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Santiago Restaurant Review

Jonathan Schofield on why good food doesn't have to look beautiful in the old Leonis

Published on April 26th 2012.

Santiago Restaurant Review

AH, SWEET surprise.

Ah, sweetcorn.

Ah, the beauty hidden in troll-like nosh.

If you don't mind simple food, offering nuances of new flavours and blends, at a good price then you'll enjoy Santiago. It has a humble quality; enthusiasm, modesty and charm in spades. And the food is reassurringly ugly.

Corn on the cob covered in lashings of salty butter I've always loved, but sweetcorn kernels scattered through a dish - any dish - I've always despised.

Spotting that distinctive flash of artificial looking yellow in food has always delivered memories of gruesome school-dinners, joyless food served up by dragons telling you not to muck about. Food you couldn't wait to flee.

But as with most things in life - and dining out is no exception - if you keep plugging away you'll usually find the good side of everything. 

So let us consider pastel de choclo at £11.95 from Santiago Restaurant.

Pastel de choclo is a food find.

I want anybody who reads this to go and try it.

Santiago is Chilean inspired, named after the latter country's capital, and pastel de choclo, aka corn bake, is a national dish. It's a mix of mince, onions, boneless chicken and chopped boiled egg, covered in a layer of caremelised sweet corn and given a right royal blast of basil.

The whole thing should be a disaster.

It looks terrible, you find kernels of sweetcorn, and it even includes mince - when do restaurants ever use mince?

Instead it's a magic mix of meat, sweetcorn, chicken, basil with a cunning buried treasure of egg. It tastes wonderful, you can imagine it being eaten on some terrace half-way up the Andes prior to conquering some snow-covered ridge, or maybe in some roadside cafe on a lush coastal plain by the Pacific. 

It's functional food, peasant food, that works, with that combination of flavours that can only come from distant places, in this case the other side of the world. You could almost call it a Latin American shepherd's pie. With eggs. And sweetcorn. In fact I'm going to cook a shepherd's pie soon, and in amongst the potato secrete a halved boiled egg. It'll work beautifully.

As did the accompanying tomato and onion salad with the choclo.

There were more revelations as well.

I washed the food down with a couple of glasses of Siete Soles Cabernet Sauvignon at £5.50 a large glass. I should have got the bottle for the cracking price of £13.95.

For a house wine this is smoky, complex and full bodied. Good gear indeed. On the menu it's described by some mad person as 'blackcurrant and plums balanced with graphite and toasted coffee'. That had me laughing out loud as I sat in the restaurant alone one lunchtime. I want more wine balanced with graphite please. No, honest. Pencil lead, yum.

Santiago occupies the well-known shell of Leonis, a restaurant so old former staff recalled the day the terrible news about the Titanic broke.

Inside - old fashioned and now in Chilean national coloursInside - old fashioned and now in Chilean national colours

Eduardo, the present owner, from the Chilean capital of Santiago, is a gracious and smiling gentleman. He's in the process of transforming the restaurant. He's brightened it already with a lick of paint in Chilean national colours, and he has big plans to go much further with the refurbishment. He needs too as well, much of the ex-Leonis interior looks very dated especially that tiled hut bar.

He's also going the whole hog with the menu. The formerly Italian bill of fare has disappeared completely apart from pizzas and these are leaving on the next reprint. 

I asked for other Chilean specialities, which of course share ethnic connections with the old Spanish colonial masters, but morphed by climatic, cultural and geographical variation. Some of the food is weird, and never massively good-looking, but it's reasonably priced and usually wins on flavour.

The canapes de pollo (£3.95), pureed chicken breast, roasted red peppers, mayo, with a black olive, on chunky garlic toast were an entertaining and tangy bite. The ceviche (£5.95) again on thick toast was excellent, raw salmon and cod, marinated apparently for 48 hours, in lime, ginger, with coriander, onions, and chillies - another must-try. A sopa de marisco (£4.95) was decent without being exceptional.

Canapes de pollo -nice indeedCanapes de pollo -nice indeed

Eduardo says next time I visit I should jump all over the anticucho (skewers) and maybe dive into the fish dishes. He reckons the Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon at £21.95 is about the best value wine in the city. I'll take him up on that in the not too distant future. 

I found the Santiago experience charming (although I'm not sure about the screen at the top of the stairs giving a view of the restaurant below, it possibly puts people off entering). But if you don't mind simple food, offering nuances of new flavours and blends, at a good price, then you'll enjoy Santiago. It has a humble quality - very un-Living Ventures, very un-slick - delivered with delightful, modest, enthusiasm.

There's good ugly grub to be had here.

There's also a kids menu, pre-theatre menus for £9.95, express lunches for £5.95, and a £6.95 lunchtime special, the churrasco a lo pobre, aka a steak sandwich with chips and a fried egg - although the chips were poor when I sampled them. Stick with my sweetcorn chum described above.

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield


Santiago, 55 Cross Street (entrance on Bow Lane), City, M2 4JN   

Rating: 14/20
Food: 7/10
Service: 4/5
Ambience: 3/5

PLEASE NOTE: Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away.


Flying the flagFlying the flag

Santiago specialSantiago special

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Aron JohnstonApril 26th 2012.

Amazing restaurant, amazing food. This is what going out for food should be about, experiencing a new culture of cuisines that are not your average Italian, Indian, Chinese. The wines are amazing, the food tasty and delicious, we will be back for the skewers soon! Highly recommended!

Martha SamaApril 26th 2012.

Not all the food is ugly by the way. And if you are a steak lover, their filet and Ribeye are by far the best beef I've had in the UK, but go medium rate at most, do t spoil it by going well done. Oh and the empanadas are to die for, they melt in your mouth. The beef ones are best! And on top of it all, for those Latinos out there, its authentic!

CobbydalerApril 27th 2012.

I stuck with your sweetcorn chum as suggested & it was delicious. My wife tried the Ceviche and the Arroz a la Valenciana which she adored. We'll certainly be going back to try the theatre deal!

paulsouthernApril 27th 2012.

Was there tonight, great meal and real friendly people.

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