I timed my return to Medellín last month to coincide with my 38th birthday and the departure of my friend Mark and his girlfriend, Fernanda.
I hadn’t, though I’d been eager to eat there after following them for months on Instagram. He confidently claimed the food was better than Carmen, which only served to pique my interest further.
Ocio opened in 2013 and has been quietly building a solid reputation for itself as one of the city’s top restaurants.
After completing culinary school in Lyon, chef Laura Londoño spent eight years working in Europe, including time at several Michelin-starred restaurants. She later lived in Sydney, where her tastes were influenced by the Orient.
Her husband, architect Santiago Arango, is responsible for Ocio’s interior design.
Mark and Fernanda had an early flight the next morning, so I made an early 7 p.m. reservation for Thursday, September 25.
I arrived a little early, and was shown to our table on the second floor. I took the opportunity to mention my birthday to the waiter, curious to see if he’d remember, and if so, what the restaurant would offer.
Then I took a seat at the first floor bar, ordering a Grey Goose and tonic. I was happy to see they served Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water, a premium brand I was first introduced to at Humo last year.
At the end of the bar was a small outdoor seating area where a few Colombian women were enjoying pre-dinner cocktails.
Mark F, a mutual friend of Mark and mine, arrived next and joined me at the bar. We caught up until a few more people arrived and we moved to our table.
Once Mark and Fernanda and my friends Ana and Claudia arrived, we ordered.
Appetizers that caught my eye included sashimi over a wakame and cucumber salad with sweet wasabi mayo, prawns cooked in tomato and chili jam with crispy quinoa and basil and pork Vietnamese sandwich with pickles and chili mayo.
Fernanda said the octopus with confit garlic pure, potatoes and chorizo was the best octopus she’d had in her life (and she’s a fellow foodie, so I give her opinion extra weight).
Prices ranged from 15,800 to 29,000 pesos for ($7.75 to $14).
I chose the pork sandwiches (17,000 pesos, $8.30), and was presented with two, each cut in half. They were juicy and delicious, though more filling than I expected and I still had two courses ahead of me.
Fernanda offered me a bite of her octopus, and while I haven’t eaten a lot of it in my life, Ocio’s was by far the best I’d ever tasted. I rarely order octopus as my early experiences with it weren’t positive. Undercooked octopus is like rubber, impossible to chew.
But had I been blindfolded, I’d never have guessed from the tender consistency that I was eating octopus. My anticipation grew further for the main course.
The choice of a main course was difficult. Options included:
- Tenderloin in red wine sauce with vegetables and asparagus
- Crispy skin salmon with native potatoes, roasted cherry tomatoes and leeks
- Short ribs – 12 hours braised, in lemon and chile caramel sauce
- Osso bucco – 12 hours glazed in balsamic and orange root puree
- Rack of lamb with eggplant parm and salad
Prices ranged from 26,000 pesos ($12.50) for the salad to 42,000 pesos ($20.50) for the rack of lamb.
I opted for the short ribs (39,000 pesos, $20), which Mark F highly recommended. When the bowl of ribs arrived, the portion size seemed small, but looks can be deceiving.
On top of a healthy amount of fat and the rich caramel sauce, there were no bones. It turned out to be too much for me to finish.
Mark chose the fish of the day with sweet plantain puree and corn in a ceviche way, which he’d had on his first visit and swore by.
Ana chose the mix salad with blue cheese, nuts, grapes and dried tomatoes and Claudia opted for the crispy skin salmon.
Everyone was more than happy with the quality of their chosen dish.
By 9 p.m., the restaurant’s dinner service was in full swing, with every table taken and the waiters swiftly moving through the different rooms, taking orders and delivering drinks and food.
It’s not a proper dinner without dessert, and once again Fernanda laid accolades on a specific dish, the crème brûlée, on account of Ocio’s use of real vanilla beans.
Mark said it was her favorite, which I took to mean she’s tried it in countless restaurants and could tell average from superb.
Momentarily forgetting the potential to receive a birthday dessert on the house, I decided to order two desserts, the crème brûlée to share with Claudia and Ana, and the chocolate fondant, my personal favorite.
To his credit, our waiter remembered my birthday, and brought a bowl of ice cream with fresh flower petals sprinkled on top and a little candle, in addition to the two desserts I ordered.
I blew out the candle, and began with a taste of the crème brûlée, which was served with a small side of fresh uchuvas and strawberries. It was up to par, but didn’t blow my mind. To be fair, I don’t think crème brûlée will ever get me too excited.
Moving on to the chocolate fondant, I was now in heaven. Pushing my spoon through the soft outer cake released a flood of hot, melted chocolate. Done properly, as here at Ocio, I can’t think of a more decadent dessert.
The cake was accompanied by caramel ice cream, the pairing of hot and cold something I’m particularly fond of when in desserts.
The average dessert price is 12,500 pesos ($6), a steal for the quality of ingredients, presentation and execution. The same can be said for the full menu at Ocio.
Does the food quality surpass what you’ll find at Carmen? For me, it’s too close to call.
In terms of ambiance, though, Ocio has a more casual feel, whereas Carmen offers a more upscale, intimate, white tablecloth experience in their basement level, in addition to the romantic outdoor garden known to inspire marriage proposals.