London Calling

Lunch at Ceviche UK

Lunch at Ceviche UK

About a month after attending the Mistura Food Festival in Peru, I found myself on a plane to Spain to do some culinary research. After all, Spain is one of the cultures that has profoundly influenced Peruvian cuisine and I wanted to explore it further. But somehow, or more precisely due to a delayed flight, I was faced with an unexpected 7 hour layover at Heathrow airport in London, England. How did I spend that unbearably long layover you ask? I took the next train into the city and headed straight for lunch at the first Peruvian restaurant in the UK, Ceviche. So, before returning to writing about my trip to Peru, let’s take a little detour across the pond, and let me tell you about London Calling, the Peruvian way.

For the past year or so, London has been on my culinary radar as an up and coming place for Peruvian cuisine. London? Peruvian cuisine? Surprisingly, yes. First, I heard about Ceviche opening to rave reviews in 2012, and how Chef Martin Morales was single-handedly introducing London and the rest of England to the colors and flavors of Peru via a pop-up tour. Soon followed Lima London which has already been awarded a Michelin Star for 2014. And not to be left behind, are the pop-ups The Last Days of Pisco and Señor Ceviche. Naturally, I started following them all on Twitter and on many occasions, upon reading their tweets, I wished that I was in London for their dinners or events. The Universe answered that wish.

All that was left for me to do was take the express train from Heathrow to Paddington Station, and then a cab from there to Soho Square. And though I really wanted to see if Paddington Bear, who hails from deepest darkest Peru and inspired my Paddington Pisco Sour cocktail, was hiding somewhere in Paddington Station, I did my best to move through there swiftly before it got too late. Not surprisingly, it was cool and drizzling in London on a Monday afternoon in October, but it didn’t matter, I was on a mission to find out why Peruvian food had become so popular here. And as soon as I found a Wi-Fi hotspot, a tweet I had sent hours earlier had been answered: Ceviche was open, and they knew I was on my way.

Despite feeling a bit jet-lagged, I was definitely hungry, and after seeing a shelf full of bottled Pisco infusions on the back wall, which is a great sign in a Pisco bar, I decided to start with a Soho Pisco cocktail followed by three dishes: a fig salad with queso fresco, Paiche fish steamed in a banana leaf with hot peppers and root vegetables, and a corn cake garnished with salsa criolla — a perfect combination to warm the body and lift the spirits after 12 hours of travel. And if a delicious meal wasn’t enough, Chef Morales came over to say hi and thank me for making the effort to visit his restaurant on such short notice. I was also delighted that he gifted me a copy of his new cookbook Ceviche Peruvian Kitchen, signed with a special dedication.

Though I wished I could have stayed longer to talk to him more about our favorite dishes, about Peruvian music, about Pisco, about history, about culture, I had a plane to catch, but I left with a sense that I was going to return. Perhaps to collaborate on a pop-up, but most definitely to taste, drink, and continue to explore the Peruvian food scene in London. It’s not everyday you experience something so special, that you find it hard to leave. Something that reminds you of home, even though it’s over 5,000 miles away. From this one brief visit, it’s clear that Peruvian food has made history in London in just a couple of years, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. Cheers to Ceviche, to Chef Morales, and to London Calling, the Peruvian way.