London is a hub of diversity where you can find nearly every type of cuisine, but one restaurant stands out when it comes to authentic Colombian food.
El Rancho De Lalo in Brixton has queues of customers outside its door on its busiest days, waiting in line for the traditional flavours.
The restaurant which opened in 2010 has a new menu every day alongside the permanent a-la-carte menu, so customers can expect a variety of dishes from South America.
Executive head chef, Luis Sebastian Zuluaga, spoke to MyLondon about the menu and how his and the owner’s Colombian heritage is represented through the flavours.
He said the reason the restaurant is popular is because it brings the community together: “People feel welcome and at home and that’s what we want, it’s more like a pub in Colombia, you are allowed to go with family and have coffee, you can have lunch too.
“We try and give a humble price and people love the menu as well as the community feeling.”
Speaking about the most popular dish, ‘Bandeja Paisa,’ he said: “It shows everything about Colombia, the dish consists of traditional slow cooked beans which are cooked for two to three hours in vegetable stock, these are served with traditional Colombian chorizo.
“Colombian chorizo is not spicy at all and more yellow than Spanish, it also comes with pork belly that’s cut up and we cook in the oven then finish in fryer.
“It also comes with rice and corn bread – arepas, which is bread back in Colombia, this represents our country.
“There is also a side of egg and yellow plantain.”
Luis says the menu is all traditional food and is inspired by the idea of what Colombia is.
“We tried to show native food and brought it to London,” he said.
“We want to show more of Colombia, not just one region. We want to show different types of fishes, we use a lot of cuts of animals, we have a lot of vegan dishes too.”
The menu was originally decided by the head chef, Mercedes, who started the business with owner, Lalo – who’s real name is Carlos Zuluaga.
Luis said: “Mercedes came from Ecuador, so we are neighbours – her story is very humble, she chased her dreams to have a better life for her kids and provide for them.”
His own story is also what he describes as ‘humble’: “I was born in Colombia and I came here when I was 12-years-old. Since I was a kid I wanted to be a chef.
“I grew up in farms and happiness was always in the kitchen, I always cooked with my grandma and it’s also in our blood.
“When I started as a kitchen porter I remembered those moments as a kid, it gave me inspiration to carry on.
“I was one of Lalo’s key people when he opened 10/11 year ago and I mastered myself in the cuisine.”
The busiest days for El Rancho De Lalo are from Thursday to Saturday where people are willing to queue outside and wait for a table.
With a different menu every day, the restaurant still believes you must always start your meal with soup.
Luis said: “For example today we will do breaded fried protein so chicken or pork with lentils and a soup every day as well.
“Today’s soup is chicken – we are very versatile and have plenty of dishes, we believe the starter should always be soup and the main should have starch, protein and salad.”
You can find El Rancho De Lalo on 1 Buckner Road, Brixton Hill, London SW2 5BY.
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