London Develops a Peruvian Palate
London Develops a Peruvian Palate
While London is relatively welcoming to non-native cuisines, few could have predicted just how quickly the latest culinary trend would take off. Though the Peruvian population is small, a dozen or so high-profile Peruvian restaurants have exploded on the scene, with more on the way. Peru’s most famous chef, Gastón Acurio, is even looking to open a branch of his La Mar cevicheria in high-rent Mayfair.
Peruvian restaurants are now comfortably ensconced in neighborhoods throughout the city, tucked on quiet streets next to pubs in Shoreditch and among the galleries and theaters in the West End. Martin Morales, the Peruvian-born former head of Disney Music and iTunes Pan Europe, began tweeting about Peruvian food, then opened a Peruvian pop-up restaurant, Ceviche. “I was frustrated because no one knew this food or the ingredients, so I started cooking it at home,” Mr. Morales said. “Everything happened organically. A tweet here. A tweet there. Then the pop-ups.”
He opened his brick and mortar restaurant Ceviche (cevicheuk.com) in Soho in 2012, with his own takes on Peruvian classics like beef heart skewers (£8, or $12.50 at $1.57 to the pound) and picante de conejo (£12), rabbit braised in ají amarillo and ají panca peppers. In the years since, he has carved out a mini-Peruvian empire with a cookbook and a record label that resurrects vintage Peruvian music. His latest project is Andina (andinalondon.com), a casual spot in Shoreditch with breakfast items like quinoa porridge sweetened with purple corn syrup (£4.50) and juices from South American “superfoods” (£3), as well as street food dishes like succulent chicharrón sandwiches (£6.60) and a ceviche bar (£6 to £9) for the rest of the day. More refined is Lima London (limalondon.com), which opened in 2012 on a lively strip in Fitzrovia and became the first Peruvian restaurant in Europe to be awarded a Michelin star.
No one can say for certain why the city has latched on to this exotic trend, but most agree that it isn’t slowing. “I love and am fascinated that every time I go to London and see how the city wants more of Peru,” said the chef Virgilio Martinez, who owns Central in Lima and is a partner in Lim London.
Robert Ortiz, who runs the kitchen at Lima London, focuses on Peru’s unique biodiversity, incorporating exotic flavors like chia seeds, ají amarillo and red amaranth into a soulful sea bream tiradito (£14). Elsewhere on the menu you will see Amazonian cashews, vinegar made from the rich syrup of the algarrobo tree, and an array of multicolored tubers. The restaurant also serves a seven-course tasting menu that changes each month (£48). This July, a second restaurant was added, the 60-seat Lima Floral in Covent Garden.
At Chotto Matte (chotto-matte.com), which opened in Soho in late 2013, the Japanese-Peruvian fusion called Nikkei is the emphasis. The space has two floors that contain a cocktail lounge with retractable glass walls, a robata grill, a sushi bar and various dining nooks decorated with colorful graffiti by Tokyo-based Houxo Que and the Londoner Tom Blackford.
The extensive menu bounces around from izakaya-inflected anticuchos, like octopus with yuzu and purple potato (£8.95), to a handful of gyozas, including one filled with pork and prawn and served on ají amarillo and butternut squash purée (£5.25). While much of the sushi is quite standard, some hand rolls add touches like Peruvian corn and a leche de tigre-like coriander sauce (plus shrimp, £9.75) or lomo saltado, a beef stir-fry (£8.50).
Part of the investor Arjun Waney’s restaurant portfolio of flashy modern Japanese spots like Zuma and Roka, Coya (coyarestaurant.com) opened near Hyde Park in late 2012. The concept has been so successful that Mr. Waney is opening locations in Dubai and Miami. The two-level industrial space, with an open ceviche bar, is members-only except at lunch. (On weekends it turns into a bustling lounge with D.J.s spinning tunes until 1:30 a.m.)