Ceviche, 17 Frith Street, London W1

 

Peruvian cuisine, it's probably fair to say, is something of an unknown quantity in Britain. In fact, before my visit to Ceviche, a new Peruvian restaurant in Soho, I would have struggled to name a single dish from that country – apart, perhaps, from Lima beans, which don't really count. Here, in the frenzied international zone that is the London dining scene, you'll find Mexican food a go-go, and a growing flirtation with Argentina. But Peru hasn't been invited to the party yet.

First-time restaurateur Martin Morales is determined to change that. A successful entertainment executive, who previously worked for Disney and iTunes, he sold his home to set up a restaurant he hopes will put the food of his country on the map.

Ceviche is (rather unpronounceably) named after the Peruvian national dish of fish, marinated in lime juice, chilli and salt, but there's a lot more to this fun Soho newcomer than raw fish. The menu reflects Peru's diverse culinary heritage, which fuses influences from Spain, Africa and Japan with the plant and cereal-based cooking of the indigenous people. Quinoa is native to Peru – there, that's something else we've all learnt – and that perky little grain pops up here, alongside a host of ingredients so refreshingly unfamiliar, you need a sat-nav to steer your way round the menu.

Our lunchtime visit saw us perching uncomfortably on high stools at the back of a cramped and narrow room, quirkily decorated in nostalgic flea-market chic – vintage album covers, piles of Vargas Llosa paperbacks, framed film memorabilia – all so apparently artless it can only have been the work of an expensive interior designer. Everything on display seems to have been imported from Peru – apart from our lovely waitress, who turned out to be Brazilian.

She encouraged us to kick off with a Pisco sour, Ceviche's signature cocktail, a shortish, frothy blast of deliciousness, somewhere between eggnog and a margarita, that has to be the second most addictive thing ever to come out of Peru.

Then we dived into the ceviches. Now here's the thing about ceviche. It doesn't look great. Not like sashimi, all jewel-bright and delicately fanned out on a beautiful platter. Ceviche, served here in small glass bowls, is basically beige lumps of fish sitting in a puddle of what looks like opaque washing-up water.

But wowser, does it taste good: a punchy, citric explosion of flavour which jump-starts the taste buds and sets the heart racing. We tried two of the eight on offer, one featuring seabass, the other a variety of seafood, and were thrilled by the way in which, once the initial citric blast had receded, subtler flavours emerged, sour, sweet and gently spicy. The super-fresh fish retained all its character and texture, after getting only the briefest exposure to the marinade, known as 'tiger's milk'. Compared to the austere pleasures of sashimi, this is heady stuff.

Also great, from the menu of anticuchos, or grilled skewers, was superbly tender beef heart, which tasted somewhere between steak and liver, and came striped and sizzling from the grill, with a chilli sauce for dipping. "I thought I should let you know," murmured our waitress, "that it is best to eat the heart straight away," a slightly chilling intervention that left us feeling like new recruits to the cast of Twilight.

From the recuerdos, or 'classic favourites', we tried the arroz con mariscos, a paella-like dish of long-grain rice cooked with octopus and squid, distinctively spiced in a way which would no doubt have exiled Peruvians sobbing into their Pisco sours. Also authentic – in that it struck us as a bit weird – was a salad, Causa Santa Rosa, which stacked beetroot and avocado on a cold cake of crushed potato.

The short dessert menu offers a chirimoya mousse (it's a fruit – Google it) which had a touch of the mashed banana about it, and an ice-cream made with another Peruvian fruit, lucuma, which had a lovely burnt-toffee taste. "The only Peruvian products I'm familiar with tend to put you off your food, but that was great," enthused my guest, a semi-retired raver.

Our only complaint – and one that can be levelled at many of the small, informal restaurants that have opened in Soho recently – is that the room is just so uncomfortable, with its cramped tables and spindly bentwood chairs. The menu chummily declares 'esta es tu casa' but if it was mi casa, I'd definitely invest in somewhere comfy to sit. On a busy lunchtime, the din was worthy of downtown Lima. Definitely a place to pop in for a drink and a bite, rather than to spend a long, lingering evening.

The small plates for sharing concept seems to owe more to London fashion than Peruvian tradition. Whether Ceviche authentically reflects the scope of Peruvian cooking, I'm not the person to ask. But with its buzzy atmosphere, reasonable prices and emphasis on big, bold flavours, it's a very welcome introduction.

Ceviche, 17 Frith Street, London W1 (020-7292 2040)

About £25 a head, excluding wine and service

Food ****
Ambience ***
Service ****

Tipping policy: "Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary, of which 100 per cent goes to the staff; all tips go to the staff"

Side orders: Latin lovelies

La Patagonia

The steaks are fantastic at this vibrant Argentinian local – and at the price of £16, they're brilliant value compared to other London steak houses.

31, Camden High Street, London NW1 (020-7388 9861)

Bem Brasil

The all-you-can eat menu features a choice of 15 succulent meats and costs £24.50 at dinner and £12.50 during lunchtimes.

King Street West, Manchester (01618 392525)

Gaucho

Popular eaterie serving excellent Argentinian cuisine – try the grilled pork matambre with spiced sweet potato purée and watercress (£19.95).

21-22 Park Row, Leeds (01132 461777)

Suggested Topics
News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam