The Slice of South America in the Heart of London that kick Started the Peruvian Cuisine Revolution
Ceviche Soho: ‘Aqui se cocina con cariño’: here we cook with love
Review by Sophie Aghdami
I’ve been a fan of ceviche for a long time but I first fell in love, I mean really fell in love, with it in La Paz on the Baja Peninsula that lies just off the mainland of Mexico. Following a week’s adventure swimming around a UNESCO protected island I returned to La Paz to seek out some of the amazing Mexican street food that I’d been longing to try from the moment I has started planning the trip a year prior. Following a few days of getting (intentionally) lost in the side streets of the town, I suddenly saw a ridiculously long line of people queuing for something. I followed it and, as I turned the street corner, saw a street vendor selling ceviche. I watched in awe as the (rather large) Mexican man was slicing fish by the lorry load and scraping it into one of those tubs that my dad used to have in the garden to collect rain water. Surely the last thing he would want to do is waste food so, given the fact he was making such a vast volume and the queue was ginormous, I dutifully got in line for my slice of the action. I certainly wasn’t disappointed and that’s where the love of ceviche grew for this divine South American dish of marinated raw fish.
Ceviche Soho is the sort of place that transports you back to such memories in every way: through the décor, atmosphere and food, clearly standing by their motto ‘Aqui se cocina con cariño’: here we cook with love. With four restaurants within the group, this branch supposedly kick started the Peruvian cuisine revolution and I can see why. Entering the subtle doorway off Frith Street, the energy from within is captivating. Staff at reception, behind the bar and in the restaurant all beam genuinely giving warm greetings as we arrive whilst uplifting music beats in the background and laughter and bustle is already building within the restaurant.
After sinking a couple of Pisco Sours, we opt for the taster menu with the anticipation of trying as many things as possible and we’re not disappointed: dish after dish after dish arrives at the table, little plates of deliciousness that seem to get better and better. First marinated, plump Peruvian tree-ripened black olives arrive alongside ‘Croquetas Coquetas’ – a sort of South American arancini of broad bean, feta and Andean black mint, which comes with rocoto yoghurt sauce for dipping. We fight over the gloriously sticky free-range ‘Chifa’ chicken wings that have been doused in rocoto and panca chilli, soy sauce and chancaca honey.
Equally as disgracefully naughty are the ‘Costilla Chifa’: rich, splendidly fatty and meaty baby back pork ribs drenched in a marinade of Amarillo chilli, soy sauce, limo chilli, spring onions and pineapple.
Continuing on the meat theme the ‘Lomo Saltado’ arrives on sharing skillets: chunks of melt-in-the–mouth tender beef fillet, flame grilled with red onions and tomatoes. Not having had many carbs the ‘proper’ chips that accompany this dish are welcomed and the meat juices are mopped up with greedy paws. Alongside all of these dishes we enjoy ‘Nubes de Arequipa’, plates of crispy tempura cauliflower florets in an ocopa herb sauce with red amaranth.
Already feeling pretty full we’re still looking forward to the ‘Mejor Parte’: the ceviche.
Again, dish after dish arrives: first is ‘Ceviche de Beterraga’; crunchy, almost sour, fermented heritage beetroots softened by the amarillo chilli tiger’s milk and complemented with grapefruit, sweet potato purée and baby watercress. ‘Don Ceviche’, is fresh sea bass ceviche in amarillo chilli tiger’s milk with limo chilli, sweet potato and red onions. The last, ‘Tuna Manu’ – line caught yellow-fin tuna tiradito, avocado, radish pickles and tamarillo tiger’s milk – tickles the tongue with a beautiful blend of flavours and sensory explosions.
Regardless of being full to the brim we also devour the side of ‘Ensalada de Quinoa’, a dish of white quinoa, tomatoes, avocado, butter beans and coriander with lime and limo chilli vinaigrette.
The one thing that I gladly leave for the others to clean up is the savoury corn and feta cake with Huancaína sauce, avocado and salsa criolla. Maybe the texture or the flavour, it just doesn’t rock my Panga boat.
We leave, my heart dancing with happiness from the food we’ve eaten and the memories it’s evoked of the trip, motivating me to book another as soon as possible although, with Ceviche Soho on my doorstep, perhaps there isn’t such a rush to get on a plane after all.