My Peruvian friend Josefo has reignited my passion for ceviche and Pisco sours, and he's cooked some wonderful dishes for us to try at home. Sourcing the ideal ingredients however is the real challenge. Whether it's exactly the right fish to make ceviche pop - it has to have a strong flavour to compete with the dominant citrus and chilli notes - to sourcing exactly the right chillis for the culinary task at hand (ajilimo for ceviche and ajibanca for cooked fish).
To further our inspiration I've made it my summer mission to visit as many of the Peruvian restaurants around London as I can. Starting at the top of the tree, the original COYA Mayfair at 118 Piccadilly opened in 2012, and when I visited around that time it was one of my first Peruvian experiences. I remember being introduced not only to a whole new range of flavours, but to a space which felt part members club and part hidden gourmet 'mercadillo' offering glimpses into authentic Peruvian cuisine, alongside a unique Pisco Library.
The large walls and spaces are used to great effect to showcase curated work by Peruvian artists, highlighting the strong cultural influence which somehow manages to exist in perfect harmony with this most traditional of London neighbourhoods.
Newly opened this month is a second London branch - COYA Angel Court - in the heart of the City of London. Again, setting out to combine contemporary Peruvian cuisine with the most British of environments, this location is overlooked by iconic buildings and sits just a few moments from the Bank of England building. Almost using this juxtaposition as a starting point, the menu has a focus on the traditional elements of Peruvian cooking, whilst having the contemporary London clientele firmly in mind.
At last night's opening event, guests enjoyed a sample of a number of the signature dishes. I enjoyed the Lubina Clásico, the classic ceviche which combines Sea bass, red onions and sweet potato with giant white corn (£9). Setting a new benchmark in succulence and flavour, the Solomillo de Res is a spicy beef fillet best served rare or medium rare, with crispy shallots, aji rocoto (just the right chilli for the job) and star anise (£37). The Baby Squid dish Calamares Fritos con Ocopa combines the delicacy with Peruvian marigold and crunchy quinoa (£11.50)
Perhaps the standout for me however was one of the small dishes for sharing, the Cerdo Bao is an asian-Peruvian hybrid along the lines of a Korean bao and contained slow cooked pulled pork, chipotle, salsa and criolla for the bite sized price of £6.50 per serving.
With the modern Peruvian restaurant at the centre the new space, chefs take centre stage as they prepare food in one of three open kitchens; the Ceviche Bar, the open charcoal grill and the central kitchen.
The Pisco bar is decked out in blue and gold and specialises in bespoke Pisco infusions unique to COYA, over 40 tequilas and an extensive rum list. Josefo was very impressed, and he doesn't pull any punches when it comes to cocktails.
With bespoke décor by the London based design team Sagrada, the visual elements bring the cultural experience to the culinary one. To get the best sense of the menu, I'd recommend checking out their instagram page, where they post beautiful photographs of some of their signature items including lobster ceviche and decadent displays of exotic fruit.
This latest offering brings the spirit of Latin America to the heart of the City - a much needed shake up - and the perfect first stop for me on my Peruvian culinary trail.