London SW9 8PS
Pork chops and arepas: £3
Beef empanada: £1
The area around Brixton Market is swiftly becoming my new favourite place. Not only is there the market itself on Electric Avenue, with its halal butchers aiming either a "Come on in, babes" or a "Salaam, brother" at you while the Eastern European fruitmongers perfect their cockney patter, there is the Pope's Road end with its food trucks and outdoor canteens amongst the knock-off clothes stalls, and also the indoor Brixton Village Market. The indoor section mirrors the eclectic selection found outdoors - Sierra Leonan grocers alongside gluten- and dairy-free bakeries - but there are more sit-down cafes, restaurants and coffee bars from Morocco, New Zealand, Ghana, the Philippines, the Caribbean, Colombia and a few other places in between.
In fact, Brixton Village Market hosts two Colombian cafes and two Colombian butchers, quite a feat for a community that I had not realised existed in Britain until last week (the Office for National Statistics reckons that there are 22,000 Colombians in the UK while the Migration Policy Institute puts the figure at 90,000). Guided by the relatively little money in my pocket, I went into the cheaper of the two Colombian cafes - Restaurante Santa Fereño.
On a Saturday afternoon, the restaurant is standing-room only, with the clientele split evenly between Spanish-speaking and English-speaking customers. The staff are all Colombian and are very friendly when explaining the menu and what other people are eating. I ordered a beef empanada (a smaller and spicier version of a pasty), pork chops and arepas (cornmeal pancakes), and a milkshake that was not on the menu but all of the Spanish-speakers seemed to be drinking. The empanada was larger than I had expected, the thin pastry casing fried but not oily, and filled with spicy shredded beef and vegetables. The pork chops were a bit disappointing, especially as a lot of people were eating them, as they were fried and had little meat, although the meat was tender once you had found it. They were enlivened by the hot sauce made of chillies and coriander, that lent both flavour and fire to what would otherwise have been a bland dish. The accompanying arepas tasted more of corn than I had expected, and their slight crispness on the outside contrasted with the barely-done insides. Eaten with pieces of pork and lashings of chilli sauce, they were delicious and may become part of my staple diet. Rather than have dessert (not that I didn't want dessert, but my funds were running low), I enjoyed a thick, slightly sour milkshake instead. This was not on the menu and various internet searches have turned up no name or recipe for this, but it tasted like there were small pieces of fruit in it, and it was delicious.
For a very filling meal in London, this was a very cheap choice, and in an area filled with cheap and unusual food, I would say that seeking out Colombian should be on every foodie's list of things to do. The restaurant's menu was extensive, and their diverse patrons' empty plates attested to the standard of the cooking. Although let down by the pork chops, this was one of my favourite meals in London, partly because of the food and the restaurant's friendly and welcoming atmosphere, but also because of the discovery of another type of cuisine to add to my ever-growing seek-out list.