I never ever thought I'd write the words "I'm eating ceviche on Lower Clapton Road". And there I found myself on a cold January night, in a bustling bar with balearic-y beats and live Spanish guitar gently strumming behind me, eating ceviche and drinking a Hawaiian craft beer.
The venue was Candela Clapton, a new Latin themed bar/restaurant in the space that the ill-fated (and very lovely...) Riley of Clapton occupied earlier in the year. It has big sheet glass windows that make for good people-watching, walls stripped back to the original Victorian tiles, and a nice big bar. Cacti on the tables and some tropical houseplants mark its departure from a pared down slacker bar to something a bit more exotic.
Candela is owned by a friendly, enthusiastic guy called Lukasz, and Abdullah who owns cult Clapton Pond grocery store Palm 2. Lukasz used to run a beach bar in Barcelona before travelling around South America, so knows a bit about how to create a party atmosphere and cook up some hispanic tinged food.
The menu is evolving day by day as they try out new flavours. Lukasz told me they'd be doing something with salmon and tequila the next day. So far Candela doesn't seem the place for a full sit down three course meal - the dishes are bar snacks of various sizes. You could get nachos or fried Southern American roots (yams, plantain, cassava) to share, or a burger, or guacamole, or indeed, you can sit and nibble on ceviche on Lower Clapton Road.
We tried to do all of the above, and were absolutely stuffed.
We kicked off with the ceviche and the root chips. The ceviche (£6) was fiery and zesty, and had more cucumber, onions etc than you'd get in some of London's fancier Peruvian joints, but was more like the rustic ceviche people would prepare at home.
The root chips (£6) were nice - thinly sliced, not too oily, and served with a bit of guacamole and salsa. The portion did feel slightly short for the price.
Next came the burger (£8), which was great. It was cooked to perfection, really flavoursome meat with decent seasoning on the outside, served with avocado and manchego in a nice onion-y roll. It was served with a few root chips.
The nachos (£8) came with a really deeply flavoured chilli con carne - infused with coffee and chocolate. It was better than your average, but maybe a bit more focus on interesting cuts of meat (still dreaming of the brisket and pork belly chilli I had at The Plough), and a bigger portion of the chilli would justify the price tag, although the guac, salsa and sour cream were generously served.
The food was decent (although some portions could be a tiny bit bigger), but it was really the vibe that made it for us - it's refreshing to have enthusiastic, friendly, exuberant types, rather than po faced beardies, serving you for a change. I think Hackney could do with more of the former and less of the latter. A genuine *sad face* when we didn't stay for a cocktail afterwards instead of indifference.
I'll be back for cocktails and to taste different things on the menu as it develops. Maybe, just maybe, you'll squeeze a dance out of me. But for now, welcome to Clapton, Candela.