(Carrera 10 #26-60)
On first entering Casa Vieja, you feel like you’ve stepped into a time-machine, away from the busy intersection of Carrera 7 and 10 and into a Colombian hacienda at the turn of the twentieth century. Surrounded by antique sewing machines and typewriters, the white-washed house with a lovely little central patio makes for an attractive and tranquil dining environment.
The menu is an entirely Colombian affair and includes favourites from all over the country, with a focus on Cundinamarca and the Andes, but also containing a wide array of Antioquian specialties and a variety of seafood options. They specialise in the classics – bandeja paisa, ajiaco, sancocho – but there is plenty of room on the menu for some more unusual fare, such as the lengua en salsa, or bagre.
I began with a mixed plate starter: carimañolas de queso, chicharrón, and bolitas de maduro, all served with a queso de suero dip, all of which were excellent. The chicharrón in particular was wonderful: small and perfectly crispy, without the toughness you often find in this snack.
For my main course, I opted for a cazuela de mariscos, or fish stew, a personal favourite. Served with coconut rice and patacones, the restaurant opts for a broth, rather than the thicker versions you often encounter made with oats. Casa Vieja’s cazuela was delicious; light and flavourful, with an astounding array of fresh seafood including flaky white fish, whole baby squid, octopus and rich prawns.
My dessert was a dulce de papayuela con queso: deliciously sweet, caramelised little slivers of mountain papaya, served with a slice of cheese. The fruit was a treat, although as is often the case in Colombia, the cheese seemed a slightly unnecessary addition to the plate.
The prices at Casa Vieja might be off-putting to some. At over COP$30,000 for a cazuela or ajiaco, there are definitely cheaper places to sample Colombian cuisine, but this isn’t your regular lunch venue: it’s a cut-above, and might have a few people rethinking their views on Colombian food.
Casa Vieja is a family affair, founded by current boss Nathalie’s father over 50 years ago. With locations in Usaquen and La Candelaria as well, there’s no excuse not to pop in and enjoy a classic Colombian meal, served in a lovely location by attentive staff.
Value for Money: 4/5
Fall from grâce
Azzam Alkadhi heads to one of the Bogota restaurants participating in an international gastronomic event hoping to save French cuisine
Colombia was one of many countries around the world to take part in the first edition of Gout de France. The initiative was born out of a perceived need to combat the decline of French cuisine’s popularity and spread the country’s culture and influence.
Seven restaurants in Bogota joined over 1,000 participating eateries across the five continents, ‘simultaneously’ throwing open their doors with special menus that promote the merits of innovative, contemporary French cuisine.
I am not quite sure how simultaneous dinner events in multiple time zones can be, but perhaps that’s the cynic in me. There is also a certain irony to sending an Englishman to review French cuisine since food has become the banter battleground between our two countries and no Frenchman worth his sel would pay any attention to an Anglo-Saxon food review.
I joined the Bogota celebrations at the Alliance Francaise’s L’Artisan. Special taster menus were also on offer at Astrid y Gaston, Balzac, Bonaparte, Café Renault, Nolita and Sant Just. Cartagena’s 1621 also took part in the international event.
At L’Artisan, on the terrace of the Alliance Francaise’s Candelaria location, the eight-course menu highlighted the benefits of simple dishes made from quality ingredients, with French mushrooms sourced all the way from Ardeche, trout from Chicaque and vegetables from the Sembrando Confianza initiative, which aims to promote organic, urban farming.
The restaurant, which usually only serves during the day, opened its doors to evening diners for this special event, offering a beautiful view of Bogota’s skyline at night. It was clear that this is not a regular occurrence – cue grumpy Brit to the fore – as with tents and disparate gas heaters giving the affair a slightly makeshift and last minute feel, and meaning diners spent the time between courses battling the cold.
Cold aside, the sleek wooden fittings and simple, low lighting gave the impression that the elegant and understated restaurant put an emphasis on the food rather than glitz. And it worked, the food was excellent. The highlight of the menu was a close fought tie: the 72-hour cooked beef cheek with a delicious sweet potato mash and yuca and kale chips was so tender I hardly had to chew at all, while the sublime chocolate cake and nutty ice cream reflected the talent of the dessert chef, who has spent several years working in some of the top hotels and restaurants in France.
The rest of the menu had its ups and downs: the trout pâté was simple and not overpowering, but perhaps lacked some kind of kick, while the strange mix of flavours in the veal, chicken, brussel sprout and mushroom dish meant it was the only plate I didn’t finish. The lemon and vodka sorbet was just right, while the orange fish fillet was a little bland.
At $70,000 COP for eight courses, the taster menu was certainly a reasonable option, and there were two options for wine tasters, at $30,000 COP and $50,000 COP.
In the end, despite the quality food on offer, and being told that the event was fully booked, some tables remained empty throughout the night, leading to a somewhat segregated atmosphere between the two ends of the terrace. I hope the organisers were not disappointed – but perhaps they need a bit more practice at evening events – as the empty tables did a disservice to the top-notch food and incredibly professional and friendly staff.
By Chris Bell & Azzam Alkadhi