A Latin American dining island here in The Weald
12th December 2018
WITH new pub owners Andrés Villamagua and Kate Edom having been at their idyllic location in Cousley Wood for nearly six months, we caught up with them to hear how the Galapagos restaurant at The Old Vine has bought a South American twist to the local hostelry…
How did you both come to be running a restaurant called Galapagos in the middle of the East Sussex countryside?
Kate: Andrés and I have been friends for a few years. I was working in banking in Canary Wharf and Andrés was running a Mediterranean restaurant with a Latin twist in Greenwich with his brother.
I started to help Andrés with some of the administration and marketing work, and found I really enjoyed exploring a whole different world of food and hospitality.
I had been looking for a new venture to entice me away from the City for some time, and with Andrés’ background as a chef and restaurateur he was certainly the right business partner.
Andrés: I was enjoying running the Mediterranean restaurant with my brother, but I wanted to focus on the authentic Latin cuisine of my homeland in South America.
I realised the combination of mine and Kate’s backgrounds and skills meant we could bring a very different dining experience to our customers.
How would you describe the food?
Andrés: I love to travel and I’ve had the opportunity to travel extensively across South America and Europe.
In each country I visit, I try to learn as much as I can about the food. I seek out the best chefs and have on occasion driven very long distances to sample the best dishes in an area.
At Galapagos I aim to bring together all of the dishes and techniques that I have gathered on my visits to Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, and of course my home country of Ecuador.
Kate: The food that Andrés grew up cooking with his mum and grandmother is the basis for the food we serve here.
Andrés’s passion for food is incredible, he works tirelessly to ensure the authenticity and quality of the food we serve to our customers.
Can you tell us more about learning about food on your travels?
Andrés: Yes, it’s fascinating to be able to speak to people and learn about their culture and their food. We share our knowledge as chefs, and I love to question everything in the kitchen. I can always learn something and I love to see varying techniques. I’m always learning from my own family in Ecuador, too.
When my mum is here in the UK we cook together, and when I return home I cook with family and friends.
Has anyone been a particular influence on your cooking style?
Andrés: I am original in my cooking and I always try to keep it that way. I don’t copy anyone, and while I may like celebrity chefs, such as Rosemary Shrager who recently met up with, I am not influenced by
any other styles.
Having Rosemary come here was lovely as she loved the food, and it was so nice to speak to her.
Kate: It was an absolute pleasure to meet Rosemary, she was charming and very interested in what we are doing and gave us lots of praise and encouragement.
Rosemary was keen for us to get a photo of her and Andrés together, and gave us a lovely quote for our website.
She ordered the Encocado de Pescado and loved the fish. Andrés insists on top quality ingredients, which is a big part of the secret to good food.
Where do you source meat and fish?
Kate: All of our beef is Argentinian, imported from Argentina through a supplier based at Smithfield meat market in London. All our other meat comes locally from Chart Farm at Seal Chart near Sevenoaks.
Once or twice a week, depending on how busy we are, Andrés gets up at 3am to go to Spitalfields market to get the South American fruit and vegetables, and calls in at Billingsgate for the fish.
Andrés: Recently, a customer asked me the secret to the Carriucho de Pollo, the chicken in peanut butter sauce. Simple,
I told him, the secret is the quality of the meat. He was amazed to hear that. The ingredients for the sauce are fairly simple and he couldn’t believe there was nothing more to it.
What would you order as a guest?
Andrés: I love it all, and I’d say that the menu is so diverse that everyone will have a different favourite depending on preference and taste.
Personally, I would go for the Ceviche as a starter – any of the three versions we offer, Ecuadorian with prawns, Peruvian with white fish and Vegetarian with heart of palm.
The empanadas are also great, I use finely sliced Argentinian steak as opposed to traditional mincemeat so it’s a classic but with a twist.
Kate: I love a steak so you can’t beat the Bife Ancho, the Argentinian Rib-Eye steak or the Lomo Saltado, which is a pan-fried fillet steak with Peruvian spices.
… And what would you drink?
Kate: We offer both the South American wines and the more traditional wines, such as sauvignon or pinot.
We have also achieved 5-star Casque Mark status for our ales.
We are still a pub, and it is just as important that the beer is as high a quality as the food.
Andrés: South American wines are richer and it took a little longer for them to take off, but I knew we had to stick with it and we would be successful.
I wouldn’t like to say which to pair with which dish. It’s very much a personal taste.
There are days I could happily have a red wine with my fish.
Do you get many people coming here just for drinks?
Kate: Yes, we really want to encourage people to come along for a drink, we are still a local pub.
On weeknights you will find Cousley Wood residents sat at the bar enjoying an evening drink, and during the summer the rear garden and the benches across the front of the building play host to lots of customers enjoying a summer drink.
Andrés: We have groups that will order a bottle of wine to drink in the pub area by the fire before moving to their table for dinner.
We really like the way it works as a reception area to the restaurant.
Sunday lunch is popular for that sort of thing as it’s great pub food but with a twist.
Are you all set for Christmas?
Kate: Prior to us arriving, the pub had only opened for a couple of hours for drinks on Christmas Day and many people weren’t expecting us to be open for lunch.
This year we are open from midday to 6pm and we do have bookings for Christmas Lunch – impressive considering we arrived around the time people were first starting to make their Christmas arrangements.
A few of our customers have said they wished they knew we were open before paying a deposit elsewhere!
Andrés: They can always join us next Christmas! We’ve only been here six months so there’s plenty of time.
Tell us a little about the artwork around the building…
Andrés: My dad has been an exhibiting artist all his life and he visited us here earlier this year and painted all of the canvases in the pub for us. We’ve a book here about his life and work which is also for sale, it’s a great talking point.
Kate: Andrés can often be found in the restaurant talking to our customers – it’s great for him to get feedback on the food and to hear people’s opinions. The artwork, as well, really works in this building and brings it to life.
What does the future hold for Galapagos at The Old Vine?
Kate: We are in the process of making our plans for 2019 and have a few firm fixtures already in the diary, including a very exciting wine tasting event coming up on January 31. It’s limited to 20 people so it’s first come, first served for the tickets!
Andrés: Jóse Pacheco, our friend and wine supplier, will share his knowledge of the wines and we will taste a few of these on their own before matching others to the food.
We want everyone attending to be able to try the wine and food and get a chance to discuss them and the combinations with Jóse.
For tickets to the wine tasting, call 01892 782271 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org