As much as I love my self-appointed second home, at Stealth’s flat in Elephant and Castle, it’s never been because of the refreshments on offer. In fact, I still remember the first time the Ewing visited – after breezily dismissing my prior warning – and, accidently, put salt in the tea (Stealth had eaten all the sugar cubes) before having a mini-meltdown through lack of sustenance (Stealth had kindly bought me a box of Reece’s cereal, but there was no milk. And she had eaten most of the cereal…)
On my most recent visit I was far more prepared as, sensing she would be otherwise occupied on a Saturday morning (it turns out, she was snoozing off the after-effects of too many cocktails the night before), I had cunningly planned a breakfast stop before heading over to hers.
While there’s a plethora of traditional caffs in the area, including the wonderful time warp that is Jenny’s, in the E&C shopping centre and the Electric Elephant, actually on Stealth’s road, I decided to embrace the Latin spirit of Elephant – which still lives on, despite the attempted ‘gentrification’ of the area – by finally getting around to visit Chatica.
Positioned in the railway arches, alongside several other South American restaurants and bars, Chatica looks like the most approachable of the bunch – with its welcoming yellow décor, racks of freshly baked bread in the window and bright logo splashed across the frontage that make it seem ripe for a roll out, although they currently only have the original branch.
Pandebono or pan de bono is a type of enriched Colombian bread made of corn flour, eggs, fermented cassava starch and stuffed with cheese and shaped into balls or rings. Traditionally, it is consumed fresh out of the oven, with a mug of spiced hot chocolate at breakfast time, so when in Rome…
Dunking the chunks of bread into the milky drink was reminiscent of family holidays, eating croissants with bowls of chocolat chaud, right down to the murky sludge when you reach the bottom. A South American Twitter friend recommended topping the hot chocolate with cubes of white cheese, which apparently melts as you drink it, which I guess could improve the dregs, but still sounds a bit weird for my Western tastes.
As I knew food would soon be in short supply, I followed this with the Calentado la Chatica, scrambled eggs with marinated skirt steak, beans and rice, sans egg but with extra sausage. I attempted to ask for a stick of the rust-coloured chorizo, which I could see in the counter next to the empanadas, but somehow ended up with two English-style herby bangers, which accompany the traditional fry up they also offer.
While it was a champion breakfast - steak and beans improve pretty much anything, apart from the air quality of those around you - it was also one of the rare occasions (almost always most keenly felt at breakfast) where I wished I wasn’t an oeuf-avoider, as I guess the balance of the three main components is what makes it such a classic. I would have also loved a good squirt of chilli sauce. Something Stealth does always have in her cupboard.
As the Ewing was missing out on all the fun, I picked up a couple of bits from the deli/shop to the rear of the cafe - which are also available online including jars of their own dulche de leche and more beans than Heinz - along with a Roscón de Arequipe from the bakery counter. A crunchy sugar-topped ring bun filled with the aforementioned milk jam.
The cassava puffs (bought for the cartoon character on the front of the packet) were curiously moreish, in a slightly odd-tasting way (like those little trays of nibbles you find in posh bars, that you’re never quite sure if you like, but keep eating anyway), but the real hit was the spiced blocks of compressed, sweetened chocolate, that the Ewing crumbled into hot milk and happily dipped her buns into. (oo-er - TE).
As predicted, the cupboard was bear when I got to Stealth’s, although she did have a cold beer to welcome me with and she worked out that Uber eats delivers McDonalds to her flat. Which meant I got ‘breakfast’ without even having to leave the flat the following morning. Good things come to those who wait (nearly ten years, but hey…).