27 November 2012
In Latin American Spanish, rather oddly, a ‘peru’ is a turkey. This Peruvian restaurant is similarly confusing. Is it a neighbourhood joint (albiet Charlotte Street grade) or is it a fine dining establishment? From start to finish, it wasn't clear.
Despite there being only 50 covers in the place, they’ve chosen to put a hostess station by the door… yet there’s no cloakroom, so you are greeted, escorted to a table, and then left to dump coats and bags on the seating and floor. We were served by three different people during our lunch, two of whom I would have sworn on the holy book were the maitre d’. Their website lists two head chefs, an executive chef, an MD, a manager and a founding partner. Where do they put them all? The former cloakroom, it must be.
Happily, I loved the service. The aforementioned hostess is strikingly beautiful and covered in cool tattoos, yet down to earth and chatty. My lunch companion and I talked 13 to the dozen throughout, yet the staff managed to interrupt us to introduce the dishes without causing irritation. Everyone we interacted with (and there were many) was a pro.
Food-wise it’s 10 out of 10 for presentation: elegantly plated, with vibrant colours, unexpected arrangements and microscopically finessed garnishes; definitely the best-looking food I’ve seen in this category of restaurant. The range of ingredients was eye-poppingly impressive: I’ve travelled in South America and yet hadn’t heard of half the menu (more tree tomato emulsion, sir?). Tasty too: zingy sauces accompanied most dishes, amongst the best of which was a clever black olive foam, served up as a neat array of circular purple blobs. The ‘signature’ starter of braised octopus was the most successful execution of that scary cephalopod I’ve ever had: tender, flavoursome and moreish. Sea bream ceviche had gone pleasingly plump from its marination in 'tiger's milk', of which I greedily spooned up every drop.
Despite their best intentions, however, I couldn’t call the place a fine dining destination. There was a familiarity to the range of flavours: acidic citrus tang, while delicious and refreshing, returned again and again across the dishes. And if it’s not fine dining then the pricing starts to look a bit iffy: it’s easy to spend £10 on a starter and £20 on a main. Similarly the room does not match those intentions: the place was no more than 70% full, yet at times I struggled to hear what my companion was saying. I can’t imagine what it would be like on a Pisco-fuelled night at capacity.
Confusion aside, if they let a bit of heat out of the prices, which could easily be achieved by serving up a few P45s to the executive staff, then this would be an absolute returner for me.