Bogotá’s best kept secret


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Crab meat salad with black rice crackers

El Chato, a new comer to Bogotá’s foodie scene, is the new must-go place in the city! Still  very much unknown to its residents, it’s real serious about food. Actually there isn’t a restaurant in Bogotá at the moment that’s on a par with it. I’m excited to have found the BEST restaurant in the city at the moment! It’s the best because each dish is meticulously thought through, elaborately constructed, and artfully presented (ok not quite like Michellin kind of art but you can sense the attempt to get there).

Actually sadly for other restaurants its existence relegates big names like Harry Sasson & the Rausch brothers, whose restaurants of course are great but unfortunately aren’t in the same league as El Chato. It redefines gourmet (in Bogotá, that is). It takes the definition of good food to a whole new level. It reinterprets the word quality.

I was lucky to have heard of this place only because a friend staying at the JW Marriot went there on recommendation. I certainly didn’t expect much, especially when I arrived at a clandestine house among a row of terraced houses in a hidden corner of Quinta Camacho, away from the main street Calle 70 where famous restaurants that are impossible to get in without a reservation like Bruto and La Despensa de Rafael call home.

The menu is clearly carefully designed. Unusual but very traditional Colombian elements dotted around the menu, like the smoky papayuela (a kind of small papaya that’s only available at high attitude and is deliciously edible only when pickled) Jack Daniel’s cocktail and carantanta (corn crackers from Cauca, Popayan), mogolla (a kind of bun with chicharron), almojabana (it might be something so simple but it’s definitely the delicious version), tamal and suero.

First up is a chicharron on the house (not any hard crunchy chicharron, but airy and light crunchy, garnished with frost dry cilantro and lemon curd. Next up is a rare find, a crab meat salad with black rice crispy accompanied by an unusual appearance of verdolaga, which to be honest although seems to have been a deliberate choice I can’t really see its purpose. Out of everything, the codillo, pork knuckle, surprised me. This piece of meat is marinaded for 6 days, then cooked at 56 °C  for another 3 days. (The restaurant is not quite ‘Colombian’ in that sense, since a Colombian would never cook meat for 3 days under 56 °C!) It’s then topped with a curiously herbed crust whose mysterious black colour inevitably calls for some attention. It’s then served with apple puree, pickles and a bean-like pea balú (aka chachafruto or its cousin, guama). The combination of flavours is undeniably complex. In fact, the restaurant seems to favour sous-vide for a lot of its dishes. The slow cooking makes the meat heavenly soft and moist. Actually it’s also how their ‘chicken for two’ is cooked, which (I’m sorry for the cliché) makes it the best chicken in the city. My god. I want more even as I write about it now.

Ok, here comes the drumroll.. The way the menu has been put together, the way the dishes are cooked and the way that different flavours are combined, cry out loud that EL Chato isn’t by the hands of any Colombian. It yearns to be noticed. I was lucky to get to speak to the chef when the waiter sent him out after I poked about the ingredients of the knuckle crust.

‘Where did you learn how to cook?’

‘I went abroad to study.’

‘Where?’

‘Dinamarca.’  Cundinamarca? That’s the province of Bogotá! How could that be ‘abroad’?! 

‘No, DI-NA-MAR-CA.’  Argh, it makes sense now. Denmark! But where?! It can’t be the restaurant in Copenhagen that consistently topped the best restaurant rank!

‘Noma.’ NOMA!? That can’t be true! Is he lying to me?! That’s the best restaurant in the world! Could it really be a chef who has worked there standing right in front of me?! I immediately found my heart starts racing, my palms sweat a little. I am slurring. I am NERVOUS!

It all started with Leonardo Fonseca, the chef I met, begging for a job at Noma and then ended up working there for 7 months, where he met Alvaro Clavijo, another Colombian who also worked at Per Se in NYC. So yes, El Chato is a restaurant run by two runaway chefs from Noma! Yes, you can have a taste of Noma, where a meal usually costs hundreds of dollars, in Bogotá now!! Imagine my joy and excitement. It’s my ‘restaurante elegido’ right now. haha

I really should stop praising them by now, except that I need to mention how different it is to be served by their waiters, especially Cesar, who seem to know about the dishes and are truly passionate about food and not just there for a job! That elevates the whole dining experience!

The only pity is that El Chato is unknown for what it has to offer (well, good for me because I don’t have to fight for a table and the prices are relatively affordable). The combination of a low budget décor and relatively unnoticed status despite incredibly structured flavours shouts an independent owner who doesn’t have the financial muscle of a restaurant group, which is how restaurants are run in Bogotá, like the hottest ticket Takami Group which owns the city’s favorite restaurants at the moment. This made me all the more prefer to go to El Chato to support independent businesses.

This is the place to be if you’re a food lover.

P.S. I guess they have to offer me a job to be the marketing director after this article!

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