If I could go back five years and give myself one foodie tip, it would be “never set foot in Trader Vic’s”. If I could give myself two – and it’s my hypothetical time machine, so I’m going to allow myself that indulgence – it would be to open a Peruvian restaurant.
“Don’t worry about where the money comes from,” I’d say, “matricide, insider trading, human trafficking – let’s face it, it’s not going to be journalism – just make sure you cobble together enough for a 30-cover joint somewhere relatively trendy”. Peruvian food is so on the money right now you can’t lose. The intricate delta of culinary trends that have run through London since 2010 all loosely converge in the Peruvian kitchen. It has an emphasis on still-twitching, straight-from-the-sea/garden/field ingredients. Tick. It’s mostly simple, brightly coloured fare that could pass as street food. Big tick. It’s largely gluten free and heavy on quinoa, which is overtaking beetroot as the hippest vegetative matter in town, despite tasting of nothing at all. Tick, tick. It often involves frying guinea pigs. Wait, scratch that one. Add to this the fact you don’t actually have to cook ceviche, the dish that 80 per cent of your customers are going to order, and you have a licence to print money.
Lima has been garnering a reputation as the foodie capital of South America for ages. I was there at the end of last year but I’ll spare you the part where I harp on about how utterly authentic it was – the food is brilliant but getting to more than one restaurant a day is basically impossible thanks to what is essentially the traffic version of hell, the place where bad cars go when they die, damned to inhale each other’s exhaust fumes for all eternity. Anyway, it was inevitable someone was going to export it to the UK (the food, not the traffic). Martin Morales’ Ceviche on Frith Street brought it to popular attention in 2012, with the now Michelin-starred Lima on Rathbone Place joining the party shortly after. Since then, each consecutive year has been declared “The Year of the Peruvian Restaurant”, which hasn’t really panned out. This year, though. This year…
Andina, on the corner of Redchurch Street and Shoreditch High Street, is Morales’ second restaurant and feels more solidly mid-market than Ceviche. The compact dining room, which is split over two levels, is painted in shades of magnolia and pea and seems designed to be as inoffensive as humanly possible. It attracts a combination of after-work City-folk and hipsters migrating south from Dalston or Clapton or Middlesex, or wherever is in vogue this month.
We started, of course, with quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”; if you try to order “quin-oh-ah” in Peru people will stare at you like you’re an idiot, which you are). Andina overcomes the taste issue by mixing it with parmesan and deep frying it, undoing all the good work but making it more delicious than quinoa has any right to be.
Next came chicharrones – tiny cubes of pork belly in a chilli jam – that you stab at with a cocktail stick. I could have taken or left them, but at £3.50 it wasn’t the end of the world.
I tried two varieties of ceviche. The first was Japanese-influenced (a recurring theme in contemporary Peruvian food) seabass and scallops in “tiger’s milk” (variations on lime juice, chillies, coriander, onions and fish juices; nothing to do with lactating big cats), which is essentially what cooks the flesh. It’s hands down the best ceviche I’ve tasted – perfectly sharp, not overpowering. The second was almost as good – a DIY ceviche you mix yourself at the table. This one was made up of seabass, sweet potato, red onions and cancha (toasted corn), with a more powerful, acidic blend of leche de tigre – also excellent.
We ordered three mains, which is excessive. The aji de gallina is a must – a traditional, thick chicken casserole with an intense, curry-like sauce made with aji peppers, ground nuts and probably some corn (pretty much everything in Peru has corn in it). The marinated lamb skewers were perfectly nice but represented something of a cop-out – in Peru this would be made with ox heart and it missed the heavy, earthy flavour. The trio of potato cakes are the aesthete’s choice, inspired, I’m told, by a dish prepared for the army during the Peruvian war of independence, when potatoes were pretty much the only thing available. Andina runs with the idea, creating a kind of giant potato sushi, topped with hake, trout and a scallop, respectively. It looks adorable, like something a child might create with playdough on a rainy afternoon. Did I mention it’s cold? It’s cold. You should get it to try but not as a main, unless you’re on the anti-Atkins, in which case get two.
For dessert, you can’t not order the quinoa brownie. That’s going to taste bad, right? Quinoa. In a brownie. Well let me tell you something: it’s brilliant. So good I questioned how much quinoa there actually is in the mix, surely not much – 10 to 15 per cent, apparently. “All brownies should be made with quinoa,” declared El Pye.
The only real mis-step was a dessert of thinly sliced pineapple, which delivered what it promised in the most rudimentary of ways but absolutely nothing more; the dressing of lime, mint and limo chilli was meek to the point of non-existence. At £5 they may be the most expensive shavings of pineapple in the city.
It was the exception, though – our bill, for an obscene amount of food, was £90, which is a steal (eight pisco sours bumped that up to £150 – you should factor those in, too, they’re obligatory).
So there you go, Andina’s food is every bit as good as any I tried in Lima and you don’t have to sit in traffic for 11 hours to get there. Can’t say fairer than that.
First published in City A.M.