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Thursday 26 June 2014

Peruvian-Nikkei Cuisine at Chotto Matte London

Where: 11–13 Frith Street, Soho, London, W1D 4RB, http://www.chotto-matte.com

Cost: There are three 9-course Nikkei sharing menus, priced at £40, £50 and £60 per person. A pre-theatre 3-course menu is also available at £25 including a glass of Prosecco. Average spend from the a la carte menu is around £40 per person for food only.

About: Chotto Matte, opened by Kurt Zdesar (the man who brought Nobu to the UK), is one the first London restaurants serving the still relatively unknown Peruvian-Nikkei cuisine. Born from the Japanese diaspora living in Peru, Peruvian-Nikkei cooking is much more than just a trendy fad – it was born out of necessity in the early 20th century as most Japanese immigrants lacked the necessary ingredients to cook their home fare. Instead, they resorted to using the fantastic produce of Peru, from Pacific fish and seafood to the high altitude vegetables of the Andes, and the fruit of the Amazon. Today, Peruvian-Nikkei cuisine is very much part of the mainstream diet in Peru, with dishes like Tiradito and Maki Acevichado being just as popular as ceviche or causa.

I love bringing Brazilian-Nikkei dishes and flavours into my Japanese Supper Club menus and have been observing with interest the emergence of Nikkei cuisine in Europe – Chotto Matte, Sushi Samba (reviewed here) and UNI in London as well as the fabulous Pakta in Barcelona, opened by Ferran Adriá. At Peruvian restaurant Coya (reviewed here), I was surprised to see a large number of Peruvian Nikkei dishes on their menu.  Recently, Mitsuharu Tsumura of Maido, the Peruvian-Nikkei restaurant in Lima which is number 11th in the San Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants of Latin America, was hosted by Virgilio Martinez of Lima, the only Michelin-starred Peruvian restaurant in London (reviewed here).

Opened in September 2013, Chotto Matte’s menus and kitchen are under executive chef Jordan Sclare (former head chef at Aqua Kyoto and Nobu) and head chef Michael Paul. Chotto Matte is a large, beautiful restaurant and bar set over three floors.

On the ground floor, there is live music for much of the day as well as a vast, UV-illuminated mural created by Tokyo-based graffiti artist Houxo Que.

If the sun is shining, and you are lucky enough (as we were) to get one of their coveted outside tables, it is a fantastic place to while the hours away, sipping Pisco Sours, munching on some freshly made sushi and most importantly - people watching!

What We Ate: The kitchen has a number of stations, including a sushi and ceviche bar as well as a Japanese Robata grill area serving barbecued dishes. There is also a bar menu of small eats (tostaditas) with a variety of toppings for those who fancy a few snacks with a drink.

We started with some delicious and wonderfully blistered Padron peppers with sweet den miso and sea salt (£4.50). Den in their menu refers to dengaku miso, a paste made from miso, sake, mirin and sugar commonly used for grilled aubergines (nasu dengaku), one of the favourites in my Japanese Supper Club.

We also had a cone of cassava and sweet potato crisps, with an accompanying yellow tomato salsa and guacamole (£3.25).

To follow, we had two Nikkei dishes which were for me the highlight of the meal. First came a Nikkei sashimi of yellowtail with cherry tomatoes, jalapeño chillies, black salt, yuzu juice, crispy purple potato and truffle oil (£9.95). This was a magnificent dish.

Next we had the seabass ceviche - seabass sashimi, with sweet potato, Peruvian crispy corn, coriander, lemon juice and chive oil (£7.25). This was delicious, with intense chlorophyll colour from the chive oil, and a satisfying crunchy texture from the cancha crispy corn.

To accompany these fish dishes, we had the Paperthin Vegetable Salad - beetroot, daikon and butternut squash cut very thinly and teased into rolls, served with broccoli, quinoa, physalis fruit and lime, and red onion (£4.95). This dish was very refreshing, and I really enjoyed the richly flavoured vegetables, although I thought the sauce was a little sharp and would have been improved by a touch of sweetness.

The next course was grilled octopus, marinated in rice wine vinegar, from the Robata grill, with yuzu and smoked purple potato purée, and antecucho sauce (£9.95). This was utterly delicious - wonderfully tender octopus with a smoked flavour from the grill, and also from the antecucho marinade which is made from smoked dried aji panca.

To accompany it, we had Yuca Frita  - cassava chips with smoked aji panca dipping sauce (£3.25). The cassava was nice and crisp on the outside, but a little too firmly textured inside for my liking.

We also had  Ensalada Peruana -quinoa salad with aji amarillo sauce, pomegranate, coriander and Peruvian crispy cancha corn (£3.25), which was delicious with a combination of sweet and crunchy elements, and heat from the aji.

Alongside this, we had Mazorca de Maiz - a dish of Peruvian corn with chilli butter and coriander (£4.25). This was a more refined version of a dish we ate often in Peru – the corn was soft and a little sweet, and given a lovely lift by the chilli and fresh herbs.

We then had the Pollo Peruana - grilled chicken with crispy cancha corn, onion, coriander and edible flowers (£11.75). This was a well-made dish, with toasted crunchy skin, succulent tender flesh, and perfect seasoning.

We also had a selection of blowtorched sushi - tuna with yuzu butter, salmon with black garlic butter, turbot with antecucho butter, and aubergine with dengaku miso sauce and white sesame seeds (£10.50). I was very impressed by the sushi - the rice in particular was well made and fresh, as was the choice topping for the Nigiri sushi and the richly flavoured, savoury butters.

For dessert, we had the chicha morada brûlée - pineapple in chicha morada (black corn) syrup, with vanilla ice cream and coriander. This was like a very good pineapple crumble dish from school days, with the Peruvian twist being the intense purple colour and savour from the black corn, which is ubiquitous in Peru.

To finish, we had the Trio Nikkei - white chocolate foam, miso mousse, lime and lemon sorbet, and taro. This was a very refined combination dessert, beautifully presented. The miso mousse was reminiscent of dulce de leche, with a refreshing lemon and lime sorbet, and a good texture from the crumble. This dessert was clever, well-conceived, and a good ending to the meal.

What We Drank: Cocktails are priced between £8 and £10.50, Champagnes start at £49 per bottle.  Entry level whites are £23, and include an organic Torrontes from Michel Torino, and an Argentinian Viognier from Casa Montes. Reds start at £23, including a Peter Lehmann Art Series Shiraz, and an Argentine Malbec, Dona Paula.

We had a couple of very well made Pisco Sours (£8.50), and a glass of Organic Torrontes, Michel Torino Cuma 2013 (£23 per bottle). With the chicken, we had a glass of Argentine Chardonnay from Pulenta Estate VIII 2012 (£29 per bottle).  For dessert, we had a Mio Sparkling Sake - a 5% alcohol wine, this was refreshing, off-dry with gentle stone fruit flavours (£13 for a 300 ml bottle).

Likes: Great service, cool setting and some mean Pisco sours. The highlight dishes for me were the Nikkei sashimi of yellowtail and the seabass ceviche. Desserts are spectacularly good.

Dislikes: None

Verdict: Chotto Matte is a great place to discover Peruvian-Nikkei cuisine in the heart of London. A facet of Peruvian-Japanese cooking still relatively unknown in the UK, it is rapidly gaining momentum thanks to places like Chotto Matte. Highly recommended.

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Thai Cocktails and Nosh in Über-Trendy Hoxton

Where: 319 Old Street, London EC1V 9LE, http://www.busaba.com

Cost: Dishes are for sharing, and vary in cost from £3.90 to £12.50.  The average food spend is around £20-£30 per head.

About: Situated on a busy corner of Old Street in the heart of Hoxton, this is one of 10 restaurants in the group opened by restaurateur Alan Yau around 15 years ago. I used to love visiting their first branch in Wardour Street when it opened in the late 90s, it was one of the most innovative and forward-thinking London restaurants at the time.

There are plans to expand the Busaba Eathai group to 20 restaurants over the next year, including new branches in Manchester, Leeds, Cambridge and possibly Scotland, among others.

With Thai Executive Head Chef Jude Sangsida overseeing the whole group, there is a reasonable degree of consistency of cooking across different branches. The restaurant aims to serve popular Thai dishes for the UK market and palate. Like the other restaurants in the group, all the dining tables in Old Street are shared, with benches rather than chairs, making for a relaxed, informal experience.  There is a separate bar area with high stools and tables for those who just want to enjoy a cocktail or share a bottle of wine.

What We Ate: Like in Thailand, the dishes were served all at once at Busaba Eathai. Rather than starters and main courses, the dishes are divided into salad, soup noodle, wok noodle, stir-fry, grilled curry, rice and side dishes, which together make up a Thai meal. The flavours and textures of these different dishes, complement each other – a refreshing salad is ideal to go alongside a more fiery curry, while rice and vegetable sides should be eaten with the remaining dishes.

We started with a well made and deliciously tender Thai calamari served with ginger and peppercorns (£6.50).

Som Tam salad is one of the national dishes of Thailand and can be found both on the streets as in restaurants and homes across the country – made from green papaya, dried shrimps, cherry tomato and peanut (£6.90), Busaba’s som tam was authentic with some very fresh Thai flavours.

For noodles, we opted for a very flavoursome Pad Kwetio served with Sen Yai noodles, smoked chicken, prawn and shiitake mushroom (£8.60). This was delicious and one of the highlights of our meal.

I loved the rich aniseed aromas and flavours from the sweet basil and chilli and the chunky but tender prawns in the Chilli Prawn Stir-fry (£8.90).

The Red Beef Curry (£10.50) had perfectly tender slivers of beef, both Thai and pea aubergines, as well as kaffir lime leaf and chilli all in an intensely flavoured curry sauce – excellent.

To accompany our dishes, we shared a portion of coconut rice (£3.30), and a lovely vegetable dish of morning glory, with yellow bean sauce, Thai garlic and chilli (£5.90).

What we Drank: Wines range from £19.50 to £24.50, and all are available either by the 175ml glass, or in 500ml flasks, or as a full bottle. There are just 3 white and 3 red options, along with one rosé and 5 beers.  For sparkling wines, there is the Prosecco di Valdobbiadene at £29.50, or a Lallier 1er Cru Rose Champagne at £52.50.

Besides wine and beer, there is a choice of mocktails (non-alcoholic cocktails) priced from £2.70 to £3.30, while cocktails at the Old Street branch are priced at £7.50. There are plans to make these cocktails available across the whole group by the end of 2014.

We sampled 4 cocktails with our meal.  The Nam Thang Mo (rum blended with watermelon, kaffir lime, guava and chilli) was delicious and very tropical. Personally though I preferred the Lao Kong, made from green tea infused with whisky, with pineapple, honey and cinnamon syrup. Unsurprisingly, I’m a sucker for anything that features green tea.

The Citrus Negroni was sensational - made from the usual trio of gin, Martini and Campari, it was spiced up with a slug of tamarind syrup, and served over a whopping sphere of solid ice the size of an orange. It had a real kick and was as strong as I expected it to be.

Last but far from least, and actually in my opinion the best of all, the Thai Martini was made from gin infused with lemongrass, Thai basil and birdseye chilli tincture. This was a magnificent, fragrant and stimulating cocktail, and I can’t wait to try it again.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the cocktails we tried – they were well made and cleverly thought out and at £7.50 are also excellent value at trendy Shoreditch/Hoxton areas.

Likes: The superb cocktail menu at this Old Street branch is a big draw. The food is both reasonably authentic and affordable, and the restaurant is in a very happening part of Hoxton. Service is fast and friendly, and the wine selection is small but good value and well chosen.

Dislikes: Shared tables work in a supper club setting but I am not sure they do at a restaurant. I don’t mind sharing, but it can be awkward if others do!

Verdict: Busaba Eathai in Old Street is a great place for some cocktails with an Asian twist in über-trendy Hoxton, and a fix of fast Thai food in a relaxed, friendly setting. Recommended.

Monday 16 June 2014

**Win 1 of 2 Sponsored Seats at My Japanese Cookery Class with spogo**

I have teamed up with the good people of spogo to offer readers of The London Foodie the chance to win 1 of 2 sponsored seats (1 seat per winner, and a total of 2 seats/winners) to my Japanese cookery class on Sunday, the 6th July 2014.

We’re constantly hearing about growing obesity and diabetes levels, so we know we should be making an effort to get healthier and do more exercise. But it’s not always been easy finding the right activity and where to go.

spogo, the smart new way to find local sport and fitness activities, is a Sport England lottery funded online platform designed to bring together over 121,000 sports venues, facilities and clubs, leisure centres, personal trainers and events, in the same place for the first time, all at the touch of a button.

We all know that Japanese cuisine is one of the healthiest there is with an excellent balance of fish or meat, vegetables and rice with very little oil or fat. So I was chuffed to have been approached by spogo to promote healthy Japanese cooking by offering two seats to my Japanese cookery class on Sunday, the 6th July 2014.

During the class, I will be demonstrating a Japanese set-menu of 6 favourite dishes from my Supper Club. I will provide detailed written recipes for the menu as well as a thorough explanation of all Japanese ingredients used and where to purchase them. Participation will be highly encouraged and after completing the class, you should feel confident to replicate the entire menu for a Japanese dinner party for family or friends.

Classes are normally priced at £75 per person and this cost will be sponsored by spogo.


To enter, all you have to do is register with spogo in the widget below (this is mandatory for entry and takes less than a minute). You MUST complete the full registration for your entry to be complete.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

To get an extra entry, you can follow @thelondonfoodie on Twitter or Instagram and tweet about the giveaway using hashtag #spogogoesjapanese. Why not leave a comment below as well to tell us what new sport you would love to try.

The two winners will be announced in The London Foodie on Tuesday, 23rd June at midday.

Good luck!

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Coya - Discovering Peru in the Heart of London's Mayfair

Where:  118 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London, W1J 7NW, http://www.coyarestaurant.com

Cost: Set lunches are £26.50 or £29.50 for 3-4 courses, with a tasting menu for £75. From the a la carte menu, antecuchos, ceviches, tiraditos and small dishes cost from £4.50 to £16.50. Main courses are priced from £12 to £72 (for a rib of beef for 2).

About: Coya Restaurant and Bar sits on Piccadilly, facing Green Park in a prime but until recently rather quiet area of Mayfair. The modern Peruvian restaurant is in three sections in the basement of a fine Georgian building, with the members-only Coya Club on the ground floor. The restaurant is sleek and features a stunning Ceviche Bar, an Open Charcoal Grill area and the Central Kitchen.

Opened in January 2013 by entrepreneur Arjun Waney, who also owns Zuma and Roka, Coya is the first in the group to offer Peruvian-inspired cooking.

Head chef Sanjay Dwivedi spent sometime in Peru, travelling and learning the ropes at Lima's famous Astrid y Gaston Restaurant, and has managed to put together an impressive menu. Besides being the head chef for the Rolling Stones, his track record of cooking at Michelin-starred Zaika, The Ivy and Le Caprice is admirable.

Whether Sanjay Dwivedi’s cooking at Coya is as authentic as one would find in Peru is open for interpretation – a lot can be argued about this man’s cooking but anyone who has eaten his food would most certainly agree – his dishes are well thought-out and bursting with flavour!

Peru, like Brazil, has had many influences from other cultures including Japan and China, and its cuisine reflects this. I was pleased to see a great number of Peruvian-Nikkei and Chifa dishes on Coya’s menu and having the Zuma and Roka connection may have facilitated this.

Designed by David d'Almada, Coya’s attractive dining room blends antique Peruvian furniture with contemporary decor and colonial furniture, and discrete low-level lighting.

What We Ate: We opted for the tasting menu for £75 per person.  This started with a beautifully presented platter of 3 ceviches, 1 tiradito and a beetroot salad over crushed ice.

The classic Peruvian ceviche was “Lubnia Classico” made from sea bass with red onions, sweet potato, white corn and a well flavoured leche de tigre (literally translates as “Tiger’s Milk”, this is the marinade juices of lime and raw fish).  We also had ceviche “Dorada Criollo” with sea bream, cream of aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow chillies), crispy corn and coriander. These were as good as anything we had on our recent trip to Peru, and fine examples of their kind.

Alongside, we had a Chifa take on the Peruvian’s national dish “Ceviche de Atun Chifa” made with prime yellow-fin tuna, soy sauce, sesame-seeds and shrimp cracker. Chifa is the Peruvian word for Chinese-Peruvian cuisine/restaurants and this ceviche encapsulated the blending of these two cuisines.

We really enjoyed tiraditos in Peru – tiraditos are the Japanese-influenced adaptation of ceviche using raw fish sliced sashimi-style, rather than in the traditional cubes, and with little or no raw red onion. Coya’s Peruvian-Nikkei “Tiradito de Cobia” used cobia fish (from the seabass family), with dashi, truffle oil and chives. Deliciously creamy, it had wonderful umami elements from shiitake mushrooms, yuzu-ponzu sauce, dashi, soy-milk and truffle. I really loved this dish.

Accompanying the ceviches and tiradito, we had “Remolacha” - a deliciously refreshing salad of golden beets, aji amarillo (yellow chilli), goat's cheese, hazelnuts and pomegranate seeds.

Following on, we were served 3 dishes from Coya’s open charcoal grill including “Anticucho de Pollo” (barbecued chicken skewers) seasoned with aji amarillo and garlic, these were very well-cooked and succulent.

The “Anticucho de Setas” (barbecued forest mushrooms) had a lovely smokiness from the aji panca and cumin used in the marinating sauce – these were meaty and very moreish.

The 3rd charcoal grilled dish was “Pulpo al Olivo” (Josper grilled octopus) served with pureed Peruvian olives, potatoes, and grilled charred cherry tomatoes – it is always a joy to eat well cooked octopus (something I hardly make at home) and Coya’s was no exception – it was meltingly tender and beautifully seasoned.

Accompanying our grilled selection, we had “Ensalada de Maiz” (corn salad) – this contained soft white corn, crispy corn (chanca), and sweet corn, red chillies and finely chopped onions as well as plenty of contrasting textures and flavours.

My favourite dish of the meal, the “Arroz Nikkei” of lobster, lime and chilli was to die for. Made with short grain rice (the preferred rice in Japanese cooking), this was wonderfully creamy, with generous chunks of lobster meat and intensely flavoured bisque containing dashi, mirin and soy sauce, lifted up by a refreshing zingness from the chilli and lime. Truly sensational.

The “Lubina Chilena” or Chilean seabass had been marintated for 72 hours with white miso, sake, pisco and aji amarillo – this was sweet, delicate and delicious although the aji was not very pronounced in the flavour profile.

We also shared a “Solomillo de Res” (Beef) – this was a lightly spiced beef fillet seasoned with aji rocoto and heady star anise served with crispy deep-fried garlic. It was beautifully tender, richly flavoured and cooked medium rare just as ordered.

Accompanying our mains, we had a generous portion of sprouting purple broccoli, griddled in chilli and garlic butter and a sprinkle of sesame seeds which was spot on.

For pre-dessert (love the idea of pre-desserts!), we had “Chicha Morada”, the ubiquitous purple corn of Peru used to make one of their national soft drinks. I tried this whilst in Peru but felt it was rather sweet and lacking in acidity. Coya’s chicha morada dessert was a delightful combination of flavours and textures of granita, jelly and ice cream made from this corn - it was refreshing (rather than cloyingly sweet) having been flavoured with rhubarb, orange shortbread and various spices including star anise, clove, and cinnamon.

The dessert was a sharing platter containing, not one but 3 different puddings – “Parfait de Arabica” was a coffee parfait, coated in Kiwicha (similar to quinoa), over caramelised bananas, chocolate and Zacapa 23 year old rum. We also enjoyed “Caramelo con Chocolate” and “Frambuesa Sorbete” – these were salted caramel ganache with peanut brittle and raspberry sorbet with jelly & fruit, and a deliciously alcoholic pisco raspberry sauce. I really could not think of a better ending to this meal!

What We Drank: Cocktails range from £11.95 (for a Pisco Sour) to £14.50.  The house white is an Argentine Torrontes for £28 per bottle, with red wines also starting at £28 for a Chilean Carmenere. All the wines on the menu are either Old World or from South America.

We kicked off with a well-made Pisco Sour (£11.95) which went down well with the guacamole and tortillas we were served on arrival.

To accompany the ceviches and lobster rice, we enjoyed a couple of glasses of an excellent Chablis (chardonnay) by Domaine des Marronniers 2011 (£65/bottle).

With our mains, we had a glass of 2011 Argentinian Barda Pinot Noir from Bodega Chacra (£55/bottle). This was soft, with red berry fruit, gentle tannins, and somewhat sweet on the finish.

Likes: the Nikkei tiradito was exceptional as was the Nikkei lobster rice and the desserts. The ceviches were fresh and bursting with flavour. Excellent value tasting menu.

Dislikes: None.

Verdict: Few restaurants have excited me as much as Coya lately – Sanjay Dwivedi’s cooking and his understanding of Peruvian flavours have truly impressed me. The tasting menu at £75 is great value and I cannot wait to return. Very highly recommended.

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