Zuma Founder Taps Rolling Stones Chef for London Eatery

Coya Restaurant
The elegant dining room at Coya in London. The Peruvian cuisine combines the traditional with contemporary. Source: Purple PR via Bloomberg

While Coya isn’t exactly a Latin version of Zuma, it’s not far off. One of London’s most fashionable restaurants has a baby sister and she’s kicking.

This new establishment of restaurateur Arjun Waney joins a family that includes Roka, La Petite Maison and the Arts Club, in addition to the Japanese-inspired Zuma. The food is Peruvian, a cuisine that is becoming popular in London following the opening of Ceviche and Lima earlier this year.

Coya is housed in a Mayfair basement that feels as much like a nightclub as a restaurant. The decor is as elegantly distressed as the customers, a good-looking crowd who combine youth and beauty the way I can only manage roly and poly.

All of which is fine in itself. I happily hang out with rich, handsome people in the hope some of it will rub off on me. What makes Coya different is the quality of the food: This is one of my favorite new restaurants of 2012 because the cooking is so creative and assured.

The chef is an unlikely champion of Peruvian cuisine. Sanjay Dwivedi is probably best-known in London for his time heading the kitchen at the Indian restaurant Zaika, yet he has other claims to fame.

In 1998, he was head chef for The Rolling Stones “Bridges of Babylon” world tour, and he was also one of the culinary masters on TV’s “Iron Chef,” alongside Judy Joo.

He spent several months in South America learning about Peruvian food and starting to develop dishes for Coya.

The menu opens with ceviche and its close relative the tiradito, both involving raw fish marinated in citrus.

Bass Ceviche

There’s a choice of about a dozen and one of the strengths at Coya is how distinctive each is, from the sea bass ceviche, with red onions, sweet potato and white corn, through to the yellowtail tiradito with green chili, coriander and lime.

From there, you move through small dishes, such as refreshing quinoa, with coriander, mint and pomegranate, and skewers of meat or vegetables, including ox heart, with parsley and rocoto chili. There are also barbecue options and a great dish of Chilean sea bass in rice with lime and chili.

This is priced at 32 pounds ($52) and the cost of a meal at Coya climbs rapidly once you leave the foothills of ceviches and tiraditos, which weigh in between 8 pounds and 12 pounds. Spicy beef fillet, for example, is 32 pounds; rib eye is 29 pounds; tiger prawns are 27 pounds. Personally, I like to load up on the front end of the menu and not bother so much with the back end.

While the wine list doesn’t provide any financial relief, it’s less scary than it might have been. I wouldn’t say this everywhere, but trust the sommeliers. There are bargains: The Venus Pinot Gris, Ormoz, Slovenia 2010 -- 32 pounds -- is food-friendly. I’d like to see more South American wines on the list.

Pisco Sours

One slight complication if you are on a budget is that the range of fruit-infused pisco sours may loosen your purse strings before you come close to ordering anything else. My own favorite pisco sours are the traditional and the pineapple, and that is the result of some extensive research over four meals.

If you’re feeling frugal, the set lunch is good value at 31 pounds for four courses (26.50 pounds for three) but then I’m not sure I want to enter a nightclub in the daytime.

Coya is a different kettle of fish from its Peruvian cousins in London. I enjoy Ceviche for the buzz, provided I can get a seat at the bar. Lima has some very good starters and beautiful-looking mains, yet I find the food in general too restrained in seasoning and flavor.

Coya is a bold and beautiful new restaurant with prices to match. Like Zuma, it is a scene. (There’s even a private members’ club above the restaurant.) There’s plenty of room in London for restaurants at all price points. Coya is a great new addition for those who can afford it.

The Bloomberg Questions

Cost? About 100 pounds a head.

Sound level? May get noisy: About 75 decibels.

Inside tip? The bar is lively for a drink after dinner.

Special feature? The menu.

Will I be back? Yes.

Date place? Yes.

Rating? ***.

What the Stars Mean:
****         Incomparable food, service, ambience
***          First-class of its kind.
**           Good, reliable.
*            Fair.
(No stars)   Poor.

Coya is at 118 Piccadilly, London, W1J 7NW. Information: http://www.coyarestaurant.com/ or +44-20-7042-7118.

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.)

Muse highlights include Martin Gayford on art, Scott Reyburn on the art market, Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night and James Russell on architecture.

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