Never judge a book by it’s cover.
Placed outside a parking lot near Parque Poblado, a small, barely discernible blackboard with colorful writing, directed me through said lot.
It wasn’t quite what I was expecting when a friend had told me I had to visit a cool vegetarian restaurant near the park.
But sure enough, as I wandered through to the rear of the parking lot, I was met by a colorful container, much like Los Contenedores in Envigado, that had been morphed into a vibrant restaurant called Centeno.
I am talking multi-colored parasols, walls splashed with stenciled birds, lots of plants, and refurbished and recycled furniture. The Wi-Fi code is even painted on a door.
Add in a few figurines, cutlery wrapped in a bit of rope and a fish swimming in the bowl on the door that is your table, and you are transported into the alternate reality of a restaurant that you might find on the streets of London or New York.
It’s kitsch, cool and distinctly refreshing in a world of the many branded restaurants of Poblado and Laureles.
The chef/owner, Johanna, is a friendly, warm and colorful personality who serves up her own recipes every day. She and her head chef, Andrea, try to make sure that the food served is reflective of the produce in season.
Lunch is limited to the menu del día, but you are guaranteed four plates (or momentos), while at dinner, you can mix and match your entrée.
There’s even a small parilla (barbecue grill) that comes out to play in the evenings.
As a starter I had a salad with shaved beetroot, carrot and crunchy lettuce leaves with alfalfa and a sweet vinaigrette along with a delicious mango/maracuya fruit juice.
The salad was simple, but tasty. The drink exotic and refreshing, and probably one of the nicest I have tasted in Medellín.
The next course was a warm, roasted tomato soup with sesame seeds. It was as a tomato soup should be – tasty and homely.
The main, served on a big banana leaf no less, was a mixture of roasted aubergines (eggplant), papa criollas and maiz croquettes. It did what it did well, and there was a nice balance of flavors.
A homemade Peruvian garlic sauce added some kick, and ensured the plate wasn’t too dry.
As my friend reflected in his very British and understated way, “that’s nice, that.”
To round the meal off we enjoyed an aromatic of Flor de Jamaica with a small pastry, leaving our bellies nice and full.
The price of 13,000 pesos ($5.20) for the menu del día (lunchtime special) or the night-time menu for 15,000 pesos ($6) is in keeping with the prices of the area.
The cosy 25 to 30 person restaurant was pretty full when we visited and I would definitely recommend calling ahead to see what the situation is if you need to find space for a larger group.
The relaxed ambiance is a big plus, and the shabby-chic setting, along with the good food makes for a unique dining experience in an area where tradition normally trumps trying something new.
There are certain downsides, such as a short walk to the toilet in the back of the vintage bike shop, but its nothing that you wouldn’t expect from an alternative restaurant, and the interior is done nicely enough.
If you are used to your funky cafés back in New York, Berlin or London then you should try Centeno. A word of warning, it might leave you feeling nostalgic.
I’d recommend it for a bit of escapism and could imagine it becoming a favorite haunt for foreigners seeking something different.
P.S. – Please note the restaurant was previously in a different location in Poblado but moved a few months ago to its present spot near Parque Poblado