London’s dining scene is constantly evolving, with new restaurants opening every month to compete with old favourites. I love the way I can travel the world without leaving home, courtesy of the culinary multiculturalism that thrives here in the capital. Pachamama, which opened in September, draws on the cuisine of Peru for inspiration, combining classic Peruvian flavours and techniques with British produce and a few modern European touches.
The entirety of the restaurant is in a spacious basement setting, so there is no natural light, but an attractive and welcoming space has been created by combining modern furniture (made by British craftsmen) with reclaimed antiques and a bright colour palette.
The cocktail menu is a good place to start and of course, the classic Pisco Sour is featured, along with several other pisco-based cocktails. I tried the Regent’s Park – two types of rum, chestnut syrup,hazelnut liqueur, lime, orange – which was a cracker, and generous on the alcohol measures too. To my surprise, the flavours really did transport me to Central and South America too! Later we had a Rosa del Inca – pisco infused with pink peppercorns and coffee beans with vermouth, Campari and orange bitters – and a Dulce de Chasca – dulce de leche, rum, pisco and vanilla syrup, but holding the chocolate bitters with which they usually finish it. There are beers and wines too, for those who would like.
A small plates menu is designed for sharing, though go hungry – we chose 2 snacks plus 6 sharing plates and were absolutely stuffed even before dessert arrived.
From the snacks section, tequeños (£3.50) – small pastries filled with smoked cheddar and feta – were gorgeous; light, crispy and served hot from the fryer with a yellow chilli sauce.
Salt & aji squid (£4.50) was the main disappointment of the meal, its texture chewy like the frozen squid you get at a cheap pub chain. The spicing on the surface was good, and the aji pepper mayo with it too, but the squid so poor it was left uneaten.
The first of our non-snack dishes to arrive was Cornish sea bass, samphire and tiger’s milk (£9). Lots of beautifully fresh fish was mixed with samphire, red onion, coriander, salsify, sweet potato, plantain, french radishes and chilli and dressed in a citrus marinade – this mixed with the juices that come out of the fish, is what’s known as leche de tigre, or tiger’s milk. That list of ingredients sounds a little random and confused but actually, this dish came together very well indeed.
Next to arrive was quinoa, avocado and granny smith (£8), the dish that has finally sold me on quinoa. Alongside the headline ingredients were tomato, coriander, red onion, cubed fresh fig and something with some crunch – finely diced cucumber or green pepper. In what quickly became the word of the day, we both marvelled at how beautifully balanced this was, and agreed that, for a dish that sounds so simple, it was actually one of the stars of the show.
Also from the Soil section and another highlight of the meal was fried aubergine, smoked yoghurt and pecan (£8). It’s a cliché to use the word silky about aubergine flesh, but truly, it’s the word that jumped to mind – it was just so beautifully cooked – and even with the fairly strong sauce, the flavour of the aubergine was not lost. The smoked yoghurt echoed the smoky aubergine and oh my, the umami of that brown sauce – we were told it included dashi, soy and crème de aji along with a blend of spices. All that with the crunch of crumbled pecans too.
The two meat courses came next. First to arrive was this crispy lamb belly with green miso (£9), soft and meaty batons of lamb with crisp fat and a deep sheep taste, I’d almost have thought mutton except that they had the tenderness of lamb. Underneath a green sauce packed with fresh herbs, miso and the kick of chilli, a perfect balance to the fatty meat. Dressed with micro leaves and French radish, this was another hit.
Pete was a bigger fan of the ‘Duck on Rice’ (£13) than me. Those quotation marks are directly from the menu by the way, and I’ve no idea why this one dish is singled out that way when nothing else is, especially as it is indeed duck on rice, and not another meat or grain masquerading as such. In any case, the duck comes two ways, a cube of confit and pink slices of breast. These are both fine but the divider was that rice – I found it horribly stodgy with an overwhelming raw cumin taste but Pete said it grew on him as he ate it. For me, this didn’t merit being one of the most expensive dishes on the menu.
Last to be served was Cornish crab, saffron dashi, purple potato (£10) which included more of the beautiful fresh samphire we enjoyed in the sea bass ceviche. I loved the saffron dashi, thin and with some spicy oil added too. The crab, a fairly generous dollop of white crab meat, was full of crab flavour, even drenched in the punchy juice. The purple potato was a little bland, though that made it a perfect partner to the crab. This was a good one to end on for the savoury courses.
We found the dessert list a little limiting; with just four items listed, two featured passion fruit and the other two featured chocolate. Since Pete isn’t a fan of passion fruit and we were sharing everything we ordered, our two desserts were both chocolate based.
First up, the aji truffles (£1.50). The two truffles that arrived were almost as big as hen eggs – we both agreed that four or five smaller truffles would have been far more inviting, not to mention easier to eat. Sadly, these lacked a rich cocoa hit, though perhaps that’s a feature of Peruvian chocolate tastes, I don’t know. The aji also seemed to be unevenly distributed – with my first bite I couldn’t detect it at all, in the second it gave me quite a surprise.
I’m not often a fan of deconstructed desserts – they so rarely match the pleasure of the original constructed kind – so I was a little disappointed when our order of torta de chocolate, toasted quinoa ice cream (£6.50) turned out to be a plate of crumbled ingredients with a (pretty) quenelle of ice cream on top. The balance between the chocolate and the crumble wasn’t right, with far too much of the former resulting in way too little chocolate mousse – it didn’t help that the chocolate was quite insipid; a darker chocolate might have punched through all the crunchy cereal. The ice cream was smooth, well made and quite subtle in flavour – served with an actual slice of chocolate tart, it would be the perfect foil. It’s not that I didn’t like this dish, rather that I felt it could be so much better. Pete’s description of this one made me smile: “it’s like they melted a mars bar and upended a pack of dried roasted peanuts over it, not that that’s a bad thing, I’m quite liking it…”
As you can see, the stars of the show were the six dishes we ordered from the land, sea and soil menu sections – meat, fish and vegetables in regular speech. The two vegetable dishes really wowed us, perhaps because we’re unaccustomed to being so bowled over by these kinds of dishes, the two seafood dishes were also superb, as was that crispy lamb belly. Spicing, sauces and dressings were well judged and the prices seemed very fair for the portions served.
Next time, I’d probably skip the desserts and focus on the savouries; for me, these and the cocktails are where Pachamama really shines.
Kavey Eats dined as guests of Pachamama London.