Peruvian cuisine has made a striking impact on London’s diverse food scene, with a constant wave of fresh ceviche and Pisco Sour popping up across the city.
The man mostly responsible for this wave of exotic dishes is Martin Morales, an award winning chef and restaurateur who moved to London 20 years ago, bringing with him his passion and flair for Peruvian flavour. Before following his dream to open up Ceviche Soho, the UK’s first restaurant of its kind, Mr Morales was a recognised name in the music industry. After 15 years on the DJ scene, he worked with Steve Jobs as one of the founding members of iTunes in Europe and launched many of the Disney star’s careers in Europe including Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers. What a guy.
After the opening of his first restaurant, he set his sights on East London, setting up Ceviche Old Street and Andina, one of my new favourite spots in the city, before bringing out his own cook book.
Andina, was named after Morales grandmother, a strong lady, an ‘Andina’. Fresh ingredients have been inspired by her encomiendas, a basket of superfoods including quinoa, chia and purple maze, that she shared with friends. Paired with the best of British produce, the results are outstanding.
I took my Mum and Auntie for a late Saturday lunch, their first taste of Peru. I’d been for a Peruvian dinner before at a highly recommended restaurant, but had been left unimpressed. However the menu at Andina was so deliciously tempting, I couldn’t resist giving Peru another shot. The variety of whats on offer is overwhelming, many gluten free or vegetarian, perfect for sharing.
The atmosphere of the ‘picanteria’ is exactly as it means, a modern cafeteria of cool young people enjoying their all-day brunch or late afternoon ceviche, no pressure, just relaxed. The decor is simple, classic East London hipster mixed with Peruvian culture, including a Quipus, a wall of knotted cords that was traditionally used by incas as a way to communicate. Andina’s Quipus represents each of their different superfood ingredients.
It’s recommended to choose about 3 dishes per person. At about £6-12 a plate, prices can add up but rest assured you don’t need 3 each… we got our choices down to 8 between us and I couldn’t have eaten another bite.
Each dish is prepared fresh in the open kitchen, lined with stalls for those who want in on the action. One by one they were presented to us, a constant flow of Peruvian’s best.
Our first was the Torrejas de Plátano, ripe plantain fritters with fresco cheese, chancaca honey and coriander. I’d tried plantain in Costa Rica and was not okay with it… as a banana-hater I was wary and the texture was far too similar to its fruity friend. However these fritters were nothing like it. They were soft and crumbly, so sweet with the honey dressing and slightly spiced fresco cheese dip.
Together came our choice of salad and our first taste of Peru’s classic dish. Unsure which to choose, we were recommended to go with the Yana Ceviche, a spicy mix of sustainable yellow fin tuna, rocoto tiger’s milk, pickled pineapple and black quinoa. And boy was it hot. The tuna was perfection, it melted in the mouth. The pineapple was also a welcomed addition that made an attempt at cooling down the spiced milky sauce. Although I drank a LOT of water with this dish, it was really damn good.
For our salad we chose the Tomatada Compuesta. Small squares of compressed melon were wrapped with seaweed, surrounded by radishes, heritage tomatoes, rocoto dressing and a drizzle of coriander oil. It was strange, but a really good strange. The type where you know its bizarre but you keep eating it anyway. After the spicy ceviche it was a very cooling refreshment to my slightly sizzling tongue.
Dish number three was the Chancho con Mani, an incredible dish of crispy pork belly, coriander and choclo corn purée, and peanut amarillo chilli sauce. What can I say, I love me some crispy pork, and the thinly sliced onions and tomatoes were so fresh.
Next came the Pudin de Maiz from the all-day brunch menu. Poached egg with smoked British bacon was served on a Peruvian corn soufflé, topped with coriander hollandaise sauce. I can honestly say this was the best poached egg dish I have ever eaten. And I love me some poached eggs.
I can still taste the corn soufflé as I write this, so sweet and soft, so perfect with the salt of the bacon (okay I’m actually drooling).
Three more to go.
The Pato Sampa. Pan-seared duck magret, amarillo and panca chilli sauce, black quinoa and sweet potato. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. If its possible, the duck was almost too soft so it didn’t have much of a texture. It needed a little bit of crunch, but the flavours were great.
The Conchitas, disappointingly not named after the bearded lady of Eurovision. I was very excited about this dish. Pan-fried scallops served with chilli and parmesan cream, a green tomato preserve and a strange tasteless purple crisp we later realised were the quinoa crackers. They were cooked as any scallop should be, quick and seared with a generous helping of tasty sauce.
Last and unfortuntately least (for me anyway) was the Bistec Escabechado. It sounded incredible; marinated grilled fillet steak, red onions, amarillo chilli with a choclo corn purée. Unfortunately it was just so damn salty, and I’m not keen on salt. The salsa style topping was however super fresh and the steak was cooked to perfection.
You could say we started with the best, that corn soufflé, pork belly and tuna ceviche have definitely made it to the top of my favourite dishes list. Apart from the incredible fresh food and the relaxed setting, it was just nice to share a selection of plates with your guests. Its definitely my new favourite way of dining and I have now been converted to a true Peruvian fan.