Parrilladas del Sur, 186-188 Old Kent Road  London SE1 5TY

8 February 2013

A Friday night in February took us to Parrilladas del Sur (‘southern barbeque’), for an enjoyable slice of Sucre-cana. The Old Kent Road is still a goldmine of interesting cuisine for anyone not too cowardly for the trip, and is well worth exploring since a number of eateries there aren’t listed online. Parrilladas del Sur stays open late, and proffers a glimpse of shack-chic dripping cisterns and urinals behind a clear perspex patio door on the way to the entrance. It’s quiet inside, and we are greeted by the charming host-cum-waitress in a padded red jacket. It’s not cold. In the corner a young couple chat in Spanish and throw dice. A child swings on a chair beneath a television, jammed on Bolivian MTV, and a sign above a glass-fronted fridge offers bottled Paceña beer. Everything is at ease. Our hostess is charming and eager to please, recommending much of the menu before we finally make up our minds. There’s a wide range of dishes, Bolivian in origin and happily not altered noticeably in their journey across the Atlantic. Sadly, there’s actually no Paceña available – or indeed any Bolivian drinks – so we have to settle for a bottle of wine. As we order, our choices are called out to the chef behind the counter, and the food is plated up quickly.

Our starter, simply ‘peanut soup’ on the menu, turns out to be an excellent nutty broth swimming with a chunky blend of carrots, potatoes, peas, parsley and chicken thigh, with a spicy chilli sauce on the side. Well seasoned and comforting, it is the type of food you could eat every day, and would have served well as a main course.

Warm of stomach and with expectations running suddenly high, the mains arrive. Steve and I go for pique macho; Sophie has chicharron de cerdo, and things take a turn for the worse. On paper pique macho sounds promising: a melange of tender beef, sausage slices, tomatoes, red onion, potato wedges, boiled eggs, barbeque sauce and mayonnaise. As I load my fork, I notice the host-cum-waitress-cum-owner glancing expectantly at me from across the room, in a motherly way. Dutifully, I bite, chew, and smile happily. But I didn’t really mean it. Meat, vegetables, sauce. What’s not to like? Well, true, but in this case it is a menacing mountain of meat as big as a human head, interspersed with chips and tomatoes and absolutely smothered in ketchup and mayo. Again, what’s not to like? Well, true, but the sheer quantity of very oily meat and the liberal use of sauce here leave the eater with the same post-gorging guilt hitherto the sole preserve of bad kebabs.

The chicharron de cerdo’s problem isn’t guilt; it’s as dry as the Siloli, and the pork that forms the centrepiece of the dish (again in large quantities) is as tough as leather. It comes with plantain, roast potatoes and white maize, all crying out for some sauce. The white maize at least is interesting; an unusual ingredient over here, with the appearance of giant, anaemic sweetcorn and the texture of butterbeans, but it isn’t enough to maintain anyone’s interest.

Pique Macho

Pique Macho

Given the strength of the starter, the mains are a real shame, leaving us very full and a bit angry. We’d be foolish to write off Bolivian cuisine, however. I could see pique macho being delicious if handled with more care, and perhaps Parrilladas del Sur’s chicharron de cerdo (‘cerdo cuero’?) is more tender earlier in the day.

Parrilladas del Sur is worth a visit. It feels homely, and Bolivian food has plenty of exciting flavours. Go there to try peanut soup; you won’t be disappointed, and while the mains have a lot of ingredients in common, there are plenty of variations on the menu. Just don’t expect a hit every time. ~ J

Food: 3/5

Atmosphere: 4/5