BYLINE: Ellie Ross
The last time I wrote a message on a wall I was six years old. The white kitchen wallpaper seemed like the perfect canvas to test out my brand new Crayola in Carnation Pink. Unfortunately, my mum disagreed and I was sent to bed without any supper. Which is why, two decades on, I felt somewhat reticent to repeat the act. But I needn’t have worried – at El Vergel, I was in good company.
One of the first things I noticed when I rushed in was the colourful scrawls brightening up the walls. There was a wonky drawing of a purple horse here, a red love heart there. This is a place where you’ll find the aphorism “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” next to “Jazz is buff innit”. Windows are painted with blue rabbit and peacock stencils, and green and red plastic coat hooks sprout randomly from the walls.
And the menu is just as colourful as the decor. El Vergel means “garden” in Spanish, and food and veg are delivered daily from Borough market, less than a mile away; crisp lettuce and fragrant coriander as if from your own garden.
The cuisine is a Latin American and Mediterranean fusion, owing to the fact that the restaurant’s owners are a woman from Cyprus and her Chilean husband. Mexican and Chilean empanadas are given a European twist by being filled with the classic Greek combination of spinach and feta cheese. This is a place where tacos and tlyudas meet hallumi and smoked salmon salads.
My friend and I kicked things off by sharing a classic dips and tortilla chips combination. It arrived promptly, but the guacamole was disappointing. I enjoy mine best when it’s bursting with clumps of fresh, green avocado. This version was a runny affair, although the fresh coriander and tomato gave it a flavour boost.
If the guac was too thin, the hummus was too solid. The smooth, nutty paste was so densely packed into its little white pot that it slightly resembled setting concrete. We dug chips into the ‘dip’, only to have them snap in our fingers. But the chips were good – thin, crispy, perfectly salted – and warm.
My main was the shredded chicken breast tacos – a wheat-free option. The meat was slightly under-seasoned but the salad was crisp and the extra fried halloumi was perfectly charred. The fresh mango smoothie struck a good balance of creamy yoghurt and zesty fruit.
Service was fairly relaxed to the point of lacklustre – there’s wasn’t much eye contact from the waitresses and I had to request a mint tea refill twice – but it meant we never felt rushed to leave our prime window spot.
And the restaurant appeals to others judging by the messages on the wall. Since Valeria’s inaugural artwork, it’s become a tradition for customers to leave their own messages and pictures on the walls. One regular adds a little to his design with each visit.
I was given a pink marker pen before I left El Vergel. What did I write? You’d have to visit the restaurant to find out.
Mango smoothie £3.80
Refillable fresh mint tea £2.00
Tortilla chips £1.50
Shredded chicken breast tacos £5.80
Extra haloumi £1.20
Tlayudas (large flour tortilla) with pinto beans, egg, piquant sauce and chorizo £7.50
Extra avocado 50p
Disabled access YES
Disabled toilet YES