Conchas El Mercado (£4)Founded by a bloke called Harry Edmeades, and inspired by his travels across Peru, Señor Ceviche started out as a pop-up before bagging a top permanent spot off Carnaby Street. Fast forward a year or two and this new branch underlines the slickness of the operation.
Our first plate each, a single soft grilled scallop, sits in its own shell in a pool of the signature pisco, butter and aji amarillo, one of the main ingredients in Peruvian cooking. Offering a hit of fruitiness for its heat, it’s more full-bodied than other chillis, such as poblanos. Aji amarillo sauce is often thickened with a salty cheese – and here there’s a sprinkle of parmesan, with bacon, sweetened with chancaca (a hot, sweet sauce made of raw unrefined sugar) for blissfully maxed out umami levels.
Calamares (£7)As we wait for the food, we realise that this site used to be Ollie Dabbous’ spin-off Barnyard, and the layout is the same, with a touch of the private member’s bar in its panelling and multi-floors. The idea, says the blurb, is to “echo Lima’s grand colonial architecture, embracing the colourful, artistic and youthful character of the Barranco District of the city”.
Wowsers: we ponder such a lofty claim over melt-in-the-mouth curls of crispy baby squid, adorned with a tumble of red onion and flatleaf parsley for a grassy-edged kick – and really fragrant, zingy pickled jalapeño salsa, given depth by the addition of miso.
El clasico (£8)
“Have you ever eaten ceviche before?” asks the young waitress, with a smile. Er, yes, we reply; and happily this melt-in-the-mouth sea bass is a favourite dish of the evening. Leche de tigre, or tiger’s milk, is the Peruvian term for the citrus-based marinade that cures the seafood and contains lime juice, sliced onion and chillis — along with a healthy injection of fish juice.
On the plate is also sweet potato purée, red onion, coriander plantain crisps and choclo corn, a large-kernel variety of fieldcorn from the Andes. In short, one helluva flavourbomb.
Nikkei Ceviche (£9)There are dominant Japanese influences here to match the Peruvian. This pretty bowl has slices of red-rare yellowfin tuna, as well as sea bass, tiger’s milk with ponzu (the thin, tangy soy-based sauce made with citrus) for an extra savoury hit, yuzu tobiko (a pale yellow flying fish roe) and a rice crispie-like langoustine cracker. Impressive though it is, it tastes just the wrong side of astringent for our palates, just lacking the elegant balance of flavours of the Clasico.
Charlotte St special (£10)
Unique here, the charcoal grilled lamb rump, rosy and carving like butter, comes with aji panca (another Peruvian chilli that’s hot but not too fiery, with just a touch of sweetness). There are also discs of purple sweet potato to match the rich earthiness of the lamb, and Andean “crunchies” for additional texture.
Pachamanca pork ribs (£10)Yakiniku is a sweet Japanese BBQ sauce. It’s perfect for dipping, a sticky foil to slow-cooked baby back ribs sprinkled liberally with spring onion and roasted peanuts. This dish was recommended first by a friend before our visit, then the waitress – and then the customers next to us. So it’s a must – and, yes, doesn’t disappoint.
Repollo a la parrilla (£5)
Our favourite plate is perhaps the most unexpected. Charred hispi cabbage with burnt butter, garlic miso and roasted pecans is a masterclass of rich, garlicky, salty and sweet notes all colliding – and somehow towers over the lamb in its impact. Wash it down with a piscocello, the Peruvian spirit matured for 30 days with lemon sugar.
And finally, if that tickles your tastebuds for more cocktails, you can always pop downstairs afterwards for a roll-call of libations, from Pisco Sour to a Peruvian Old Fashioned. Hic.