Gastronomy Special

Eating out in Bogota, Bogota restaurants, Bogota foodBogota’s reputation as Colombia’s culinary hotspot continues to grow, with an influx of top-quality international and fusion restaurants over the past year or so. There are so many places to try, whether you’re looking for a bit of fancy Colombian nosh or some exotic wonders from around the world.

So this edition, instead of our usual restaurant reviews, we’ve come up with a gastronomy special, bringing you a wide range of restaurants and cuisines all in one handy place. This doesn’t claim to be a list of the best restaurants in Bogota, but provides a selection of diverse gastronomic options, some of which might just make your own personal ‘Best Restaurants’ list.

As always, if you know of any others that you think the rest of our readers should know about (or know to avoid), please don’t hesitate to get in touch and we’ll look to include them in a future edition.

ARABIC

Al-YaziraAl Yazira

Calle 33 #7-2 to 7-100

From the outside, Lebanese fast food joint Al Yazira doesn’t look entirely promising. Lurking on a corner of Carrera 13, blocked in by a metal grill and accessed through a door that looks like the entrance to an off-licence, it doesn’t exactly scream “class”. But shake off the initial feeling of disappointment and you might just be in for an unexpected treat.

The restaurant’s mission is a simple one: to force fresh-made falafel down you with as little fuss as possible. Before your eyes the owner will whip up a $19,000 mixed plate groaning under the weight of hummus, falafel and spices, tasty enough to make the most hardcore carnivore drool. Fresh pitta bread is baked on a large stone just behind the counter, and a polite mas pan por favor is never refused.

The décor is wonderfully unhip. Those who automatically equate falafel with bearded hipster cafes will be relieved by the friendly staff and unpretentious plastic tables. The gregarious owner has a great habit of giving free Arabic coffee to his guests, and don’t be surprised if he offers to show you his iPhone photos. With wraps for around $15,000, Al Yazira is the perfect place to while away a lunch hour.

Good for: Fresh food with fast, friendly service.

MUNMÜN

Calle 93 #11A-11

Having spent the best part of three years trying and failing to find authentic Arabic cuisine here in Bogota, I was none too hopeful on making my way to Bogota’s newest culinary offering, MÜN.

My initial impressions, however, were positive. The mix of modern decor with traditional Arabic fixtures and design were a precursor to Spanish head chef Miguel Martinez’s unique menu, which is something akin to ‘Mediterranean Middle Eastern’ cuisine. Both he and his Colombian partner, Elisa Rueda, have worked in two and three-starred Michelin restaurants, something reflected in the presentation and the dishes.

A first glance at the menu was promising, with many of my favourites making the grade, almost all of them with a twist. The goat’s cheese pastry starter would have been delicious on its own, but the addition of orange marmalade complemented it perfectly.

The warakenab (stuffed grape leaf) was nothing short of phenomenal, and the chef’s own turmeric paste added an extra kick. Equally mouthwatering was the orange and goat’s cheese salad, proving that simplicity is often the key.

While the kibbeh and hummus were also great, these are hard to get wrong. Although someone should probably tell that to every other Arabic restaurant in Bogota – seriously people, hummus isn’t just tahineh and garlic.

The restaurant’s signature plate is the rice dish, although I have to admit it was probably the low point of the meal. That’s not to say that it was bad – just that everything else on the menu was so good that it was bound to disappoint. There was an over-use of spices and herbs to the point that they almost cancelled each other out. Also be aware that it’s not ideal date food, as it’s cooked inside an onion.

I also found the kafta meatball salad to be somewhat flavourless, although this could be a result of having tried so many flavours that my taste buds weren’t up to the challenge.

But the icing on the cake was, well, the ice-cream next to the cake. They must have been saving the best for last, because the sponge cake and biscuit ice-cream seemed to disappear off my plate quicker than I could ask for another.

Add to this the fantastic presentation and a user-friendly wine list – which has tipples divided not by country or price, but by flavour and body – and you’ve got yourself a pretty sweet dining experience.

However, it wasn’t all as sweet as the ice cream – the restaurant insisted on using edible flowers which, despite being the pride of the staff, were as out of place as the bizarre neon ‘Welcome to the MÜN’ sign and the bright pink lights spelling out the Arabic words for ‘night’ and ‘moon’.

Given the location just off the Parque 93, the prices are reasonable. Miguel explained to me that, by offering smaller portions and lower prices, they hope to give a more traditional meze or tapas experience.

If a delicious meal is what you’re after, you can’t go too far wrong here. But if the lack of authentic Arabic cuisine in Bogota weighs down on you as much as it does on me, you still might be left feeling ever so slightly short-changed after your visit to Mun.

Don’t get me wrong though, this is the closest you’ll get in the capital (trust me, I’ve tried them all) and it’s good value too.

Good for: A homesick Arab

Also try:

La cocina de Thaair (Km 6, Via La Calera): On the road up to La Calera, near the incongruous Russian and Uruguayan restaurants, is possibly the most random combination you’re likely to find: an Iraqi-Italian joint. What this means in practice is that you can find both tasty pizzas cooked in a traditional wood-fired oven and excellent Arab fare – one of the most authentic options around.

Zatar (Carrera 5 #69-15): A good option for Arabic food in an intimate, no-frills venue, although Zona G prices do apply. The shawarma is excellent.

ITALIAN

La-DivaLa Diva

(Calle 93 #13A-44)

Outright the best pizza joint in Bogota but definitely not the cheapest, La Diva is a new creation which tries to maintain a rustic Italian charm while still appealing to the wealthier crowds around Parque 93. The restaurant itself is packed with things and feels quite cramped, but this creates quite an intimate atmosphere that would be perfect for a date or party.

I highly recommend trying the sangría frizzantes at any time of the day you visit . A light fizzy Prosecco based cocktail was fruity and moreish ($40,000 for a media jarra). There are some jaw dropping starters including a warm burrata (buffalo cheese) which felt very light and delicate, and exuded a freshness unusual for a cheese.

The pizzas are the star here and range in price between $24,000 -30,000. With a wood based oven and real care given to sourcing high-quality ingredients, the thin crust Italian style pizzas are delicious. However, those with a cheese base are more successful than the others, which don’t have quite enough tomato coming through.

For me, the highlight was Datiles ($30,000), a pizza containing dates and gorgonzola that was out of this world. The mixture of ripe fruit with a strong pungent blue cheese made it one of the best pizzas I’ve had this year.

There are a range of menus, but the Sunday brunch menú seemed fantastic value at $35,000, including three courses and a drink, especially on a day when it can be difficult to find restaurants open. To sum up then: La Diva is an unqualified success and I’ll be returning often.

Cacio-y-PepeCacio y Pepe

Carrera 11a #89-38

Not for those with a light wallet, but definitely worth splashing out on, this is the swanky Italian restaurant everyone is fighting to get into. Sitting in a fantastic space just on the edge of Parque Virrey, the modern but very darkly-lit Cacio y Pepe is the place for the hip, young (and not so young) crowd to see and be seen.

Perhaps for this reason, it seems impossible to reserve a table. I was advised by the restaurant to arrive early and wait on spec.

This seems to be what half the restaurant was told as when I arrived there was not a single seat free at the bar, but plenty of unoccupied tables.

The menu here follows the traditional Italian formula with antipasti to start and two main plates to follow. The artichokes I began with were sautéed to perfection. There was then a selection of pasta dishes, including a fantastic gnocchi with crunchy crab bits. There is also a great mixture of meat and fish.

I plumped for roasted prawns atop a polenta bed with a sweet mustard sauce. The meat was a tad dry but the flavours complemented each other well. The only disappointment was the dessert menu which had curiosities like banana and arequipe.

Not very Italian.

Expect to pay around $30,000 for the pasta and $30,000-40,000 for the meat and fish dishes. A nice range of wines start from around $70,000 a bottle, and $9,000 by the glass.

It was great to find dishes here with very distinct flavours and some thought has clearly gone into the menu. The head chef is apparently from the US, but he seems to have arrived in Bogotá with gusto. I will certainly be back to try the rest of the menu.

Good for: Treating yourself

Also try:

Julia (Carrera 5 #69a-19 & Calle 85 #12-81): Unless you’ve been living under a bridge, you’ve probably been told about Julia. Delicious thin-crust pizzas that won’t break the bank.

Carpaccio (Calle 69a #9-14, Calle 100 #18-30 & Calle 93b #18-42): This is your archetypal Italian restaurant. As the name suggests, there is an excellent selection of carpaccio and the wine list is very extensive. It’s not cheap, but it’s certainly worth it.

JAPANESE

Arigato-FacebookArigato

Calle 76 #12-22

Having lived in Japan, I’m somewhat of a snob about Japanese food – I was spoiled by cheap yet amazing dishes for far too long.

Many so-called sushi restaurants in the rest of the world disappoint, especially here in Colombia where it is such a novelty that any mix of rolled rice and random fillings is optimistically labelled as sushi.

Arigato was a pleasant surprise. The plain, unpretentious interior is reminiscent of Tokyo eateries where the restaurateurs focus and confidence in their food left little space for flashy decor. The service was prompt and polite and the warm sake was delightful fortification against the cold Bogota night.

The gyoza were freshly made and freshly cooked, with just enough bite in the spring onion and herbs to balance the meat. And the set mix of sushi/sashimi was delicious. We paid extra for some top-notch tuna sashimi that they had in as a limited special, which was well worth it: good enough to put you off canned tuna for the rest of your life. The sushi itself was perfect: each roll a simple yet complex balance of texture and flavour, some with hints of wasabi, some where the fish stood alone.

Overall, impressive food – a little on the pricey side as the meal came to $130,000 for two people – but well worth it.

Good for: Sushi just like in Japan

Sushi-Sandwich-KiyoKiyo

Av 19 #114A-26

A new Japanese restaurant has opened in an area which could soon rival the Zona G. There are big changes being made as new restaurants rush to fill the space around the Calle 100.

Kiyo attempts to assuage the raw fish fears of its Bogota clientele by throwing new takes on old themes. The sushi menu here includes meat! I tried a pork roll topped with green mango, and beef sushi wrapped in prosciutto ham. A ‘sushi sandwich’ came in the form of a deep fried rice sandwich with a raw salmon filling.

Although sacrilegious to most sushi connoisseurs, the menu is certainly creative. Sadly, the results are not always successful and as a fish lover the menu doesn’t really attract me. However, customers wanting something a bit different may be more engaged.

ALL THINGS SWEET

Camila-Velez-xmas-tree-cake-PHOTO_-ALAIN-MISRACHICamila Velez

cvelezgodoy@gmail.com/3017425221.

France is lauded worldwide for its fantastic cuisine and, whether you like it or not, it’s hard to disagree. Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to desserts – the French propensity for creating heart-stopping, diabetes-inducing pastries and cakes borders on suicidal, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Enter the fray Camila Velez, a Bogotana who has spent several years studying and working in France, honing her skills and perfecting the art of pastry-making. Currently, she works as the head pastry chef at L’Artisan, forming part of a gastronomic project that includes catering services and seasonal products.

Taking charge of the desserts, Camila creates a mix of small, simple pastries and made-to-order, original cakes. These, she explains, are a driving force behind her love of cooking: “The idea is to show the artistic side to gastronomy and, in particular, confectionary.” There’s no reason why delicious can’t be beautiful too.

Having spent time working at triple Michelin-starred restaurants in the south of France, as well as three years as a pastry chef at Paris’ Hotel Park Hyatt, Camila was keen to bring the best of France back to Bogota, offering her expertise and experience to those of us who like to overindulge every now and again. And again. And again.

If you’re planning a party or just fancy a delicious cake, you will not be disappointed. Just be sure to have your sweet tooth ready for an onslaught that it might not be used to. Keep an eye on your blood sugar level too.

For Christmas, Camila has designed a special Christmas tree cake that is available for home delivery. And therein lies the one drawback I can find – she does not currently have a shop to display her work, although she plans to have one in the coming year.

To find out more about her menu and to place an order, send an email to the above adress.

Good for: Lovers of the finer side of desserts.

josephine-chocolateJosephine

There is a belief amongst Bogota’s expat community (and it’s one which I share) that Colombia lacks a good selection of chocolate. This belief is what inspired three friends to start Josephine, a company that imports top-notch Belgian chocolate.

Available in five flavours, there is no doubting the quality of the product, with the only obvious downside being the price – chocolates retail at between 11,000 pesos and 15,000 pesos a pack. However, given the general price of imported goods here in Colombia, and the quality of the existing chocolate, you won’t hear me complaining.

Josephine also imports waffles, although one of the founders, Hadrien Derème, explains that they are concentrating on their chocolate brand at the moment, abandoning attempts to sell more traditional Belgian sweets such as cuberdon and speculoos. “You don’t have to teach Colombian people to like chocolate. And they have no problem paying a little bit more for a quality product.”

The name, which comes from the granddaughter of Leopold I, the first king of Belgium, reflects the team’s belief in quality desserts and their discerning Belgian tastes. Legend has it that she was a lover of fine pastries (something which makes me question the authenticity of her slim image on the packaging), and even invented a number of her own recipes. The royal connection doesn’t end there – earlier this year, Josephine sponsored the visit of the Belgian royal family and a number of top-level ministers, who were apparently more than impressed by the offerings.

On taking the leap to Colombia, co-founder Quentin Vanbever sums up the mantra of many young entrepreneurs: “This is the age to do it. We’re 26, we don’t have children or other commitments.”

Hadrien shares this sentiment and believes that running your own business leads to better productivity: “I get up in the morning and I actually want to work. I often find myself responding to emails at 6am when there’s really no need!”

Currently distributing to a number of cafes and shops in Bogota, as well as Velvet Cafe in Medellin, Josephine is becoming recognised as a high quality product for a discerning market.

As well as being sold online (www.colombiaregala.com), Josephine is also stocked in Gastronomy Market, Baked by Ana in Usaquen, The Wine Store (calle 81 #10-50) and Panaderia Papa (Carrera 7 #72-80).

Plans are afoot to start distributing to medium and large chains as well. For the full list of points of sale, see our online version.

Watch this space in 2015, as Quentin and Hadrien team up with Louis Collinet with plans to expand to Medellin, Barranquilla, Pereira and other cities in Colombia before eventually branching out to the rest of Latin America.

Good for: Those with a taste for fine chocolate.

Bogota:
– Oliver Bakery : Calle 114 #47a-39, 104
– Panaderia Papa Carrera 7 #72-80 and Carrera 14 #93b-16
– Lolo Coffee and Snacks: Carrera 19 #117-30
– Baked By Ana : Calle 119a #5-31
– Sibaritas: Carrera 11a #93a-14
– Azahar Cafe: Carrera 14 #93a-48
– The Wine store: Calle 81 #10-50
– Gastronomy Market: Carrera 13 #93b-51
– Arlfina: Carrera 21 #166-78

Medellin:
– Velvet Café: Cra 37 #8a-46

Also try:

Baked by Ana (Calle 119b #5-31): Possibly the best cupcakes in Bogota, with traditional flavours such as brownie or oreo, as well as more daring cakes, including wasabi and mole picante.

BAKERIES

Panaderia Santa Maria

Carrera 5 #26b-71, La Macarena

To enter Panaderia Santa Maria is to step into the homeliest little diner in the world. Situated just beside the Macarena’s now-defunct bullring, this one-stop cure for all things hangover-related is ultra-cheap, ultra-friendly and utterly delightful.

Although conventional Colombian fare is on offer, don’t be fooled. You’re here for one thing only: the pastries. Lurking behind two large glass counters, the freshly-baked selection takes in everything from loaves of bread large enough to brain a horse with (should the urge take you), to gigantic pain au chocolates filled to the gills with sugary goodness. Of particular note are the stuffed croissants. Large, golden and delicious, they resemble nothing so much as fat, contented caterpillars; if caterpillars were made of pastry and came in three different flavours.

Did we mention it’s cheap? For a pastry the size of your fist, you can expect to pay a maximum of $2,000. At the lower end, a mini-croissant will set you back a mere $300.

Staffed by friendly teenagers and with big windows for people-watching, Panaderia Santa Maria is the perfect place to recover

from the night before.

Good for: Dealing with a hangover

La-Despensa---Wesley-TommasselliLa Despensa

Carrera 21 #39a-73

La Despensa is the latest project of Ivan Ospina, owner of Elbarrio, the restaurant/bar tucked away behind Parkway. It is a novel take on a more typical delicatessen; as a fan of the gutsier Marandua in the centre, I was keen to see how Ospina had managed to translate the vibe of Elbarrio into a deli.

The space is small, with seating both inside and outside, using a novel recycling technique with wooden palettes. The deli counter itself is well-stocked with a variety of meats, cheeses, rustic breads, mango chutney – this was a novelty, as I had yet to find any here in Bogota – relishes and preserves, with a few choice bottles of wine. Perhaps the large table slap-bang in the middle of the room could be replaced with more inside seating; since when full, customers face an elaborate dance around the deli to pay for their purchase.

Ivan is on a quest for better flavour and unique taste, something he thinks is lacking in Colombian cuisine.

“I mean, if we’re going to make empanadas, let’s make them… But, let’s make them right!” he says. “Let’s make them with the best potatoes, let’s find the best meat. [Colombian] plates are way too easy, way too simple. A spoonful of rice, a piece of meat, and that’s it.”

If you have eaten at Elbarrio, then you will certainly be familiar with the fusion of Arabic, French and Italian influences with traditional Colombian ingredients. La Despensa offers light bites: a sandwich with prosciutto on ciabatta, with caramelised onions, quinoa leaves, cheese and sun-dried tomato relish will set you back $11,000, and you can wash it down with a $5,000-glass of house red or white wine. The company is eclectic, not so much mums with their pushchairs, and whilst I was there, a constant stream of friends and relatives – Colombian and of a variety of nationalities – kept popping in. It also has the potential to be a great pre-theatre aperitif option before hitting Casa E – not ideal if you are after a secluded, romantic corner, as you could likely be met by loud Brazilian music.

Still, if you are a self-confessed foodie, this is a great option for a light bite that won’t break the bank, whilst still experiencing the unique hustle and bustle of life in Bogota.

Good for: A cheap, quick bite made with fresh, quality ingredients

Also try:

Panaderia Francesa (Calle 28a #16-29, tel: 4671050): It’s not exaggerating to say this is easily one of the best bakeries in Bogota. Inside the tiny, unassuming shop you’ll find some outrageously delicious (and pleasingly cheap) croissants and a range of top-notch baked goods. Be sure to get there early, as you may be left looking at an empty rack otherwise.

MARKETS

Gastronomy-MarketGastronomy Market

(Carrera 13 #93b-51)

Any foreigner who has lived in Bogota for more than a few months will no doubt have uttered something along the lines of “where can I get shortbread here?”, “why are doble crema and queso campesino so rubbish?” or “I need some proper spicy sauce, where’s the Sriracha?” on a number of occasions.

Well, good people, your days of first-world complaining and drinking Té Hindu are well and truly over. One of Bogota’s newest offerings, Gastronomy Market, hopes to fill that void and bring some of the best, freshest national and international products to the Colombian mainstream market.

It’s not just for foreigners though. There are Colombian palates that want the best ingredients and are nostalgic for those olives they ate in Italy, that beer in Russia or the jam they gorged themselves on in France.

As manager Oscar Raudales explains: “This is what was missing in Bogota, a city that has been going through a gastronomic awakening for years, with quality international restaurants, but no one place that brings together special products from around the world for lovers of good food.”

As well as more than 2,800 packaged products – ranging from jams and sauces, to wines, beers, cheeses, exotic spices and top-quality pasta – there is a fresh fruit and veg section, a fishmonger and a butcher.

An added bonus is the excellent deli section. The two resident chefs hand-pick the ingredients and offer a selection of delicious salads, sandwiches, desserts and more elaborate meat and fish dishes. With a cosy dining terrace, this is a great place to grab a quick bite if you’re around Parque 93.

While it is obviously a bit pricey, you’re unlikely to find many of these products anywhere else in Bogota. So whether you’re a homesick expat or a world traveller, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Good for: International products and top-quality Colombian delicacies.

Also try:

Paloquemao (Calle 19 #25-04): Cheap fruit, meat and fish galore will have you wondering why you ever shop at Exito.

COLOMBIAN

Kaffarte

Carrera 4 #12-16, La Candelaria

If you’re looking for a set lunch, Colombian-style, Kaffarte is the place for you. Set in a tiny room just off the narrow pavement of Carrera 4, this cosy restaurant offers gut-busting Colombian classics for a mere $9,000 a pop.

House specialities include a steaming bowl of ajiaco roughly the size of your head, and a bandeja paisa so big you’d be forgiven for thinking its appellation “mini” is ironic. That’s just for mains. A gamut of free salad options decorates the narrow counter between the restaurant and kitchen, while your choice of jugo naturally comes with unlimited refills.

Meals are rounded out with a simple starter (usually uninspiring) and a small dessert (frequently delicious). Nowhere does it say in writing that they guarantee you’ll leave some four stone heavier than when you came in, but the inference is clearly there.

Thanks to the set menu nature, choices are usually limited. Those who wish to sample from a vast menu featuring all things Colombian should probably head up to Chimchombia in La Macarena or San Felipe, a few blocks away. But Kaffarte serves as a wonderful introduction to the carbohydrate-stuffed guilty pleasure that is local cuisine. If you’re in town for a short time only and don’t want to leave without trying some Colombian classics, this is the place for you.

Good for: Quality Colombian fare at a reasonable price

Also try:

San Felipe (Calle 11 #2-65): With a selection of basic, traditional, but delicious dishes, this is the place to go in La Candelaria for a quick, no-frills Colombian lunch. Each dish comes with a gobsmackingly good ajiaco.

SPANISH

Chamberi---montaditos-de-bondiola,-facebookChamberi

(Carrera 14 #86A-12)

Spanish food is about more than just tapas and paella, something which Chamberi’s owner and head chef Dani Meroño knows all too well. Having lived in Colombia for more than seven years, the Murcia-born chef combines typical regional specialties from his hometown with international touches and strong Latin influences.

A self-proclaimed rice specialist, Dani has ensured that the menu is bursting at the seams with delicious rice options. Perhaps the most notable of the lot is the arroz mar y montaña, which contains an incredibly flavoursome mix of octopus, pork, clams and squid.

As well as the classic tapas dishes you might expect, Chamberi offers some less conventional nibbles, such as the mouthwatering mini-toast with Mallorcan sausage, Manchego cheese and truffle syrup.

However, it is the restaurant’s signature dish that seems to get the most plaudits. Several different cuts of pork, all cooked in differing styles, are presented as a sharing dish that will set you back around $60,000 pesos. Given the location and the quality of the food, this is a reasonable price to ‘pig out’, excuse the pun.

The sleek, design and friendly atmosphere are reminiscent of a neighbourhood tapas bar in Spain, although maybe with fewer photos of local football teams and no rusty napkin holders with ‘gracias por su visita’ on the napkins.

Dani is something of a pioneer, as evidenced by his other life as ‘el cocinero viajero’. On his blog, he recounts his stories of food travel around Colombia, sampling regional delicacies, sharing recipes and visiting markets all over the country. And it is this mix of cultures and culinary styles that makes his food so unique.

Good for: Most occasions that call for excellent food (lunch and dinner for example).

Also try La Taperia (Carrera 4a #26-12): Excellent quality, traditional tapas with a huge selection. Great with a nice jug of sangria.


By Azzam Alkadhi, Duncan Hall, Charlotte Mackenzie, Emma Newbery & Mark Turnock