Arepa & Co, the home of Venezuelan cooking in London, have thrown open the doors of their second restaurant on Bethnal Green’s Paradise Row. Husband and wife dream team, Gus and Kathe opened Arepa & Co Haggerston as a home from home for the Venezuelan community back in 2014 and the new restaurant, just up the road, looks set to bring Venezuelan cooking to a bigger audience.
We love Paradise Row, it’s a great little stretch of restaurants and bars including Sager + Wilde, Mother Kelly’s and Resident, which really comes into its own in the summer when tables spill outside. Inside there’s a bare brick interior, with an open kitchen at the centre of the room and stools for counter dining at the bar. The mezzanine level is home to a private dining area and there’s a brand new selection of cocktails making their debut at Paradise Row. Largely centred around rum, Venezuela’s national spirit, don’t miss the Arepa Sour with rum, lime and Gomme Syrup (similar to a pisco sour but finished with a gorgeous edible flower).
We’ll get in trouble for saying this but for the completely uninitiated, you can expect similar flavours to Peruvian cuisine. Not the seafood and the ceviche, but the more rustic, inland dishes that use an abundance of beans and corn.
Granted the countries have Ecuador and Columbia separating them but they still share a love of chillies and avocado. I only compare the two because London has a real absence of Venezuelan restaurants and before visiting I didn’t really have a reference point myself.
To start you simply can’t escape plantain – and why would you want too? We shared delicious little plates with it prepared a variety of ways. Tajadas are still soft, quick fried and drizzled with spicy aji Amarillo & cheese, meanwhile there was the twice-cooked cracker-like Tostones which we scooped up slow-cooked beef with.
Of course the menu centres around the Venezuelan ‘Arepa’ with an entire section dedicated to the gluten free cornbread stuffed with all sorts of deliciousness. The most traditional being the Pabellón, which Gus describes as ‘Venezuela on a plate’; a traditional dish of shredded beef with black beans, fried plantain, rice and cheese. There’s also the Cachapa Pernil, a soft corn pancake with 12 hour braised pork leg with jerk mayo, tomato and avocado salsa – which might just have been our favourite. There’s also the option of getting the toppings served simply over rice instead (a good option if you’re super hungry) – but hey, where’s the fun in that? Our side salad of heritage tomatoes and grilled palm hearts, pickled shallots and basil was really refreshing.
On Saturday’s and Sunday’s Arepa & Co brunches will inject some South American sunshine into the weekend, with Breakfast Criollo, Cachapas ‘La Previsora’, corn pancakes layered with grilled bacon and cheese, and ‘Funche’, a cornmeal based with beef stock, streaky bacon and sugarcane syrup.
‘I’m so proud that I’ve been able to bring the flavours of my home country to London, but I also want to show that Venezuelan cooking can be really creative, not just bound by traditional recipes. The new restaurant will be packed with influences from around the world, taking inspiration from our roots and creating something new and exciting around that’ says Gus ‘We’re so thrilled to be opening our second restaurant in East London – it’s become our local area, its where we live, and where the Arepa & Co journey really began. We can’t wait to share the new project with our friends and neighbours!’ adds Kathe.