The problem with having a particularly good or popular restaurant along a street is that after a while, it's all about it. Woe betide any other restaurants that are near its vicinity, which have to contend with fighting for spillover crowd. That is the case for Koya along Frith Street. That is probably the reason why we haven't noticed Ceviche, which lies directly opposite Koya.
It so happened that we were in Soho one fine Friday afternoon feeling rather pleased with ourselves that we have some time for a particularly long lunch while others are still slogging away in the office. Wife is a fan of Koya so I guess that makes me one as well. All the tables are filled as expected and we didn't fancy waiting so we decided to check out the rather plain looking restaurant just opposite it.
We got ourselves perched on the bar counter and looked through the menu with a list of unfamiliar names. It turned out that Wife was a bit more aquainted with them. "Think you'd like the cerviche," she pointed to that section of the menu. Seeing my puzzled look, she added, "raw fish."
Well, the don ceviche (£6.75) turned out to be something rather familiar. There was this porridge stall at one of the road junctions in Singapore's Chinatown where Wife and I used to frequent. In addition to a bowl of piping hot fish porridge, we would always ask for a serving of raw fish slices.
On hindsight, that dubious looking slice of lime was suppose to 'cook' the fish when squeeze over it. But instead, we chose to drop the fish slices into the porridge instead thus partially cooked them.
No doubt, the don cerviche is less plain. The fresh sea bass slices were stirred in with tiger's milk (a fresh lime based marinade) by the two staff behind the bar counter. Flavoured with aji limo chilli and diced red onions, it was perfectly good to be eaten on its own.
We have a penchant for gibblets and couldn't help ourselves when we saw chicken livers (£5.75) on the menu. I popped a piece into my mouth and immediately started gesturing to Wife, "it's good!" It's easy to get the humble liver wrong; the raw taste of iron of the liver is rather unpalatable if undercooked. That is why many restaurants (see Comedor) that serve liver usually tend to overcook it thus leaving it a tad dry and tough.
The chicken liver at Ceviche was just right. Marinated in aji panca chilli anticuocho sauce, it retained its suppleness with its juices sealed in. There was an added smoky aroma that came with time spent on the grill, not to mention the sweet potato chunks, which lent a soothing finish to the lightly spice dish.
We make it a point to order a carbo dish when it comes to tapas styled meals, just something to bulk up the meal so that we wouldn't have to wolf through each dish. Ceviche's Peruvian corn cakes (£3.75) fit the bill. No surprises there, it was what it said it was. Thick and mushy, it is defintely not for those who are obsessed with flossing their teeth after every meal.
We asked Miguel, the bar manager, for some recommendations on meat dishes. "Go for lomo saltado," he replied for a wink. Instead of beef fillet slices, we got chunks instead. No complaints though for we got through those thick pieces with relative ease. The aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow chilli pepper) chilli was omnipresent with slices of onions and tomatoes refreshing the palate. I thought the presence of chips was a bit odd and out of place. Maybe it was meant to be a standalone meal? At £12.50, it might just be.
It turned out that Miguel's favourite dessert is encanelado de pisco (£4.75), which came with artisan dulce de leche (milk caramel) ice cream. The cinnamon sponge cake soaked with pisco spirit syrup is slightly firm and moist. With the ice cream laid on a thin layer of crumble, it was a brilliant infusion of taste and texture.
All that downed with a glass of chica morado (£3). It was introduced to us as a soft drink. Not one of the fizzy ones from cans mind you but a homemade purple maize refresher. The sight of Miguel pouring it out from a tub (with a "three days" label) spoilt it somewhat but its cool soothing taste more than redeem that.
An elderly gentleman settled down beside us at the bar. "The usual?" Miguel asked with a knowing smile. A plate of don ceviche and a bottle of still water appeared in front of the gentleman moments later. Picking through the ceviche with a fork slowly, he was in a world of his own. Just him and his ceviche.
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