LONDON | Rustic, relaxed and quaint – three little words you wouldn’t usually associate with Bethnal Green, but nestled amongst the rows of bars and restaurant on Paradise Row lies Venezuelan restaurant Arepa & Co. Spearheaded by top Venezuelan Chef David Lagonal and founded by couple Gus and Kathe Salguero, the restaurant offers a fully inspired flavours of South America mixing traditional dishes with the creative expression of his team who draw their inspiration from rich Venezuelan recipes and ingredients.
Upon entering, you are greeted with muted brick walls, wooden canteen style seating in what looks like a modern homely cottage – the understated airy restaurant exudes a welcoming ambience and those who visited the space when it was Paradise Garage will notice both the similarities and the differences.
The elegant, comprehensive menu includes a variety of appealing Venezuelan staples showcasing a selection of big and small plates of dishes consisting of maize, black beans, fried plantain, shredded beef, roasted vegetables and cassava – influences of Spanish with African notes which mirror the Venezuelan demographic. There is also a generous selection of cocktails, fine wines and beer.
We started the rounds with a couple of starter sharing plates of the yucca fried cassava chips and canoas de maiz. The yucca were delicately crisp and lightly dusted with paprika and salt – a fancier version of chunky chips if you will. The canoas de maiz was an interesting dish of corn husk stuffed with corn dough mixed with herbs, spices, chilli and goat cheese. It wasn’t the prettiest of dishes but my gosh it was tasty. The corn dough mixed with the edginess of the goat’s cheese made for a deep, complex flavor that worked perfectly. Tequenos were crispy cheese pastries that came served alongside a pool of guava and were outrageously moreish.
Next up were the mains. We opted for an arepa and two cachapas. Arepas are a grilled gluten free cornbread with a slightly hard crispy outside and a doughy warm soft centre. Our arepa was stuffed with pollo frito – beer brined crunchy fried chicken doused with corn puree, guava and garnished with a chipotle and tamarind glaze. The sweet union of the glazes bolstered the flavor of the chicken in what was otherwise one of the less distinctive dishes amongst our selection. Onto the deliciously moist cachapa pernil – a corn based pancake topped with tender chunks of pulled braised pork leg, crackling, jerk mayo, tomato, avocado, lime and fresh leaves. A well crafted tropical feast with a riot of colour, this dish alone captured the essence of Venezuelan cuisine.
With very little room left, it was time for desserts. The Venezuelan classic, tres leches, was a blowtorched soft pudding soaked in thick sugary evaporated and condensed milk – fluffy, indulgent and pleasingly sickly sweet. For those who don’t have as much of sweet tooth, the mazamorra, works as a great alternative – the Venezuelan malabi is made with corn and coconut milk, topped with raspberries and coconut chips, a fresh and subtle finish.
Arepa & Co. is a must visit for tasting authentic affordable Venezuelan dishes against a contemporary, cool setting with effortlessly friendly and speedy service. Be sure to stop by for their tasty brunch, hearty plates or if it’s just to taste the glorious cachapas.
Arepa & Co (Bethnal Green)
254 Paradise Row
London E2 9LE
Mon – Tue: 5:00pm to 10:00pm
Wed – Thu: 12:00pm to 3:00pm; 5:00pm to 10:00pm
Fri: 12:00pm to 3:00pm; 5:00pm to 10:30pm
Sat: 11:00am to 4:00pm; 5:00pm to 10:30pm
Fri: 11:00am to 4:00pm; 5:00pm to 10:00pm