I think it is safe to say that Peruvian food is currently having a bit of a moment in London. Ten years ago, I very much doubt you would have found ceviche (a classic Peruvian dish of fish that has been “cooked” in a citrus dressing where the acid has the same coagulating effect on the protein as heat) on a London restaurant menu – but these days you don’t have to look far to encounter it. My first introduction to the Peruvian trend came in the form of martin Morales’s Ceviche Peruvian kitchen and pisco bar (pisco being the national drink of Peru). Not long after my first pisco sour at Ceviche, Another London Peruvian restaurant Lima won a Michelin star. And recently, I discovered yet more Peruvian deliciousness in London at Coya when Alhambra beer hosted a dinner there to match Spanish beer with Peruvian food.
Walking into Coya is like stepping into a little corner of Latin America. The room features low lighting and a neutral palette of browns and greys (including the gorgeous oversize carved wooden doors and traditional masks), broken only by the vibrant golden chairs. The bar is low-lit slice of Lima cocktail action where the barmen shake endless pisco sours to Latin beats. We were seated in the private dining room which is the polar opposite in terms of decor – a riot of funky urban wall art painted by Brazilian graffiti artist Loro Verz, making for a vibrant yet cosy space. Founded in Granada, Alhambra Reserva 1925 is a hand-crafted lager with an impressive 90 year heritage. They have maintained the same traditional brewing process since 1925, combining Saaz hops with Sierra Nevada spring water before a slow natural 35-day fermentation. The end result is a smooth tasting lager with a distinctive caramel aroma, amber colour and a full-flavoured palate with a refreshing citrussy finish. It’s also sold in a rather appealing label-free embossed glass bottle. I was intrigued to see whether it would provide a good match for the Peruvian feast to come.
We started with a selection from the ceviche and tiradito menu including asparagus Peruanos with aji amarillo chiles and garlic (£9.00); sea bream criollo with aji amarillo chiles, crispy corn and coriander (£8.00); salmon Nikkei with celery juice, ginger, daikon and wasabi tobiko (£9.00); and tuna Nikkei tiradito with ginger and chilli salsa (£12.00). All of these were outstanding with distinctive and fresh flavours – but my favourite was the silky tuna tiradito. Although all these dishes were fairly light, they all packed a flavour punch and worked well with the citrussy zing of the beer.
Next up were a selection of small warm plates including the gambas fritas (crispy tiger prawns) with aji rocoto (£11.00) which had been fried in a batter made with Alhambra Reserva 1925; pulpo al olivo – josper octopus with peruvian olives (£14.00); pollo anticucho – charcoal grilled chicken skewers marinated with aji amarillo and garlic (£7.00); and ensalada de mais – a salad of josper corn, crispy corn, sweet onions and red chiles. The prawns were feather-light and I loved the combination of the octopus and the olives. The corn salad, though, was the dish that had me coming back for seconds, something about the satisfying carb-heavy sweetness of the corn and the bite of the red chiles – a simple but perfect dish.
This was followed by a selection of larger dishes and vegetable sides – my personal favourite was the astonishingly good blackened Lubina Chilena or Chilean seabass with aji amarillo (£28.00). This succulent hunk of fish with its buttery flesh and richly flavoured charred crust would give any black cod miso in town a run for its money. We also enjoyed langostino tigre grilled in the shell with chilli salsa (£29.00), the spicy salsa providing the perfect foil for the sweet, charred flesh of the prawn; and for the meat eaters, costillas de res – beef short rib slow-cooked in Alhambra beer and topepd with fresh aji chile. The beef was wonderful, with the rich and deep flavour that only slow-cooking can bring out – and incredibly tender. On the side we had patatas bravas a la Peruana – crispy potatoes in a spicy tomato and huancaina sauce (£5.00); sprouting broccoli with chilli, garlic butter and sesame seeds (£5.00); and papa fresca – Peruvian purple potato with summer vegetables, tomato and aji limo chile. I would never have chosen beer to serve with delicate seafood dishes like the seabass or the prawns but the light citrussy notes of the Alhambra reserva worked rather well with them – and of course I loved the wonderful beer-braised beef short rib.
No meal would be complete without something sweet… and so we ended with three dishes off the dessert menu. The selection of exotic fresh fruit (£9.50) possibly wins the prize for the most gorgeous fruit platter I have ever seen. I also loved the lightness of the coconut mousse with pineapple sorbet, lime and coconut granita (£17.50). But it was the decadent caramela con chocolate & sorbet de pisco y frambuesa – salted caramel ganache with pisco and raspberry sorbet (£13.00) – that turned out to be my favourite.
The Alhambra Reserva 1925 made a surprisingly good match for the savoury dishes, with enough lightness and brightness to not overwhelm the fish, and enough body to stand up to the meat and chiles. Although I’d never thought of matching beer to an entire meal, I certainly had my perceptions shifted by this dinner. I was also very impressed with the food at Coya. Although not cheap, the ingredients were excellent – fresh and authentic – and each dish shone with unique flavours. I would go back for the blackened sea bass and the beef short rib alone… and of course that chocolate caramel dessert!
For another perspective on our evening, have a look at Rosana’s post
Nearest station: Hyde park Corner
Approx. cost per head: Approx. £75 per head for 2 small plates, main, dessert and a shared bottle of wine
Tel. +44 (0) 20 7042 7118
DISCLOSURE: I enjoyed this meal as a guest of Alhambra Reserva 1925 but received no further remuneration to write this post. I was not expected to write a positive review – all views are my own and I retain full editorial control.
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