The Gastronomic scene in Colombia
In recent years Peru, and in particular Lima, have grabbed the limelight when it comes to new and exciting cuisine in South America. However, Colombia’s climate and topography has much in common with Peru and therefore they share many common ingredients, but with the added influences of coffee and the Caribbean coast. Coupled with a growing and relatively affluent middle class, it should come as little surprise that Colombia offers not only intriguing and unique gastronomy, but also a huge number of very good restaurants which can be found all around Bogota, Cartagena and indeed other cities.
In Bogota, chef Leonor Espinosa’s ‘Restaurante Leo’ has had much recent international press coverage and Leo herself has just been nominated best female chef in South America. She is a pioneer in working with local communities and researching rare fruits and vegetables, with a renowned 10 course tasting menu. Famous Peruvian chef Rafael Osterling has also opened a branch of his eponymous Lima restaurant in Bogota, bringing a touch of Italian and Asian influence to his Peruvian cuisine. More international and with a very good winelist, Harry’s Bar borrows and improves on a famous European name in very stylish surroundings.
But the thing which we believe sets Colombia apart from the other major cities in South America, including Lima and Buenos Aires, is that distinctive styles of restaurant can be found in the different barrios of Bogota. For example, in the Zona G (gastronomic zone) you will find a large number of excellent restaurants in small low rise buildings with charming outside seating areas on side streets. Examples are Bistro El Bandido which offers interesting French cuisine such as Truffled Hare Terrine in a lively atmosphere, or El Cielo, where the dining experience takes diners on a journey through Colombia’s regions. The 8 step fusion menu is created by a team of chefs all under 30. Read more about how owner of El Cielo, Juan Manuel Barrientos, has trained more than 600 ex-FARC and ELN guerrillas to work in his kitchen in Financial Times Postcard from Medellin.
La Macarena is Bogota’s hippest and most bohemian barrio. Ten years ago it was off limits, now it is a trailblazer for Colombia’s independent foodie scene. The first of these and culinary mainstay is El Patio, with fine red wines and very classic Italian dishes. Agave Azul has just five tables and no menu – diners engage in a discussion with chef Tatiana Navarro!
More mainstream, in the recently restored and charming district of Usaquen close to the new W Hotel, we visited Bistronomy, feeling that we almost came across this restaurant by chance, to discover that it is another outpost of the famous Rausch brothers.
Elsewhere in Colombia it goes without saying that Cartagena and Medellin both offer a similar variety of very high quality restaurants; as you would expect, the cuisine in Cartagena is orientated towards sea food. But this significant uptick in Colombian Cuisine has not come out of the blue; back in 2005 Popayan was designated a UNESCO City of Gastronomy where top notch restaurants are supplemented by street food.
So the saying goes, when you plan a visit to Colombia, prepare to loosen your belt!