Rica Rica, 15 Whitcomb Street, WC2H 7HA
29 July 2015
Chile. Chile, Chile, Chile. Chile. Sounds like a fantastic place to visit on a gap year doesn’t it? And then, the food reminding us of happier days in warmer climes as it does, why not open a pop-up restaurant serving authentic street food, like a less ambitious Wahaca. That, presumably, was exactly what the owner/occupiers of Rica Rica, ‘London’s Only Chilean Restaurant’*, thought, and indeed, did.
We first headed over to Rica Rica in mid-July. “First headed there?” I hear you mutter, “so you went back? It’s that good?”. No. In fact Rica Rica is not open when you think it is. It sometimes is, and sometimes isn’t. It transpires that you should follow them on social media in case of ‘we didn’t make it out of bed today, lol!’ updates. If you’ve got other plans; if you’ve taken a guest to enjoy the food with you; if you’re eating your way through world cuisine in alphabetical order and you’ve already got a Chinese meal booked in for that very evening, then Rica Rica is a dangerous choice.
We stared blankly at the opening hours on the door. We double checked our watches. We marvelled at the cognitive dissonance brought on by being both right (in that the restaurant should’ve been open), and wrong (in that it was locked and deserted). We cancelled our plans for the evening, and rearranged.
Our second visit to Rica Rica was in late July – our first and probably last ever ‘super Wednesday’ – when we dared to take on two foods of the world in a single day: Chilean lunch, Chinese dinner. To put that in perspective, there are only three meals available in a given day, and one of them is breakfast, which barely counts. Our waistlines and wallets were in for a pounding.
Like any good restaurant, Rica Rica was open as per advertised, and so in we went. The atmosphere was pleasant enough, with a few nods to Chile and the street-food vibe that is achieved with beaten furniture and orders taken by a semi-open kitchen. There was a relatively small lunchtime crowd, but service was a bit slow nonetheless, with a team of two doing all of the cooking and serving. The menu was refreshingly short, so we could try everything on offer, though it was a shame the only drinks available on the day were cans of Ting. I like Ting, and I’m sure you like Ting, but Chilean it ain’t.
We started with a couple of empanadas, the pastry parcels ubiquitous across South America. It has been interesting to compare the different national takes on a snack that can be mouth-wateringly good (see our Colombia post). These Chilean versions were quite pastry-heavy, but the filling of the first was a nice combination of beef, onions, and cumin; the second, vegetarian iteration, had lentils, sweet potato and spinach. The latter filling was more interesting, as it tasted less like a Cornish pasty of the New World. They both contained merkén, a smoked chilli, though this was somewhat lost in the mix. Pretty good, if not much of an eye-opener.
Next came Beef and chicken sopaipillas, and these pumpkin dough mini-pancakes were really the stars of the show. I was particularly fond of the spicy chicken offering, with succulent, smoky marinated meat paired with fresh avocado and tangy salsa. The pan fried steak alternative brought similar flavours, but with slightly less depth than the chicken. Delicious, and we’d have eaten more of each if we didn’t have so much eating to do later that day.
We were warming to Rica Rica, only to be betrayed by the non-availability of avocado ice-cream, which looked an interesting option on the short list of dessert offerings. Those offerings were on a chalk board, one of nature’s most-easily updated information points. No matter though, we went for the other option: sweet sopaipillas. Well, we’d established that we liked sopaipillas, so what harm could it do? These were miniature versions, topped with salted manjar (dulce de leche, as far as we could tell), mint and strawberries. A simple but enjoyable combination.
I vowed to go back one day and try the avocado ice-cream, but never did, which just goes to show that, like opening hours, we all make promises we can’t keep. We enjoyed at least one new foodstuff from Chile in the form of sopaipillas, and we were left with the sense that Chilean food could be elevated to the same prominence other South American cuisines have achieved over here. The ingredients are all there, even if Rica Rica only offers a taste of their potential.
* El Vergel in Southwark serves predominantly Chilean food, so would probably dispute this claim.