Quilombero: The London Pop Up You Need to Know About

Quilombero: The London Pop Up You Need to Know About

The pair behind the iconic Hackney diner Rita’s are storming East India Dock with an Argentinian-Italian pop up, Quilombero, serving comfort food, cocktails and cappuccinos. Here they share what it’s like to be new in a community.

The pair behind the iconic Hackney diner Rita’s are storming
East India Dock with an Argentinian-Italian pop up, Quilombero, serving comfort food, cocktails and

Back in 2012, Gabriel Pryce and Missy Flynn turned a fast-food
pop up above a music venue into cult restaurant, Rita’s, on
rough-around-the-edges Mare Street in
, London. Gabriel manned
the kitchen, whipping up creative American comfort food like fried
chicken, spicy pig’s head noodles and hearty stews. Missy was in
charge of getting visitors pleasantly plastered with an array of
strong, colourful cocktails. The diner became a hangout for the
young things of Hackney
, who filed into the narrow space to
knock back a few signature Rita’s frozen margaritas and
fried-chicken waffles before heading out into the night. Yet it was
around this time that the gentrification
of Hackney
began to crank up a notch, transforming into a
hotbed of stylish restaurants, fashion headquarters, overpriced
housing and dizzying streams of artisanal coffee. Three years after
opening its doors, Rita’s announced its closure. “We were part of
our own problem, really.” Missy explains. “We helped change an
area. But it changed too fast to keep up with.”

With Rita’s behind them (for now), Gabriel and Missy went in
search of a new culinary undertaking. They
travelled through Italy
and ended up in Genoa, a north-westerly
port town on the Ligurian Sea, where they began delving into the
regional cuisine. “We had this long dinner at a 97-year-old nonna’s
house, and spent a lot of time with a local man from Argentina.
That’s when we began learning about Italian food in
South America
.” Gabriel remembers.

As it turns out, Argentinian and Italian food is far more
interconnected than you may think. Following the rise of fascism,
Italians began emigrating to Latin America in droves during the
late 19th and early 20th century. A huge number of them headed for
Argentina, and brought with them an unshakeable culinary heritage
that soon mingled with the local cuisine. Today, Argentina still
has one of the highest populations of Italian diaspora in the
world. Gabriel and Missy began researching this culinary crossover,
discovering a rich and diverse world of dishes. They also
discovered Lunfardo, a slang language which combines the colloquial
dialect of Argentinian locals and Italian immigrants. In November,
they launched Quilombero in London, a pop-up restaurant
celebrating the gastronomic blend of two nations. The name means
‘troublemaker’ in Lunfardo.

Quilombero looks out over a canal just around the corner from
East India Dock, a place that will be pretty unfamiliar to the
Hackney-clinging clientele of Rita’s. “I don’t know this area at
all. I wanted to get to know a different part of town and try out
something completely new.” Missy says. “Everything is new; I don’t
know the journey on the train, I don’t know the people who live
here, I don’t know the buildings. It’s nice.” The area is fairly
quiet, with just a few restaurants catering to the businessmen and
women who spend their days here. Which is why Quilombero, with its
sunny yellow, blue and candy-pink walls, wide-potted palms and long
sharing tables, is a breath of fresh air. “We’re in a somewhat
walled-off area here.” Gabriel says. “People have to make the

The food at Quilombero is rooted in traditional Italian cooking,
with the meat-heavy, heated flavours of Argentina in every recipe.
We popped in for lunch and ended up sampling almost every dish on
the menu, starting with ox-cheek arancini and soft, milky burrata
with salsa negra, followed by a bowl of mussels swimming in a deep
mortadella (delightfully fatty Italian sausage) broth. Then we
moved on to a steaming plate of papardelle with seasonal kale,
pumpkin and celeriac along with a charred hispi cabbage with
habanero chilli, which we ate while perusing a dessert menu of
baked apples with whey caramel and buttermilk panna cotta with
chilli-poached pears.

What Quilombero offers is the comfort food you’d expect in a
good local Italian with a dose of creative flair. There are a lot
of Italian
in London. And there are a great many
(questionable) Argentinian steak houses. But this place celebrates
the most lovable and authentic qualities of both cuisines, using
local produce and with a respect for seasonal ingredients. “It’s
just about cooking food that we like to eat, in the style that we
like to do things.” Gabriel says. “Just like we did at Rita’s, but
with influences of Italy and South America. It’s about bringing
those two worlds together.”

Along with the glorious main menu, Quilombero also hails one of
Italy’s greatest past times: aperitivo. Every Friday, Italian and
South American small plates (including tostadas and empanadas) are
served up beside ‘house spritzes’ and olive oil sours muddled up by
Missy. Come dinnertime, Gabriel is partial to lobbing a few hunks
of high-grade meat (such as Swaledale wing-rib) onto the outdoor
grill. These are served to share with more of that divine salsa
verde and Rita’s famous crispy fried crushed potatoes. And while
the lashings of Italian natural
are almost impossible to bypass, Missy and Gabriel are
also injecting a bit of life into the old fashioned cappuccino, a
classic coffee that seems to have been lost in the tsunami of flat
whites and soy lattes coursing through London. “Coffee has become
so extreme and so expensive here.” Missy remarks. “We had a
cappuccino in Genoa and it was just absolutely delicious. Everyone
stands up drinking them at the bar and chatting. I like the idea of
going out for a cappuccino.” “I’ve known what a good cappuccino is
since the first time I stole the froth from the top of my mums’.”
Gabriel agrees. “We liked the idea of bringing back something

Quilombero will grace East India Dock for six months. Which
means half a year of naturally sweet cocktails, pig’s head pibil
tacos, oysters with brown butter, hand-rolled pasta and a whole lot
of cappuccino froth brought to you by this creatively charged pair.
“Having just closed Rita’s, we just wanted to do a small, inventive
project.” Missy tells us, as we lap up the last of the mussel broth
with crunchy bread. “It was hard to leave that community. We laid
so many foundations there and became part of the area, so we knew
that if we were going to do something new it would have to be
somewhere different. Ultimately, we’re just doing what we do best –
a friendly restaurant with comfort food that people want to come
back to.” Oh, we’ll be back alright.

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