The Culinary Tube Map: Elephant and Castle

Helen Graves
By Helen Graves Last edited 15 months ago
The Culinary Tube Map: Elephant and Castle
The Elephant and her Castle by Stephanie Sadler, via the Londonist Flickr Pool.

The Culinary Tube Map series is a fun and light-hearted look at what’s good to eat (and often drink) around London’s tube stations, based on a one-day amble around the area. It is not a comprehensive guide to every restaurant/bar/café, nor is it a detailed demographic description. It’s just good clean fun albeit with very sticky fingers.

We’ll admit that Elephant and Castle probably isn’t a destination for the majority of Londoners, who perhaps visit either because they’ve fallen asleep on the Northern Line, or they’re changing to the Bakerloo. Despite appearances however, it hides a few culinary riches, so we decided to explore them for the next stop on our Culinary Tube Map.

The area is home to many Colombian and Ecuadorian people, and this is particularly evident near the roundabout. Behind the infamous shopping centre and under the railway arches you’ll find a row of shops and restaurants selling South American food. Many of the voices you’ll hear on the street in this area speak Spanish and Portuguese, as do the shopkeepers, and we’re greeted several times with a smiling 'bueno!'.

Probably the most famous South American sight around these parts is La Bodeguita, a vast restaurant decorated with many flags and glitter balls hanging from the ceiling. As far as we can tell it’s known for its vast plates of meat, carbs and avocado known as bandeja paisa, but although we like a big feed as much as the next person we decided to skip this Parthenon to protein with the aim of seeking out some smaller snacks.

Along the backstreets here there are many cafes, shops where spangly lycra jumpsuits are stretched onto mannequins, and a lot of very upbeat Latin American music that somehow gets into bones and makes limbs move of their own accord. That’s our excuse anyway. After a good mooch we settle on La Chatica, a café with a shop at the back selling South American foodstuffs. There are various imported biscuits, sweets and cakes; jars of dulce de leche; sticks of orange guava paste; enriched dough breads which look like Jewish challah; tins of beans and numerous products made from corn and maize.

In the fresh foods section they sell their own cheese, which we think may be like a queso fresco or queso blanco — the piece we buy is a soft, fresh cow’s milk cheese, creamy and light. It’s slightly richer than a mozzarella and soon we’re slicing it onto everything. It’s also excellent with that aforementioned guava paste, like a South American version of cheese and pineapple on sticks. There are empanadas, Colombian cheese filled breads called pan de bono and sanchocho de cola, a meat and corn soup.

The shop at La Chatica

We settle in with a couple of Club Colombia beers and contemplate ordering one of two unfamiliar dome shaped snacks, one filled with beef, the other chicken. We decide on the beef. We’re served the chicken. We try to find out what exactly what it is that we're eating, and at first think it may have been a coxinha de galinha, a Brazilian snack which is a teardrop shaped piece of dough, stuffed with spiced rice and meat. Then we thought it might be a rellena. We're still none the wiser. The spicing inside is good, but it’s incredibly heavy and a tad dry, sadly typical of the dense, stodgy foods we associate with South American countries. Does anyone know where we might find a good one? Or indeed what it is?

The suspected coxhina at Chatica.
The suspected coxhina at Chatica.
The filling of chicken and rice.
The filling of chicken and rice.

From South America, then, it’s onto Poland. How very London. Mamuska! started out inside the shopping centre, but they've now moved over the road to a larger site. This is a very basic, no frills Polish place that serves incredibly cheap and fatty foods that hit the spot like nothing else if you’ve consumed too much of the very reasonably priced and dangerously large vodka shots. The pate here is worth ordering for the shock value too, as it’s basically scoops of milky fat on a plate with a few pork bits suspended inside, like a speckled ointment for your insides. Best of the menu is the potato pierogi (dumplings) with sour cream and bacon pieces, which are cheap and filling.

Pierogi at Mamuska!

We don’t find much to excite us inside The Artworks, a collection of shipping containers in the style of Boxpark (terrible) or POP Brixton (great fun). Steamed buns from a Mauritian restaurant are bland, while a bar seems chaotic even while empty. Other places fail to draw us in, so we decide to take a detour down the Walworth Road (Elephant end only), which seems fair game since it has no tube stop of its own, the nearest being Denmark Hill.

We’ve reviewed Korean chicken joint CheeMc already, so instead concentrate our efforts on a little known shop with a tandoor towards the Brandon Street end of East Street Market. Londonist has been frequenting this secret stop for a while, simply because it’s so cheap and the breads are so fresh. For next to nothing you can order a fresh naan bread, slapped into the tandoor to order. Our preference is for the spiced lamb version.

Chicken tandoor flatbread. Like a super thin naan with chicken and salad inside.

The time comes for dessert and so it’s back to South America, and to a small café down an alleyway to the left of the The Razor, or Strata. There are many different cafes ripe for exploration down here and we duck into one — it's packed with people, from school kids to elderly men. Music plays, bright posters line the walls and a TV is on in the background. What should we order?

We ask the proprietor, who points to a woman at a table inside. She’s eating an elaborate ice cream sundae, toped with lurid sauces, spiked with wafers, and sporting a fantastic array of unnaturally coloured ice creams. The bright blue one turns out to be bubblegum flavour, which is a shock since we all know bright blue is the colour of fake raspberry. There’s squirty cream and a surprising amount of really good fruit like apple, banana and ripe chunks of mango. We plough through it, enjoying the high of additives and sugar against the soft, natural fruits. And then it happens. "It’s cheese," one of us says through a mouthful of sundae. "The bottom of the sundae dish is filled with grated cheese."

The bubblegum sundae surprise.

Do you know any culinary delights around Elephant? And what happened to the street food market? Please let us know in the comments!

La Chatica, 2 Elephant Road, SE17 1LB

Mamuska!, 16 Elephant and Castle, SE1 6T

Last Updated 13 February 2017

Jo Kent

Great review of two pretty crap restaurants in E&C. Maybe if you had actually eaten from some of the other amazing places you can find in the Artworks your review may not have been so negatively boring!

jamesup

Art works got a bit of mean treatment here, amongst others Marcel & Son is fantastic, and as far as I know the only Mauritian place in London. Try the Bol Renverse with chilli if the Bao Pao were not to your taste.

Elephant

I don't know what that is, but I can guarantee that it is not a coxinha!

Mark R

So what's the name of the place near East Street Market that serves the wraps ? Or do you want it to remain a "secret stop" by not telling us ?

CouchSlob

You forgot "Get Stabbed", the excellent kebab house on Shit Avenue. And what about "Where's my wallet?" on Horrible Street. Can't miss that.

Peter Pawlak

How about Lebanese Grill at 173 New Kent Road, only minutes away from roundabout. Some of the best shawarma wraps in London.

broadbean

Agree with your review of Artworks! It's incredibly rubbish and the clientele are RUDE. You missed a real treat though at the Aobaba Vietnamese cafe, by the big (and very good) Asian supermarket, quite near the top of Walworth Road. If you head on a bit further down Walworth Rd La Luna is a good pizza place and Red Sea good Eritrean.

Natalia

This is a lazy and disappointing feature, I've only recently moved to the area and was hoping you'd uncover some more gems! Here's a few of my findings around Elephant

Electric Elephant on Crampton Street is cosy, charming and does excellent breakfast.

Would disagree with your review of Artworks- Elephantastic pizzas are (appropriately) fantastic; homemade meatball pizza with roquito peppers, or the goats cheese with caremelised red onion are particularly good. AIthough not the best bao I've ever tried, I enjoyed Marcel & Son too. Go for the rice dish with egg instead - I've forgotten what it's called.

We love Chatkhara on Walworth Road, much better than the place you mention on East St and just as cheap.

I've not been myself, but have heard rave reviews about Emanuel Peruvian restaurant on Amelia Street too.

amanda

There are some great restaurants in the area. La Luna, up towards Burgess Park is a great option, so is the newly opened Bayroot. Dragon Castle is one of the best Chinese restaurants in London and the cafe in Burgess Park is also worth a mention.

CP

Snacking on random food based on what you see on a first visit is going to get pretty random results. Two restaurants to check out are Dragon Castle which is bizarrely located as it is still one of the best Chinese restaurants in London .. and Costa Azul has huge portions of good Peruvian food.

Jack Cannon

Don't forget pie & mash! Arments is hidden away in Westmoreland Road, just off Walworth Road.

Nicolas Chinardet

For something a little bit more up-market, the Toulouse Lautrec is certainly worth a visit (particularly for Sunday brunch when it's nice and quiet).
The Dragon Castle comes recommended for dim sum and Thai Tip Mein is great for huge cheap and cheerful platters of noodles.
The newly open Mercato Italiano is promissing, with its food court and delicatessen, though it's rather pricey. Also promising and newly open, is the latest incarnation of the Elephant and Castle pub (on the same site as the previous one): local craft beer and vintage furniture.