Review: Rancho de Lalo – Bring your appetite!

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There is a particular tribe of people in the world whose main love in life is to feed others. Both my mothers-in-law are feeders (lucky for me); I am a feeder; every Jewish or Italian grandmother I’ve ever met is a feeder, and, it would seem that Rancho de Lalo are feeders as well. I have walked by their little restaurant in Brixton Village countless times and most often it is heaving, full of people of all nationalities comfortably eating vast plates of food, looking happily satisfied.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from my visit. My North American ignorance assumed it was all about beans, rice and cornmeal. I wasn’t completely off, but the menu is properly meat driven as well, so may not appeal to militant vegetarians.

For a Tuesday lunchtime, the restaurant was not as busy as we expected. Whilst other shops in Brixton Village were gearing up for the day’s trading, it seemed that Rancho de Lalo had been in full swing for a couple of hours already. We sat by a table at the front of the restaurant, which gave a great opportunity for people watching around the market. A glance around us quickly confirmed that this wasn’t going to be a tiny meal. We were here to be fed and by god, we were going to eat.

We started with an empanada and arepa con queso. The empanada was a crispy fried cornmeal pocket, stuffed with shredded beef and potatoes. It seemed homemade, and was wonderfully meaty. The cornmeal casing was perfectly crispy and with a dousing of their homemade spicy salsa, it was delicious. The arepa, a round patty of fried cornmeal with slices of thick white cheese, was slightly less interesting, but was also homemade, and again brought to life with the heady salsa. I was beginning to notice a trend: their salsa goes with everything.

For main courses, I had the carne a la brase, which was chargrilled beef steak, served with potatoes, avocado, and plantain. My lunch partner had the day’s special, which consisted of chicken soup, and chicken escalope. Both came with rice and a tomato, cucumber and coriander salad. Clearly this was not eating for the faint of heart. My steak was large and slab-like, but also thin and juicy. It had the über-beefy flavour of South American beef, which I’m personally not hugely keen on, but with more salsa it was definitely improved. The salad was a fresh addition to the enormous meal, as was the avocado and lightly fried plantain.

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My partner’s sizeable bowl of chicken soup was a clear broth with vegetables and pieces of gizzard. It was intensely chicken-y, hearty and flavourful. Both of us agreed it might be the nicest broth we’d ever tried. Her chicken escalope was impressive in size, but not really in flavour. The breaded and thin chicken wasn’t bad, but nothing special; it tasted no different than a Bird’s Eye breaded chicken breast.

Rancho de Lalo is not a place for fine dining, but it doesn’t pretend to be. Your wallet will only be a touch lighter, but you’ll leave with your belly significantly heavier. You can go many places to eat, but you will be properly fed at Rancho de Lalo; it’s clear they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Extensive lunch for two excluding service £25. 

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This is Lindsay’s last review before she goes on maternity leave until the end of the year – we wish her all the best!