By Peter May
Ecuador is a small country, only 400,000 sq ft. smaller than the entire UK in fact, yet in that space travellers will find four different worlds to explore: the Pacific Coast, the Andes, The Amazon and the Galapagos. Mountain peaks, which stretch all the way to the sun, will amaze visitors and whales, turtles and iguanas swim along the coast all add to the wonder too. Ecuador dinner tables are blessed with some of the finest produce in South America; a testament to the country’s fertile soil, varied typography and wildly different climates.
There are three main sections in Ecuador, each of its own style of cooking: highland cuisine revolves around warm, hearty dishes such as roast guinea pig and locro, a thick soup consisting of potato, cheese, corn topped with sliced avocado. Fresh seafood such as ceviche mainly dominates the coastal cuisine, and Oriente usually features rice, banana, yucca plant and fish – even including piranha! Generally the food isn’t spicy but it is sometimes accompanied by a bowl of aji, a hot pepper sauce that can be added to give some heat.
London is a city bursting with hundreds of restaurants serving any cuisine from around the world but there are not many which serve true authentic Latin American food. Opening just over a month ago in St George’s Circus in Elephant and Castle is Paladar, which is an exciting new restaurant, showcasing the best of Latin American food. On a chilly Monday evening, Paladar played host to an interesting fusion/gourmet supperclub and Ecuadorian wine tasting. The event was arranged by Good Things Magazine and Pro Ecuador, which is a government organisation that helps British buyers connect with the best suppliers to source authentic food produce and to promote Ecuador in general.
Paladar is the new crown and jewel of Elephant & Castle, set in modern elegant surroundings; the food is exquisite, aromatic exotic flavours complete with an excellent wine selection. Some of the wines on offer originate in Ecuador from vineyards located south of the Equator, approximately 2400m above sea level in the rolling foothills of the Andean mountains. The menu is a fusion of flavours including yuca fritters & Mote sauce, creamy in appearance with a grainy texture similar to a potato but has a sweet nutty taste. Ceviche plays a big part and palm hearts are used to create a pretty and delicate dish topped with agua chilli. Palm hearts are an unusual ingredient, not one I have seen on a menu before, it is a vegetable harvested from the inner core of certain palm trees. The result is a light, healthy flavour with a bit of a crunch similar to an artichoke. The carnivores amongst us will leave happy as we were treated to succulent goat served with the perfect side of garlic-flecked rice. The meal was rounded off with blue corn churros with dark chocolate sauce and dulce de leche, which gives a familiar, but more sophisticated take on the typical fairground favourite. Latin food over recent years in London has become wildly popular particularly Peruvian, but Ecuador is rightly seeking its chance to shine in the spotlight, so if you are seeking something different to try you must sample these unusual dishes before you find it too difficult to get a reservation.
PALADAR – The Taste of Latin America
4-5 London Road, St George’s Circus, London SE1 6JZ