Peruvian food continues to grow its presence on London’s food scene. In the week that plans have been announced for a second branch of Ceviche near Old Street, newcomer Pachamama is finding its feet in Marylebone, merging Peruvian influences with the best of British produce, and this one-time prolific pop-up is bedding into a permanent site in Soho’s Kingly Court.
Tucked away fairly out-of-sight on the court’s first-floor balcony, Señor Ceviche’s walls are plastered with neon-coloured Spanish-language signs, while Hispanic patterned tiles line a small bar area close to an open kitchen. Its style is unmistakably Latin American, if not characteristically Peruvian — though it is apparently inspired by Barranco, a artsy neighbourhood within Lima — the capital city’s answer to Shoreditch. The look is an appropriate one for a menu which has Peru at its heart, but isn’t afraid to deviate.
Our meal starts — as it should — with ceviche. The list here spans six different takes on ceviche and tiradito; while the better-known former features chunks of raw fish or seafood cured and served in citrus juices, the latter is made with more delicate slivers of raw fish which has been sliced sashimi-style.
The house-special Señor Ceviche is a twist on a classic and features sea bream and cubed avocado served in tiger’s milk. If you’re worrying for the safety of the dairy workers trying to squeeze the teats of big cats, don’t. Tiger’s milk is the name given to the most common ceviche marinade: a mix of lime juice, chilli, garlic and coriander. It’s fiery in flavour and a natural partner for meaty raw fish, pleasingly sharp and vibrant. Unusually, this dish also contains tempura baby squid, which adds a welcome textural contrast.
Another highlight is a ceviche named The Spaniard, which sees the recipe played around with further. A sweet tomato purée is added to the tiger’s milk, along with crispy fried chorizo pieces. The marinade becomes a full-on sauce, and risks feeling a little like a tapas dish left to go cold, yet the flavours are triumphantly smoky and seductive.
Our only problem with the ceviche dishes is a practical one. Señor Ceviche works on a small plates basis, meaning the dishes are all placed in the middle of the table to share and each diner given a side plate. We’re not against this at all, but given the runny nature of ceviche, what invariably happens is that these plates turn into mixed slop buckets where all the juices merge into one. Surely the chefs who’d taken care to carefully balance the flavours of each dish would be a bit miffed at the thought of them all mixing together on the plate.
We’re given clean plates before the less liquidy components of our meal, and it turns out that they’re some of the highlights. Slow-cooked pork belly with a soy glaze is a textural playground: crisp edged, but gooey within. So-called super chicken served with a spicy mayo is the kind of gutsy grilled-to-perfection dish that emasculates Nando’s at first whiff. And a salmon fillet coated in miso and chancaca (a Peruvian brown sugar sauce) is delectably moist and brilliantly sweet, packing a powerful punch of umami. A quinoa salad, too, is much more interesting than it sounds, enlivened by careful seasoning and crumbly feta-style cheese.
A perfectly pleasant chocolate brownie suggests that pudding isn't high on the creative agenda, but we won’t let that dampen our experience. In fact, we’d have another South American-inspired cocktail and not bother with one at all: as well as the classic Pisco sour, try the spicy and refreshing Mamacita! made with Tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, agave syrup and fresh jalapeno.
We’d certainly recommend paying this señor a visit. Decent portion sizes (for small plates) make the £7-£8.50 price tag for most dishes pretty reasonable — especially given the quantities of meat and fish — and cocktails cost the same. Add upbeat Latin music, friendly service and a genuine buzz and it seems that Kingly Court — also home to Shoryu, Stax diner, Pizza Pilgrims and Rum Kitchen — has secured another winner.
Señor Ceviche is in Kingly Court, W1B 5PW