Was Bold Street's Peruvian worth the wait? No, says Lucy Tomlinson
I HAVE to admit, I didn’t know all that much about Peruvian food – in fact when I arranged to visit Chicha, the new-ish Peruvian place on Bold Street, I texted the only person I know who has been to Peru (my dad) for the low-down.
“They were partial to cuy (guinea pig). Tasted like chicken!” he texted back.
But as this was from a man who reportedly stole a canoe and paddled down the Amazon solo, I wasn’t entirely convinced this was an accurate representation of a national cuisine.
Whoever designed the menu at Chicha has a similar talent for embellishment, littered as it is with earthy, yet piquant ideas and phrases all designed to tantalise and stir the imagination: “candied seeds”, “saffron pickled pineapple” and even “torched meringue”. Yum and yum.
Unfortunately, our visit to Chicha started off in confusion and descended into chaos. We got there 15 minutes early and were told our table wasn’t ready. Fair enough, restaurants have booking systems for a reason, However, we weren’t offered a seat at the bar but expected to leave.
We came back at our allotted time and were immediately led into a big party that we clearly had nothing to do with. The waiter flapped around for a minute looking for our table, which turned out to be at the other end of the room. Once seated we ordered cocktails (a pisco sour and a very sweet strawberry chilcano, both £7.50). We sipped. We ordered food. We admired the very orange, very low-lit décor. We sipped some more. We waited.
And we waited
Finally the food arrived, well over an hour after we had taken our seats. Was it any good?
I’d been looking forward to the veggie dishes the most but actually the meat dishes were both good.
The lomo saltado (stir-fried steak, £7.50) was tender and deliciously blackened around the edge but very pink in the middle, although the cooking style didn’t seem to suit the onions and tomatoes, which served as a base, quite so well: they hadn’t seen the inside of the pan long enough to count as cooked but were just a bit too soggy to be a salad.
The aji chilli barbecue ribs (£6) were also good, marinated in a smoky sweet sauce that tasted suspiciously like that ancient Peruvian herbal remedy, Dr Pepper. They came with a large amount of bland carrot salad.
The carrot salad featured again as a nest (some might say hiding place) for the king prawn ceviche (£6). Ceviche is meant to be raw fish “cooked” with the acids from citrus fruit. I suspect these prawns were really cooked and then dressed in lime. Still, forgettable as they were, at least we got them. The pork belly we ordered didn’t turn up at all.
The roast pumpkin (£5), was a large enough hunk that Cinderella could have got part of the way home in it, and came with squash puree, sage crisps and candied seeds.
The pumpkin came away from its skin in clods, mulchy like wet tissue paper, while the sage so-called crisps draped damply in the manner of wet autumn leaves. The squash puree and candied seeds were rather nice though. This is probably a fine dish when prepared using excellent quality pumpkin – this one wasn’t.
Something I had not really thought of as being particularly Peruvian is cheese, but somehow we managed to order three cheese dishes: a goats cheese tequeno (£5.50), a halloumi empanada (£5) and sweetcorn and feta pancakes (£4).
We’ll start with the nicest dish: the goats cheese tequeno was a lozenge of creamy-fresh goats cheese wrapped in a crisp shell of what I think was meant to be pastry but came out much more like a spring roll. A few minor quibbles with the description: I thought (and I could be wrong, I’m certainly not a Spanish expert) that ‘tequenos’ indicated the plural, i.e. more than one tequeno.
The beetroot was described as “rainbow carpaccio” and while I wasn’t expecting anything too wildly coloured, carpaccio does mean thinly sliced, so the chunky bits of beetroot that looked and tasted exactly the same as the stuff my nana used to serve with shepherds pie weren’t exactly in line with the menu.
The halloumi empanada (main image, top) wasn’t half bad, though at first glance I thought we had been served guinea pig after all, as it crouched on its wooden board like a frightened rodent. That hardly stopped me eating it, but I do question if the best use of the squeaky cheese, which is made to be eaten seconds after leaving the frying pan, is wrapping it a smothery blanket of pastry.
Speaking of blankets, the sweetcorn and feta pancakes turned out to be wet ones, draped limply on the plate in a defeatist attitude. They were probably very pleasant when they came out of the pan, but that had obviously been a while ago.
Eventually someone came to take our plates away. They did not return with a dessert menu. After a while I caught the manager’s eye and managed to get a menu, but it was nearly 11pm and pudding had lost its appeal.
We got the bill instead and we’d had a couple of drinks knocked off each to apologise for the long wait, which was a nice gesture.
I don’t want to fault any individual staff member – they were friendly enough and the manager was certainly working hard to try to make up for any problems, but as a team they seemed completely lost. Chicha is part of the Bistro Qui group, and as such should be running pretty smoothly from the start.
Despite all that, I’m grateful to Chicha for at least introducing me to the idea of Peruvian food. Perhaps soon I’ll make it to the country itself. Who knows, maybe you’ll find me halfway down the Amazon in a stolen canoe.
All scored Confidential reviews are paid for by the company, never the restaurant or a PR outfit. Critics dine unannounced and their opinions are completely independent of any commercial relationships.
55 Bold Street,
L1 4EU. 0151 294 4146
Overall score: 9/20
Talks the talk
Chaotic and slow