5TY (near the big Tesco) | ingested Friday 2nd March 2012