Its not every week that a Peruvian restaurant opens in London. What makes this one stand out (apart from being Peruvian of course) is that the executive chef has previously worked at one of the Worlds 50 best restaurants.
Virgilio Martinez was the former executive chef at Astrid y Gaston group and now has his own restaurant in Peru. Central restaurant in Lima. His head chef in London is a long time friend and former workmate Robert Ortis. So that is a good enough reason to seek this place out in an area which is absolutely teeming with eateries of one sort or another.
So even though the weather was warm we hardly ever choose to sit outside.
As you enter the building the first thing that hits you is the semi open kitchen where Martinez and Ortis were busy with about four other staff. Both were still there when we left perfecting a couple of dishes with the other chefs.
The main dining area to the rear is flooded with natural light thanks to the addition of a frosted glass roof . There are banks of mirrors too, which bounce the light off the walls. The decor as you would expect is in keeping with the Peruvian theme of the restaurant, with Inca design to the fore.
There is also another basement dining area and bar but we did not explore any further as the natural light of the main dining area suited us best.
The menu reads well and includes eight starters and six mains which are split into two, Mar and Tierra. Desserts were from a choice of four.
Bread, wholemeal and white, was fine. The red pepper, garlic dip had a rich depth of flavour and was topped with parsley. It was eaten with much relish.
Instead of taking starters and mains we were tempted just to eat our way through the starters, which all sounded interesting. Perhaps next time?
I suppose we just had to try the Sea Bream ceviche ( £8 ) which came with a separate little pot of Inka corn which was sprinkled over the dish. This was very nice indeed, virtually suspended in a sea of leche de tigre (white tigers milk). Think, lime, ginger, coriander, fish stock, I suppose if Peru had a national dish this would be the one most people would recognise.
The other seafood offering was billed as Bay scallops, yellow aji emulsion, umami salt, cassava. (£8 )
Spankingly fresh sliced scallops. Not my dish but the mouthful that I tasted was divine.
After the two fish starters we shared an irresistible sounding Duck crudo, algarrobo tree honey, shaved foie gras, ghoa cress ( £10 ) Wow this was gorgeous. Glorious duck breast- foie gras combo with the sweet algarrobo tree honey dressing.
Sourcing is most important for Virgilio to recreate the true flavours of Peru so around eighteen products are imported to achieve the desired effect. Of course this is just a tiny proportion of all the produce used but nevertheless a very important contribution.
Mains next, and as we had eaten fish first we thought it best to go with the two meat offerings (the other being vegetarian)
Confit of Suckling Pig, roasted amazonian cashew, lentils and pear. ( £20 )
This presented well on the plate, tasted fabulous, and was moist and melting. The crackling was a thing of beauty, and the amazon cashew gave up some textural crunch, along with the earthy lentils.
The other main was very good indeed and it was just as enjoyable an eat. Slow cooked, (as in four hours ), Braised Lamb shoulder. ( £22 ), with a coriander sauce, which is a classic Peruvian stew. Sitting on top of the black and white quinoa are white grapes which have been macerated in pisco and cinnamon and are topped with a huacatay ( Peruvian black mint ) sauce
As with the other dishes, the desserts were all just as appealing. We allowed our server to point us in the right direction, and this is what he suggested.
Dulce de leche ice cream, beetroot emulsion,amazonian maca root honey. ( £6 )
Again an interesting and unusual offering. The smear on the edge of the plate is dulce de leche. Then again in ice cream form sitting on top of the beetroot biscuit crumb.
Last but not least and our final bit of eating was Andean kiwicha with sheep's milk, purple corn and pineapple jelly, cinnamon crust ( £7 )
So quinoa, then another Andean super grain kiwicha, cultivated for thousands of years by the Incas. It is smaller than quinoa and very high in protein. The visually appealing purple corn jelly has been topped with some crumbed biscuit for welcome crunch. Also evident is some smashed Inca corn on top of the crumbed biscuit.
So all in all a very good meal. Everything that we ate, we enjoyed. Some of the flavours were intriguing and certainly different from the norm.
This place is billed as fine dining but has a really casual vibe. Pricing seems fair, with the most expensive main course being £22. In our opinion though, and if we did return, which we most certainly will, we would be choosing from the exciting starters list which range from £7 to £10. You could build yourself a very nice tasting menu indeed for not an awful lot of money.
So there you have it, a much welcome addition to London's already highly regarded dining scene. Expect visually vibrant plates of food prepared with unusual ingredients from one of the top rated chefs in Peru.
Virgilio Martinez in action
Head chef Robert Ortis.