A guinea pig cooked whole and served on a plate – head and legs and mouth open and teeth sticking out – that’s what sometimes comes to my head when I remember travelling and eating in Peru almost 10 years ago.
Thankfully, Peruvian cuisine is so much more than just roasted guinea pigs, lama steaks and lots of potatoes. In Lima I discovered and fell in love with ceviche – a raw fish or seafood marinated in lime and onion and most often served with sweet potato and corn.
I liked the taste of it so much, I often had it for lunch, dinner and sometimes in between.
So every time I hear that a new place serving ceviche opens in London (and there have been quite a few of them opening over the last few years, including Coya in Mayfair and Pachamama in Marylebone), champagne corks are popping in my head and I clap my hands with joy.
Ceviche Old St, a sister restaurant of the nearby Andina in Shoreditch High Street and Ceviche Soho, launched earlier this year in the historic Alexandra Trust Dining Rooms built by the tea magnate and philanthropist Sir Thomas Lipton in 1898.
In those days the restaurant offered very cheap meals to East London’s poor working classes – apparently up to 12,000 meals were served each day by 100 waitresses, with a three-course meal costing as little as the equivalent of 2p today.
Ceviche’s founder Martin Morales says they were in awe of the legacy of the Alexandra Trust Dining Rooms and so a Peruvian restaurant with East London heritage was born.
My guest and I do try the East End inspired eel and sea bass belly fritto misto (£10), which is quite good and unusual, but we don’t feel adventurous enough for lamb’s brain fritters (£5) or beef heart skewers (£8).
Cancha, crunchy Peruvian corn with pepper and salt (£2) and Wonton fritters with chicken, onion and parmesan filling (£4) are a much safer bet.
Ceviche Old St is spacious (70-cover dining room and 60-cover bar), colourful (Peruvian art on the walls is for sale!) and full of delightful smells.
There’s an open grill and rotisserie and so we order Peru’s favourite lunchtime dish – Pollo a la Brasa – a corn fed quarter rotisserie chicken in Ceviche’s special marinade.
It comes with chips and hot amarillo chilli dip and is delicious and filling for a very decent price of £7.
Lomo Saltado – flame cooked beef fillet with red onions, tomatoes and chips (£13.50) is also very good and decently priced, but the highlight of my meal is undoubtedly the ceviche.
The ceviche bar offers seven dishes – one of them a vegetarian option and another, pretty unusual in my experience, is made with rock oysters.
We choose a classic Don Ceviche – sea bass, amarillo chilli tiger’s milk, sweet potato, red onions & limo chilly – and Tiradito Chifa – tuna, pickled daikon, chifa tiger’s milk, limo chilli, roquito pepper & crispy vermicelli (£9 each). They go especially well with refreshing Pisco Sour cocktails (£9).
We hardly have any space left for dessert, but Picarones Old St (pumpkin doughnuts with honey and cinnamon ice cream, £6) and Tres Leches de Lúcuma (cream made of Andean fruit called lúcuma, milk-soaked cake, cancha corn, chocolate shard and mirasol chilli meringue, £6) sound way too good to resist.
And indeed they are really tasty! The only trouble is that we feel might have overindulged in the food and so we decide to treat ourselves to some more cocktails and wine instead – all in the name of better digestion, of course.
Ceviche Old St is open daily from 12pm (11am on weekends) until 12am.