More often than I care to admit, I wake up on a weekend morning in someone else’s house. Not with a stranger, mind. But unfortunately not the arms of a fair maiden either. Rather, I tend to find myself in Borough on the floor, sofa or, if I’m lucky, the air bed of a couple of mates of mine.
This rarely opposed use of floor/sofa space is very kind of them. Veritable Good Samaritans. Their hospitality extends to persistent offers of tea, though I think this is mostly because they know I don’t drink it. On occasion I’m offered well poached eggs on toast, too. But, quite regularly, the motivation and energy required to boil water for tea (which I won’t drink) or eggs (which I’ll probably irritatingly intrude on the poaching of) isn’t quite there. When that happens, we usually go to El Vergel.
I went with two different friends recently to see what is was like without a hangover. On that occasion it was a late lunch rather than a brunch and the place didn’t feel like it was at it’s best. So I thought I’d ask the boys for a brief prompt or reminder of what I usually eat when in a less fit state. Send me anything, I said. Don’t spend any time on it, I insisted. There’s no need to go to any effort chaps – I’ll turn your agricultural shorthand into sophisticated and witty prose.
One or two lines I asked for; an essay I got. Suddenly everyone’s a blogger, eh?
Well, yes, actually. That’s probably true and I’m as guilty as any for forcing my opinion on the t’interweb. So the following pretty much summarises the best bits of El Vergel, in the words (save for the editing out of the libel of some other local establishments) of someone more qualified to opine on it than I. Oh, and you get a recommendation for another Borough institution too (his views on which I stongly agree).
“Saturday brunch in Borough boils down to just two serious contenders – Maria’s cafe in the market and El Vergel on Southwark Bridge Road. Others need not apply. Both are firm favourites but provide completely different experiences.
El Vergel is an excellent Latin America eatery which recently moved to much larger premises on Southwark Bridge Road from a cosy one-table room on Lant Street and, despite the near tenfold increase in floor area, it has managed to retain the rustic charm and authentic Latin American food (and staff).
Don’t be intimidated by the numerous sultry waitresses, particularly the one with the see through tights and no skirt, and whatever you do, have the special breakfast. It’s awesome. I’ve eaten it regularly since moving in over the road 4 years ago and have never been disappointed. I only ever order this dish (village bread, Latin American beans, chorizo and picante scrambled eggs – apologies for the poor description, you just have to go there) so I can’t really comment on the other dishes, but the empanadas and cheese cake to go are both perfect.
Big tables, papers (Spanish, Latin American and English) and plenty of space make for a chilled and comfortable hour or so to discuss Friday night’s failed campaigns or when we’re going to quit our jobs.
The alternative is Maria’s market cafe, serving phenomenal English breakfast classics with the added spectacle of Maria adding up the price of numerous combinations of “bacon, two sausages, bubble and beans” or “mushrooms, fried, toast and coffee” as she cooks the very same on one enormous grill plate. Fighting your way past the tourists and bloggers clogging up the Market, queueing for face time with Maria or one of her helpers, and finally getting a table, can sometimes be too much if you’ve been on the sauce the night before. But smugly eating the best of British in what must be some of the very few table and chairs in the market is definitely worth it.
Brunch doesn’t need to be fancy or clever, it needs to be delicious and relatively quick. The only problem with El Vergel and Maria’s? They’re both closed on a Sunday.”
Well, there you go. Praise indeed.
For my part, I also enjoy breakfast and brunch at El Vergel. On the evidence of my recent visit with other non locals, lunch / mid afternoon grazing is ok too. Tacos, tostadas, fresh salads, those empanadas and that cheesecake are pretty good, cheap and authentic … but the service can get casual in the extreme and the portion size and pricing can be a bit of a fiddle; one item is never enough for a growing boy, two sometimes isn’t either, but three is too much. The juices are nice but small and the coffee isn’t great. Slightly negative points to finish on, but worth me being completely honest, I think, so you don’t get swept away too much by my pal’s enthusiasm.
Basically, El Vergel is an original and enjoyable local restaurant, though the value of it probably diminishes the further away you live. Do give it a shot, however, if you find that you’ve woken up on a floor somewhere in the Borough/Southwark area.
El Vergel in 3 words
Have the breakfast.
The special Latin American breakfast is a bargainous £6.20 and includes coffee/tea. Empanadas, tacos, tostadas and churrasco sandwiches range between about £3.50 and £5.00 and fresh salads rarely more than £8.00. £10-£20 (max) per person.
www.elvergel.co.uk – 132 Webber Street, SE1 0QL - 020 7401 2308
[p.s. here's another tedious suggestion for you to maybe, possibly, think about considering nominating me in the Observer Food Monthly Awards. If you prefer my mate, I'm afraid there's no point suggesting him as he hasn't got his own blog. Yet.]