An exciting change in the London restaurant scene over the past three years has been the emergence of small, simple venues where you can eat and drink well without spending too much or enduring fussy service.
The restaurateur Russell Norman was a pioneer with Polpo and its offshoots. (These include Polpetto, which closes this month before moving to a new location.) New spots in Soho include 10 Greek Street and Ducksoup, with daily menus of affordable dishes pitched around the level of good home cooking.
One of the hottest new venues is Ceviche, serving Peruvian food, and drinks such as pisco sour. Ceviche -- raw fish marinated in juice -- is starting to appear on more London menus, with Gaucho Grill, an early pioneer, now being followed by gourmet restaurants such as Pollen Street Social.
This new Soho establishment has quickly attracted fans and it’s a good idea to book. A better idea is to arrive early and grab a seat at the bar. You’re served faster, you can chat with the staffers and you can watch life on Frith Street. I always sit there, rather than in the windowless dining room out back.
The menu is divided into ceviche, salads and sides, skewers (anticuchos) and classic favorites (recuerdos). The signature Don Ceviche features sea bass in aji amarillo chili tiger’s milk, aji limo chili and red onions. Tiger’s milk (leche de tigre) is the marinade in ceviche. It doesn’t contain any dairy (or any striped animals with big teeth for that matter) and some people consider it an aphrodisiac. Grrrrrrrr.
Other ceviches include the sakura maru, with sliced salmon and Nikkei tiger’s milk made with satsumas, mirin, soy sauce and aji limo chili. On the side you might try the arrocito, white long-grain rice and Peruvian corn. Then there are more skewers, of which my favorite is the steak, featuring chunks of rump marinated in aji panca chili anticucho sauce.
Some of the classics reflect the Chinese influence on Peruvian food, with so-called Chifa dishes including chicken tallarin saltado, which features wok-cooked chicken, pasta noodles and vegetables in Chifa saltado sauce.
The food is designed for sharing and diners are recommended to order three or four savory dishes per person. As most cost between 6 pounds ($9.60) and 9 pounds, it’s easy to spend a lot, particularly if you are as fond of pisco sours as I have become.
Desserts include encanelado de pisco: cinnamon sponge soaked in pisco spirit syrup served with artisan dulce de leche ice cream, at 4.75 pounds.
The restaurant is the creation of a British Peruvian, Martin Morales, who has invested his life savings. He’ll face competition soon.
One of Peru’s foremost chefs, Virgilio Martinez, of Central restaurant in Lima, is scheduled to open his first London restaurant in June. (He previously worked in London at Quadrato Italian restaurant and at the Ritz.)
“Peru is probably going to be the next most important revolution in culinary history,” Ferran Adria said in an interview last year. The El Bulli chef is one of a growing number of fans of the cuisine. Count me in.
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? About 25 pounds for food if you go easy.
Sound level? About 75 decibels and up.
Inside tip? Sit at the bar.
Special feature? Puts a tiger in your tank.
Will I be back? Yes.
Date place? Yes.
Ceviche, 17 Frith Street, London, W1D 4RG. Information: +44-20-7292-2040; http://cevicheuk.com/.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor.
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 65-70: Office noise. 70- 75: Starbucks. 75-80: London street. 80-85: Alarm clock at closest range. 85-90: Passing bus. 85-95: Tube train.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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