I can think of no better place to relive the flavors of my childhood than Club Colombia. As I walk to the restaurant I remember how relatives would fondly greet us outside a house which looked very much like the corner house in the Zona Rosa with its red brick facade and circular driveway. Instead of meeting my Aunts, who passed away many years ago, we are welcomed by a waist coast maitre’d who escorts us to a table .
The interior of the house is splendid. While the traditional architecture has been maintained, each room has been adapted to recall a turn-of-the-century Bogotá. There is a roaring hearth surrounded by comfortable chairs for you to sit in and have a drink while you waiting for friends. Or, you can choose the bar, a sublime room with a wooden L-shaped banquet. The combination of modern and classic colonial pieces is done beautifully.
We are led to the outdoor terrace, separated by colonial tiles, stone walls and mature trees. You have been transported home, sitting in an arbor or in the patio of a relative you have not seen for a while.
We start our lunch with the liquid namesake, Club Colombia, a delicious lager with just enough foam. The restaurant carries the same name as the beer and is part of Bavaria’s way of promoting a country and corporate brand. The menu is like perusing an heirloom, bound in leather and preserving a sense of history; a time when food was not staged, but a source of nutrition and comfort.
The first page of the menu outlines Club Colombia’s mission to pay homage to grandmothers and mothers all over Colombia who have toiled in their kitchens in order to bring food to the tables of their families. The restaurant does not profess to be the authoritative source of all Colombian dishes, but to pay tribute to our ancestors who created these dishes.
We select several “family style” plates. We order Tamalitos de Pipian, Puerquitas Vallecaucanos, Envueltos de mazorca, and some empanadas. The maize Envueltos certainly live up to our memories of that dish and are delicious. The Tamalitos de Pipian arrive and are placed in the center of the table along with the Puerquitas Vallecaucanos. The Pipian tamalitos come from the department of Cauca and can be distinguished from others because of a flavoring base made of yellow potatoes, ground peanuts, a hard boiled egg and an achiote, which is simmered and then incorporated into the corn meal.
The Puerquitos Vallecaucanos are crispy plantain dumplings filled with seasoned ground pork. They come served in beautiful straw baskets. We look at them curiously, not knowing exactly how to tackle them when a waiter, observing our bewilderment, approaches and whisperes, “It’s okay with your hands.” We appreciate his advice and were relieved to be able to pick up the fried plantain shells, dip them in an accompanying sauce and savour every bite. The empanadas were crispy and steamy. Good to share, but not “quite there.”
As a main course we opt for the Ajiaco, with all the trimmings, such as capers, sliced avocado,white rice and cream. Ajiaco is one of those Colombian dishes, which inspires debate. Some feel that there is only one true Ajiaco – the “Santafereno” from Bogotá. It is a signature dish and one used to commemorate special events. The Ajiaco is hearty and soothing as it should be. The earthiness of the guascas give the three potato soup that extra kick. And like a typical Colombian family would, we finish our meal with ‘Agua aromatica’ or digestive infusion which, in this case, was made with fresh basil leaves and lemon.
Club Colombia is an honest option to try dishes from different parts of this gastronomically-diverse country. Aside from the memories I associate with many dishes, the restaurant cooks with care and an honest philosophy.
But it remains a showcase not only to a country, but a big brewery as well as the big bucks that come with a corporate sponsorship. That is reflected in the corner bar where newspapers and magazines are shoved aside and pilled high. If Club Colombia brought down its pretense level just one notch, the gold of this tradition would shine that much brighter.
Carrera 9 No. 82-19