Coya

In our quest to constantly try what’s new without having to leave the W1 postcodes, Peruvian cuisine has recently been given the London makeover. Lima, of Fitzrovia, remains the best if you are going for the food alone, and was awarded a Michelin star for it. But eating in London is rarely only about the food. So if it’s a pleasant demonstration of Peruvian cooking without the risk of the unfamiliar or too foreign, then Coya will be perfect for you. With outposts already in Miami and Dubai, it is a restaurant made for the international class- those who stay in the Grand Park Hyatt and look down on the exotic streets from their 30th floor room. You can say you’ve been there, and tick it off the list, but really it’s no different to your experience of any other city or cuisine.

Opened in 2013, by Arjun Waney, who is one of the founders of Zuma and Roka, the restaurant is all high design and has a menu that is constructed to please. Set in a grand old house on the quieter end of Piccadilly, it’s a glamorous postcode, but in reality is a thoroughfare for taxis, buses and tourists heading to Hard Rock Cafe. Suited bouncers and an upstairs members club set the scene for a pricey meal. The basement pisco bar and restaurant has a dark and metallic decor with flashes of colour, giving it the feel of a posh bomb shelter. The menu is split into sections, too many to read through, but is essentially raw dishes or food from the grill. It’s Zuma-high prices, so no matter what combination of dishes you put together you’re looking at over £80 a head.

From the starters a wild Sea bass ceivche was a beautiful fresh dish with orange and fennel shavings and a zingy avocado and red onion salsa (£12). Pork belly (£12) had been cooked on the Josper grill giving it a strong smoky flavour, freshened by the fennel and mint, but there just wasn’t enough of it. This was Weight Watchers pork belly, with all the flat trimmed off. A corn salad (£8) was full of different textures, but served by itself meant you were just eating spoonfuls of what tasted like tinned corn. It would have been far more enjoyable alongside the skewers which came next- first beef (£10) that had a lovely spicing but a slightly unusual mushy texture, and then monkfish (£10) which were perfectly cooked with a smoky red pepper dressing.

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A main of sea bream with potatoes and a fennel salad (£17) had a great balance but was let down by the overcooking of the fish. Grilled Tiger prawns with chilli salsa (£27) could have been braver with the chilli and again were a little overdone. From the waiter’s recommendations, sea bass (£33) cooked with rice, lime and sweet corn in iron pot was the best dish of the night. It was a soothing best savoury porridge with an incredible depth of flavours. Once all mixed together it was the sort of dish you want to spoon up on a hungover Sunday. Sides of patatas bravas were like the best bits from the roasties tray and broccoli with sesame seeds and chilli tasted as it does on any other menu.

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To finish a thin slice of salted caramel ganache with raspberry sorbet was rich, and needed the raspberry to cut through it.

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Portions are small and expensive, and if you’re in the mood for drink, the meal can easily creep up to the £100 per head mark. My previous experience of Peruvian cooking was at Lima, where the flavours were completely new to me and every dish surprised. Here the bold flavours are toned down, and many of the dishes taste very similar to what you have at Roka or Zuma, just with slightly different spicing. It’s undeniably a seductive restaurant that coaxes you into emptying your pockets, but break from its spell and you’ll see that it is far from an exciting take on Peruvian cooking, and is just another addition to stylised international Mayfair scene.

7/10 (££££)

118 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London W1J 7NW

Coya Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Lima

After a week that included Social Eating House, La Petite Maison, Hawksmoor Air Street and Amaya; Lima was going to have to be something special to stand out. All that I knew was that it was Peruvian. What Peruvian food was I had no idea. It was fortunate that we had an extremely helpful waiter otherwise I’d have been on my iPhone under the table Googling just about every dish. Sometimes I’m embarrassed to ask what a word means, as it’s usually a fancy French phrase- a step too far for my limited Geordie- but at Lima unless you know all about Amazonian herbs and spicing then you really are going to have to be walked through the menu.

So our waiter introduced the starters, reeling off all the fancy ingredients- Ají limo pepper, Sacha Inchi oil etc.- and how there was two ‘warm’ dishes, the duck served pink and the lomo steak huancaina (steak quickly seared in the pan). Everything else was raw fish. I was dining with my dad, and he’s at that age (anything over 50) where he doesn’t trust raw fish- ‘Not for me son, divn’t touch that. They’re too lazy to bloody cook the stuff’- is how he regards sushi. And given the only other two starters were weren’t burnt to hell like he insists any meat he orders must be, I was worried. But a little bit of peer pressure, along with him finishing his first cocktail, before downing a glass of, as the waiter put it, ‘extremely drinkable Muscadet for those who aren’t pretentious about wine’ (and at £25 a bottle he was right- we ordered three), I managed to convince him to be brave and push the boat out. I even reeled off a definition of ceviche that I’d read on the internet, stating how it was in fact cooked in the citrus juices, and so wasn’t really raw. So he went for the beef. I chose the sea bream ceviche, which I was told was one of the signature dishes. And my mum (I have forgotten her up until this point as she spent the first fifteen minutes finishing several cocktails, so that by the time she would have to fret over which dish would have the least calories, she would be too drunk to care) went for the special- halibut with samphire and blue potato (which the waiter told us was in fact from Scotland, a world away from Peru, but he assured us Peru had something like a thousand different breeds of potato, none of which were obviously good enough for this special).

Sea Bream Ceviche

As is custom on a family meal my parents gasp in pleasure regardless of what the food actually tastes like, and slide their plates across the table to me insisting that I have to try it so that I have three plates in front of me before I’ve even tried my own. And as is custom we both have to tell my dad to slow down- ‘savour it dad, try a little bit of everything, let the flavour linger on your tongue, let it transport you back to Peru (or in this case Scotland)’- and all the other pretentious rubbish we come out with after a little too much wine. So my sea bream ceviche.  The flesh was beautifully streaked with pink and purple and even though the tiger’s milk (the citrus marinade) was strong and numbing, the flavour of the fish sang through. The little kernels of cancha corn provided the needed texture and rounded off a superb dish. The steak was the weakest of the three, although still a vibrant dish, the yellow ají sauce didn’t have the kick that was promised. As for the halibut, it really stole the show. It was so attractive that my mum spent the first five minutes redesigning the lounge in the same colours that appeared on the plate, gasping at the soft blue of the Scottish tattie, saying how much that would make an adorable little cushion on the chaise-lounge.

For the main course I went for the beef “pachamanca”- tender slices of succulent beef topped with a bright yellow mash potato and a black herb crust, which actually rivalled the ribeye from Hawksmoor the previous night, and a sauce that I had to ask for our third basket of bread to mop up. The Amazonian fish my mum went for was a generous portion of three fillets accompanied by a sauce that again had us wiping our fingers across the plate. My dad of course went for the safer option of suckling pig, and although it didn’t excite in the same way as my beef, it was a flawless piece of Peruvian comfort food.

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By the time the desserts came we were well into our third bottle of wine and so it needed a good kick to excite our taste buds. Again the food delivered. We told the waiter that we’d have ‘the three top ones’, as focusing on the menu was becoming a little difficult at this stage, and what came was a delicious surprise. Coffee ice cream arrived with a crust of Amazonian herbs and coconut shavings that gave it an almost smoky flavour. The dulce de leche ice cream was good enough on its  own, but the beetroot emulsion it came with lifted the dish. The last was the Peruvian dark chocolate ice cream, lovely and strong, with a cinnamon cream and a cameo for our Scottish friend in a blue crisp form this time.

It was a flawless meal, one that had my dad trying the ‘untrustworthy’ raw fish for the first time and loving it. The food was bright and exciting and the flavours matched. But what sets Lima apart is the knowledgable and friendly staff,  all of whom seemed to be South American. They seemed excited for us that we were trying their cuisine and rather than just coming back as a waiter does to ask if everything was to our liking, the staff here take pride in the food. All in all it makes Lima feel like a place you should always just nip into for a Peruvian night, and as we stumbled towards the exit we were promising to be back as soon as we could. A promise I intend on keeping.

And it has recently been awarded a Michelin star!

Food: 8.5/10

Value: 8/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Service: 8.5/10

Overall: 8.5/10

Lima, London, 31 Rathbone Pl,  W1T 1JH

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