118 Piccadilly, Mayfair, W1J 7NW Tel: 020 7042 7118
Cost for two people with wine: £120
COYA WAS easily one of the most talked about openings this autumn. Created by Arun Waney, the man behind La Petite Maison and the uber successful Knightsbridge eatery Zuma, the restaurant promises “the best contemporary Peruvian cuisine” – and the timing could not be better.
London has seen its fair share of culinary trends over the past few years – sushi, Japanese and Vietnamese among them – but Peruvian food is the cuisine capturing everyone’s attention right now. Several pop-ups have launched this year, jumping on the bandwagon and in June, Lima opened in Fitzrovia offering an assortment of dishes intended to celebrate all that Peru has to offer.
Opening a restaurant off the back of a popular cuisine requires a fresh perspective and an experience that’s decidedly different from the rest. Sanjay Dwivedi, formerly head chef at The Ivy, was brought on board as the man for the job, tasked with creating a menu that celebrates traditional Latin American food and helps the cuisine to transcend from a niche market to the mainstream. In other words, not the easiest task in the world. “We travelled to South America seeking insight and inspiration from Latin American food,” he says. “I started out looking for inspiration, now I am inspired.”
The majority of the menu is dedicated to cerviche – raw fish marinated in citrus juices and chilli peppers – a national dish in Peru. The first plate out was a yellowfin tuna cerviche. Seasoned with lemon juice, it had a zesty flavour that was balanced by a sweet sauce. A shrimp cracker and sesame seed accompaniment added a crunch and nutty taste, which was a welcome contrast to the soft texture of the fish. This was followed by sea bass, sea bream and salmon cerviches, which didn’t steer far from the flavour of the first dish. This may be an attempt on Dwivedi’s part to stay true to traditional flavours but it seemed at odds with the restaurant’s ethos of exploring a variety of dishes.
That aside, the fish worked and was the perfect precursor to the heavier meat dishes. As a person who was never convinced by the sushi craze, the fact I am now a bona fide convert to raw fish is testament to just how tasty it is. Saying that, the best fish dish wasn’t a cerviche – the grilled salmon, which came covered in fresh coriander, was the star of the show.
The meat plates were also winners and helped balance out the fish starters. Ox hearts in parsley were incredibly succulent and the addition of rocoto chilli added intensity. For the main, I opted for the billet beef, one of the more expensive items on the menu. It was incredibly tender – as soft as butter – and came perfectly medium rare. I could have had that alone but crispy roast potatoes finished it off splendidly – fluffy on the inside and the right side of crispy on the outside.
The space isn’t too shabby either. Take one step into the Georgian townhouse and you’re instantly transported to South America. The music and traditional décor helps create a cosy, authentic feeling but the atmosphere has its flaws. The basement space sits 100 but the seating feels squashed. Only those lucky enough to get a booth can escape. Sandwiched in the middle isle in the centre of the restaurant, a waitress knocked into my guest at least twice. At one point, the presence of more staff than guests felt unnerving but I suspect that won’t be the case now the Christmas office party season is in full swing.
Coya’s is a great place with first class food. Whether I would join a waiting-list to get a table is another question altogether.