Among Paradise Row’s archway establishments, this Venezuelan comfort food restaurant wins for best use of colour. A puce green bar, with glossy emerald tiles, puts zing into the meeting space, which is set against exposed brick walls and knick-knacks. What a shame that the same doesn’t apply to its dinner menu – which is a blander version of the one at Arepa & Co’s original branch in Haggerston.
A starter of tajadas – syrupy slices of plantain topped with cheese and aji amarillo (a Peruvian chilli sauce) – was comforting and tangy, boosted with slivers of fennel. Our mains needed the same treatment: pabellon arepa, a cornmeal flatbread stuffed with tender shredded beef, spiced black beans, plantain and cheese, was moreish and filling. Meanwhile, a del conuco arepa, crammed with dry sweet potato and charred apple sauce, fell a bit flat. Pabellon criollo – a rice bowl version of the same arepa – a generous portion of tender shredded beef, even in the smaller size, lacked flavour. The solo available side of greens, however, a salad of tart pickled kumquats, was ace.
There is no doubt that this cute Venezuelan joint deserves a pit stop and a peruse of the brunch menu. Take your carnivorous or coeliac mates (del conuco arepas are all gluten-free) and leave room for dessert. The Aleppo chilli chocolate ice cream nailed the balance of fire and velvety richness. Mazamorra with fresh raspberries, a Venezuelan take on malabi (a sweet custard topped with rose water) deserved a gold star. If this restaurant can add a few zippier ingredients to the menu, I’ll be back with much mas amor.