After a year in London, there are a couple of things that irk me about eating out in this exciting behemoth of a city. Size is one of the more minor issues but sometimes I do find myself longing for the easy little stretch of Wellington’s restaurant zone. The fact that people happily queue for over an hour for a table anywhere still bemuses me, and I also have a love/hate relationship with the trend driven nature of things. I’m over the London markup but still not quite over how easily I’ve accepted that if dinner for two is under £100 we’ve got ourselves a bargain.
But, and it’s a very big but, all is forgiven for the simple pleasure of having so much choice. What are you craving? Where do you feel like faux-travelling to? Pick your cuisine, pick your price range and there’ll be something for whatever mood you’re in. It won’t all be good- how can it be, but at least you can choose something else next time!
On this particular occasion I felt like a taste of Peru. Well, a taste of of what I assume is jazzed up London-style Peru because I’m yet to set foot in South America (and we all know things are never as traditional as they seem). You must have been living under a rock if you didn’t realise that London loves Peru. It’s been flavour of the month for a while now and might still be if it wasn’t for that pesky kimchi and her friends bulgogi and bibimbap making Korean cuisine the new in-thing. But Peruvian is still going strong with popular stalwarts like Andina, fancy pants places like Lima, and some newbies like Pachamama and today’s choice, Senor Ceviche.
We arrived at the start of a seemingly quiet lunch service- there was none of the hiss bang shenanigans I was anticipating, but a reliable source tells me that’s usually reserved for the after work crowd who really know how to get the cocktails flowing. I had high expectations; it’s another pop-up gone permanent, has a strong following, and Time Out named one of their ceviches on their list of top ten dishes for 2014!? High praise indeed. I’ll admit the garishly bright graffiti styled interior (is this really what downtown Lima looks like?) didn’t do anything for my appetite so thank goodness the menu did.
It only seemed right to start with a ceviche so first to hit the table was The Spaniard- sea bream, king prawns, chorizo and tomato tigers milk. Full disclosure: my fondness for barely cooked food means everything about a dish of fresh hunks of fish swimming in a sharp citrus marinade appeals to me. The Spaniard did not disappoint- the warm prawns were a highlight, while the only very slight let down was the chorizo that failed to make an impression. I didn’t even remember it was supposed to be there until I read the menu again.
Next to arrive were the tamarind BBQ chicken anticuchos and the chifa chicaronnes- slow cooked crispy pork belly, both of which delivered well in flavour. The chicken anticuchos were covered in a sticky, sweet sauce and were anything but dry, while the crunchy pork belly may have erred on the side of dryness had it not been for the excellent meat to fat ratio of the pieces. Don’t judge me people, like the old adage ‘never trust a skinny chef’, I wouldn’t trust a skinny pig either when indulging in pork belly… you’d be missing the point.
A bit more ceviche to cleanse the palate was required so we ordered the Senor Ceviche- sea bream in aji amarillo tiger’s milk, avocado and tempura baby squid. If the aji amarillo was supposed to add some heat, I didn’t get it but perhaps I have a higher tolerance than most. That aside, I loved the little crunch from the bitesized squid and continued to lapped up the morsels of sea bream while my dining companions weren’t looking.
To round off the meal we ordered the flat iron anticucho, the chancaca salmon with fennel, and a side of patatas fritas with huancaina and tomato fondue. This is where I think we hit a wee bump in our Peruvian journey. My idea of anticuchos are meat skewers bursting with flavour from the mix of spices they’ve been marinading it, with a touch of smokiness from the grill. While I can’t fault the tenderness of the meat, these felt like they had barely touched salt and pepper let alone the spicy aji rocotto or anything else.
The chancaca salmon, glazed with a fail proof combination of miso and brown sugar was pleasant enough but would have been a touch dry if it wasn’t for the fennel salad. Without a condiment in sight, the salmon was saved from being the drab wallflower in the corner by the light and airy fennel salad; together they were the perfect pair.
While a certain someone is the true potato devotee in this relationship, I’ll confess that I really have a weakness for fries. Who can resist them? Sadly these barely deserve a mention- the first attempt were left sitting on the pass longer than ideal and arrived to the table cold and limp. The second attempt were hotter in temperature but not in appeal- take away the fancy names, it’s still just chips with cheese and tomato sauce. Fool me once…
Despite some minor hiccups, our short jaunt to Peru was a good one. I could take or leave some of the other dishes, but I’d happily come back for the ceviches. The ingredients were fresh, the mix of textures made things a little interesting, and that eye-squintingly sharp tiger’s milk pushed my sourness barriers to the max. But I loved it. Conveniently located in Kingly Court, Senor Ceviche is a great place to pop in for that well-deserved bite to eat and a cocktail after an arduous Oxford or Regent Street shopping trip! Salud!