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London develops a Peruvian palate

Upstairs at Chotto Matte, which emphasizes the Japanese-Peruvian fusion cuisine called Nikkei.
Upstairs at Chotto Matte, which emphasizes the Japanese-Peruvian fusion cuisine called Nikkei. The New York Times

While London is relatively welcoming to nonnative cuisines, few could have predicted just how quickly the latest culinary trend would take off. Although the Peruvian population is small, a dozen or so high-profile Peruvian restaurants have exploded on the scene, with more on the way. Peru’s most famous chef, Gastón Acurio, is even looking to open a branch of his La Mar cevicheria in high-rent Mayfair.

Peruvian restaurants are now comfortably ensconced in neighborhoods throughout the city. Martin Morales, the Peruvian-born former head of Disney Music and iTunes Pan Europe, began tweeting about Peruvian food, then opened a Peruvian pop-up restaurant, Ceviche.

“I was frustrated because no one knew this food or the ingredients, so I started cooking it at home,” Morales said. “Everything happened organically. A tweet here. A tweet there. Then the pop-ups.”

He opened his brick and mortar restaurant Ceviche (cevicheuk.com) in Soho in 2012, with his own takes on Peruvian classics like beef heart skewers (about $12.70 at $1.59 to the pound) and picante de conejo ($19), rabbit braised in ají amarillo and ají panca peppers. In the years since, he has carved out a mini-Peruvian empire with a cookbook and a record label that resurrects vintage Peruvian music.

His latest project is Andina (andinalondon.com), a casual spot with breakfast items like quinoa porridge sweetened with purple corn syrup ($7.15) and juices from South American “superfoods” ($4.75).

More refined is Lima London (limalondon.com), which opened in 2012 on a lively strip in Fitzrovia and became the first Peruvian restaurant in Europe to be awarded a Michelin star.

Robert Ortiz, who runs the kitchen at Lima London, focuses on Peru’s unique biodiversity, incorporating exotic flavors like chia seeds, ají amarillo and red amaranth into a soulful sea bream tiradito ($22.25). Elsewhere on the menu you will see Amazonian cashews, vinegar made from the rich syrup of the algarrobo tree, and an array of multicolored tubers.

At Chotto Matte (chotto-matte.com), which opened in Soho in late 2013, the Japanese-Peruvian fusion called Nikkei is the emphasis. The extensive menu bounces around from izakaya-inflected anticuchos, like octopus with yuzu and purple potato ($14.20), to a handful of gyozas, including one filled with pork and prawn and served on ají amarillo and butternut squash purée ($8.35).

Part of investor Arjun Waney’s restaurant portfolio of flashy modern Japanese spots like Zuma and Roka, Coya (coyarestaurant.com) opened near Hyde Park in late 2012. The concept has been so successful that Waney is opening locations in Dubai and Miami.

While Peruvian ingredients form the base of the menu, Coya ventures away from straightforward recipes, even avoiding rice and potatoes, staples of many traditional plates, aside from a few dishes. The eclectic background of the New Delhi-born chef, Sanjay Dwivedi comes through in dishes like his quinoa salad ($11.10), cooked for six hours in palm sugar and tamarind.

“We’re all very different,” Dwivedi said of London’s Peruvian restaurant scene. “It’s not a competition.”

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