I’ve been living near Old Street for quite some time now and one of my favourite things to do is wander along Regent’s Canal. In the summer, it’s a wonderful place for a casual stroll, people (and dog) spotting and a bit of sunbathing by the locks. In the winter, there’s nothing more magical than to slip and slide through the thick snow, accompanied only by the silent white swans and the swirls of thick fog.
Every time I walk along the canal, I seem to come across something new. A few summers ago it was the little cafe with home made ice cream (which appears to have disappeared for the winter), this time it was a brightly coloured and very cosy looking Venezuelan restaurant: Arepa & Co.
The little restaurant is beautifully decorated with colourful hammocks to sit in if you’re just getting a coffee, a deliciously gaudy parrot at the entrance, school style tables and chairs and huge glass windows to enjoy the view of the canal. The kitchen is open which makes it feel a bit like you’ve wandered into a (very artistic) Venezuelan family home, indeed the staff (all Venezuelan) do come across as a big family! We were given a very warm welcome straight away – in Spanish! For some reason everyone always mistakes my half-Asian man for South American, must be the moustache! Anyway I happily jumped into the conversation instead as I’m always happy to practice my ever waning Spanish skills.
They explained to us that they were hard at work (like Santa’s elves) making hallacas – a traditional Christmas treat made of a corn flour dough filled with 3 types of meat (pork shoulder, chicken and beef stewed together with a number of things including sugar cane, gherkins, tomatoes and leeks), raisins, black olives and onion amongst other things. The corn flour is wrapped in a plantain leaf , tied with string, and then when you’re ready to eat it, it is boiled in water. After watching them work for hours, we couldn’t resist buying one to take home!
We got milkshakes to start (guava and passionfruit yum yum) then 2 mains and a starter to share. We ordered little pastry parcels filled with cheese, accompanied by salsa rosa. The melted cheese sticks were absolutely delicious, especially when covered in their homemade chili sauce (warning: not for the faint hearted!) We then ordered a vegetarian cachapa (a corn pancake which was surprisingly sweet), filled with cheese, black beans and slices of grilled plantain. I’ve never eaten plantain before and wasn’t sure what to expect but I actually really loved the sweetness, it went especially well with the cheese and black beans. Our final dish, the most expensive on the menu at £9 (which is really good value) was pabellon – the national dish of Venezuela – shredded beef, black beans and plantain on a bed of rice.
The tagline of the restaurant is ‘Venezuelan food with a pinch of love’ – and I couldn’t help but love their food :)