118 Piccadilly, London W1J 7NW
We started from the Ceviche menu with the Lubina Clasico-Sea Bass, red onions, sweet potato, white corn (£8). Ceviche is a Peruvian staple-raw fish marinated for a short amount of time in citrus juice spiced with chilli (aji in Spanish). This was as good to eat as it was to look at-the fish was very fresh and full of flavour and not overwelmed by the chilli in the tiger’s milk dressing.
From the Para Picar (small dishes) menu Calamares Fritos con Ocopa (£8.50) (Baby Squid, Peruvian Marigold, Quinoa) were well battered and came with a delicious green sauce made with Peruvian marigold which tastes similar to mint and is known as Huacatai.
Anticuchos are skewers of meat,fish or vegetable cooked over a charcoal grill. We chose Setas (£4.50)-Forest mushrooms, aji mirasol and parsley which turned out to be a highlight of the meal. They were wonderfully rich and meaty with a slight taste of cumin.
Moving at this point onto raspberry and mango Pisco sours we moved on to the Josper charcoal grill section of the menu. Originating from Spain, the Josper grill is fast becoming a mainstay of kitchens in many of the restaurants and steakhouses in London. It can reach temperatures of over 300 degrees celsius, gives a good char to the food and because the grill is enclosed, the fish, meat or vegetables being cooked retain their moisture and flavour.
Hopefully you can see from the picture that my Langostino Tigre (£27) -Tiger prawns, chilli salsa-achieved the holy grail of grilling, char and tenderness without drying out.
My dining companion the redoubtable Fiona from London Unattached gets very excited at the prospect of South American steak and so chose the Lomo de Res (£29) -Rib eye, chimichurri, aji rocoto salsa-which also benefitted from the caress of the Josper. South Americans like their steak cooked medium and this was a classic combination with the parsley based chimichurri sauce (a salsa verde with added chilli) and the fierce heat of the rocoto pepper salsa which she pronounced delicious.
For our sides we had Esparragos Peruanos (£6) -Peruvian asparagus, panca chilli, garlic-which had been grilled to within an inch of their life but were full of flavour, and Patatas Bravas a la Peruana (£5)-Crisp potatoes, spicy tomatoes, huancaina sauce-.
The Patatas Bravas were given a Peruvian slant with the addition of huancaina sauce-a mix of amarillo chillies, queso fresco (fresh farmers cheese), milk, garlic and saltine crackers that managed to be creamy at the same time as having a spicy edge to its flavour.
Having eaten a lot by this point it would have been churlish not to have dessert, and with our Pisco sours finished the matched dessert wines seemed like a very attractive prospect. The Chocolate Fundido (£8) -Fortunato Chocolate, almond, white chocolate ice cream-was perfectly complemented by the glass of Maury, Mas Mudigliza, Rousillon, France 2009 (£14). The hot melted (fundido) chocolate oozed in a rather sexy manner out of and all over the chocolate sponge but without overwhelming the wine, made from the grenache grape by the vin doux naturel method of mutage where wine is fortified with unfermented grape juice and grape spirit.
Our second dessert was a Lucuma Bavarois, Passion Fruit Sorbet (£8). This was paired with a Gewurztraminer Vendage Tardive Hugel, Alsace, France 2000 (£12). The Lucuma was described to us as a cross between mango and avocado and is known for its dry flesh, with the texture of a hard-boiled egg yoke. This was an altogether lighter proposition, sweet and refreshing and beautifully set off by the floral notes of the wine.
I’m slowly starting to get a grip on aspects of South American food and drink. There has been such an explosion of restaurant openings and the concomitant interest in Mexican, Argentinian, Brazilian and Peruvian cuisine that it must be on the radar of anyone interested in the contemporary scene. The combination of citrus and chilli with raw seafood, the new varieties of potato and corn, the use of the charcoal grill and the ubiquitous Pisco sour are all starting to enter our food consciousness. In the firmament of this welcome South American culinary invasion Coya stands out as a very classy act. As with all of Arjun Waney’s projects the level of investment is there to be seen; in the location, the size and specification of the kitchens and the standard of finish for the interior. Whilst we were there on a quiet Monday lunch it is easy to imagine the place really buzzing with good looking South Americans and London’s well-heeled enjoying the cultural and culinary adventure that the restaurant offers. Did I have any complaints? Well, my teapot for my mint tea clearly thought it was a watering can, managing to shower the table quite effectively, but apart from that Coya was perfect.
The Hedonist was a guest of Coya.