Young Thais are drawn by the big city lifestyle
Most food trends come and go as quickly as the pop-up spaces that host them. But Coya, an upmarket restaurant, bar and member’s club that opened at the end of 2012 in Piccadilly, has cemented Peruvian food – last year's “next big thing” – as much more than a passing fad on the London food scene.
The foundation was laid for Peru to become the city’s next culinary superpower with four openings in London in 2012. Ceviche in Soho is a casual and lively all-day eatery with a second branch opening in Shoreditch in the srping, Lima in Fitzrovia followed with chef Virgilio Martinez (from renowned restaurant Central in Peru’s capital city Lima) offering authentic dishes that are as beautiful as they are delicious, while pop-ups like The Last Days of Pisco in Dalston and the roaming Senor Ceviche made the country's exciting palette of flavours accessible to a wider audience.
And then came Coya - the brainchild of restaurateur-of-the-moment Arjan Waney - the man behind popular London-based Japanese restaurants Zuma and Roka, as well as La Petite Maison, known for French sharing plates; member's only the Dover Street Arts Club; and soon-to-open Oblix, a New York grill on the 32nd floor of the new Shard building in Southwark, which is the second tallest building in Europe. Never one to do things by halves, Waney sent head chef Sanjay Dwivedi – previously at the London Indian restaurant Zaika – on a year-long gastro tour of South America, including spending time in the kitchen of Astrid Y Gaston, a top Lima restaurant - recently named one of the top 50 restaurants in the world on the San Pelligrino list.
As a result, the carefully considered menu at Coya feels familiar yet full of fresh new flavours, finished off with perfect presentation and zingy colours. The creative dishes might not be cheap, but they are well worth the price for the quality of the ingredients alone. Sharing plates of ceviche (raw fish chunks marinated in citrus juices), tiraditos (thinly sliced raw fish similar to sushi), anticuchos (small skewers of grilled meat and fish) and as well as sizzling steaks cooked on a robata grill – a Japanese-style grill that gives meat a smoky taste – are a modern fusion of South American and Asian flavours. Standout dishes include sea bream ceviche with amarillo chilli and coriander, yellowtail tiradito topped with green chilli, coriander and lime, and a steaming Chilean sea bass in rice with lime and chilli that is served in a clay pot.
The space itself is artfully distressed with Inca influences such as antique Peruvian furniture, traditional painted murals and colourful textures – but it remains elegant rather than gimmicky. There is a bar in the private members area upstairs and one downstairs where non-member diners can enjoy a traditional pisco-based cocktail while they wait for their table.
Peruvian cuisine seems set to become the new Japanese food in London – light, healthy, bursting with flavour, accessible and exotic. And if this is the case, it won't be long until a Peruvian lunchtime special hits the shelves of Pret a Manger.
Malika Dalamal is the London Localite for BBC Travel