Thursday 16th October - Now, I've never been to Peru, but I did go to Lima a couple of weeks ago.
On top of that, I have now encountered Pachamama ("Mother Earth") herself, so that must make me a bit of an expert, no?
That just leaves Andina, Lima Floral, Coya and the 10 other Peruvian foodie hangouts that have probably opened whilst I was writing this sentence. I'm not complaining.
Across the room, my well-travelled flatmate reminds me that Elephant & Castle was dishing out Latin American cuisine long before Ceviche & co. turned up. It's probably worth brushing up on your Spanish before venturing to the likes of Sabor Peruano & Emanuel though.
Pachamama just pipped Senor Ceviche to the finishing post, opening up in Marylebone a week before their Peruvian friends arrived in Soho. Blink and you'll miss the tiny entrance on Thayer Street. Downstairs is no small affair though with 120 covers and a spacious bar, neatly described by Hot Dinners as looking like "a faded colonial home, lived in by an eccentric Peruvian family".
Small Peruvian plates with a British twist beckoned, but first they had to pass the Pisco test. Papa's Pisco (Lemon, egg white, Amargo Chuncho & Pisco - £7) got the thumbs up, though it wouldn't be out of place on the dessert menu. Other interesting concoctions (all £8.50) include Piñamama (Pineapple-infused Pisco, Dead Rabbit Orinoco bitters, orange curaçao, maraschino cherry), Fig Flores (Blanco Tequila, homemade fig preserve, lime, vanilla syrup, pistachio), and Comrade Artemio (Rum, Campari, homemade mandarin-vermouth marmalade).
It took me a little while to notice that we were seated next to a DJ - not something you expect in a restaurant, but they manage to pull it off here. A little lower lighting would have suited the music, but there was a real buzz in the air.
Our cheerful waiter recommended ordering three savoury plates each, which is usually code for "two will do". Ceviche arrived first:
- Wild Cornish sea bass, samphire, radish, sweet potato, tiger’s milk - £10
- Devonshire sea trout, watercress, beetroot, bleeding tiger’s milk - £9
- Squid, prawns, mussels, culantro, palm sugar, devil’s milk - £9
We were accurately warned that dishes would be "a little bit tiny" but I can't fault the cooking. The seabass with crunchy radish and sweet potato was a particular highlight for me.
|Wild Cornish sea bass, samphire, radish, sweet potato, tiger's milk|
|All the Ceviche|
Soon our table was bursting with plates from the Robata and Josper Grill sections, plus one salad for good measure.
- Flamed Octopus, purple potato, capers, crispy shallots - £8
- Blackened herb-fed chicken, grilled corn, lime, wild oregano (2pcs) - £8
- Josper-fired artichokes, purple-sprouting broccoli, fennel, smoked aji, Berkswell cheese - £7
- Crispy lamb belly, miso, green aji sauce - £12
- “Duck on rice” - £10
The smoky octopus was a great success, but in truth everything disappeared equally quickly. Much like at Arabica Bar & Kitchen in Borough, the menu is packed with winning dishes but the bill does mount up quite quickly. A table of four will get you a taste of a fair amount, though some of the plates struggle to stretch to four decent mouthfuls. Perhaps Mama's tasting menu at £35/head is the way to go.
Enjoying the atmosphere, we stuck around for dessert:
- Chocolate fondant, brittle, salted peanut ice cream - £6.50
- Almond milk panna cotta, passion fruit, white chocolate - £6.50
I only ordered the latter as everyone else ordered the chocolate fondant, but was pleasantly surprised by the result. I'm not normally one for wobbly puddings, but this example of the genre had a bit more body to it, and passion fruit and white chocolate make a great team. As for the chocolate fondant, Angharad was almost reduced to tears of joy, bringing back memories of a similar effort at Coya.
|Almond milk panna cotta, passion fruit, white chocolate|
Pachamama has all the right ingredients to become a big hit. Three hours flew by in their capable hands, and I would happily return for some more ceviche and emotional chocolate fondants.
Tuesday 28th October - From South America to the Deep South - Inverness Street in Camden is home to The Bayou, a new hotspot for creole cooking and live music.
We started with some cocktails (on happy hour before 7pm) from their standalone bar. Bacon & Maple Old Fashioned went down very easily and was slightly more successful than an Espresso twist on a Pisco Sour which was an acquired taste. Hard shakes are also available though you may want to wait til dessert for those.
|Bacon & Maple Old Fashioned (photo from Bayou website)|
Manager Jonathan saw us struggling to come to a decision on the food front and took charge, offering to bring us a selection of his favourite dishes instead. He returned a few minutes later with BBQ Shrimps & Biscuit, and Fried Calamari with Hush Puppies. Now, if you haven't done your Creole homework, this is when you turn to the "Southern Terminology" section of Bayou's menu:
Biscuit - yeast raised fluffy flour balls similar to unsweetened scones
Hush Puppies - fried cornmeal batter
Got it? Good. The shrimp (or king prawns) were smothered in a tasty sauce of white wine, garlic and chillies, and were cutely presented in a pan. Meanwhile "Creole" squid with a delicate & delicious batter was served with spring onions, chillies & lime chipotle.
I realise I've used the word creole too many times already - for those of you that aren't familiar with the term, it is a style of cuisine from Louisiana that brings together many influences including French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian cooking. We're talking lots of beans, rice and citrus - think Jambalaya, Gumbo, Catfish, Collard Greens, Beignets etc.
At this point you should watch this YouTube video on New Orleans that I found on Bayou's Facebook page from a highly entertaining series called "Fuck, That's Delicious" - email readers will need to head to the full site to see the video. Warning: NSFW - there are expletives every other word.
Still with me? For mains, Jonathan brought us a heartwarming pot of Shrimp & Chicken Jambalaya (similar to paella) and a heartstopping Bayou Platter - 3 smoked barbecued chicken wings, half a rack of Bourbon ribs, skinny fries, coleslaw and biscuits. Just as the moreish meat was falling off the bone and in to my face, a pianist took the stage to set the mood.
Full but not finished, we made our own decisions for dessert, opting for a Banana Pie with Almond Biscotti, and a classic Mississippi Mud Pie. Both plates were rather photogenic, but they were soon empty.
Despite not being full, there was a fun atmosphere at The Bayou on a Tuesday night. I can see this being a top spot for Christmas parties this year for locals. They have competition from the likes of Lockhart & The Fat Bear on the food front, and NOLA rules the New Orleans cocktail roost, but there's still plenty of room for creole cuisine in London.
A short walk in the direction of Mornington Crescent (I win!) brought us to BYOC Camden, the third outpost for this conceptual bar chain that actually deserves the oft misused "speakeasy" moniker. Long term readers may remember my write-up of the Covent Garden site - I loved the atmosphere and the premise, but the bartending just wasn't up to scratch. As that's such an easy problem to fix, I was more than happy to give BYOC another go.
I should explain, BYOC stands for Bring Your Own Cocktail. What they really mean is Bring Your Own Spirits, Liqueurs, Fizz, Beer (BYOSLFB?) - don't turn up with hip-flask Negronis and jugs of Mint Julep, that's their job. For £25, you get 2 hours of dedicated creative mixology from the bartenders at your station, making use of the booze you have brought and the treasure trove of homemade syrups, bitters, juices etc that they keep stashed away behind the bar.
In Covent Garden, there were four tiny tables and a bloke with a trolley. In Camden, there is room for 50 cocktail lovers in an atmospheric drinking den complete with incense, blackjack & roulette tables, and 20s jazz. Our hosts for the evening, Jill & Davide, were suitably dressed for the part.
N.B. All but one of the photos below were provided by BYOC - my camera couldn't cope with the darkness on this occasion.
Now, I'm a bit of a hoarder of alcohol, especially miniatures, so the BYOC system suits me down to the ground. Angharad popped a bottle of Dalwhinnie 15 on the table. I whipped out Johnnie Walker Black Label, Laphroaig 10, Moonshine Kid Dogs Nose Gin, Angostura 5yo Rum, Luxardo Maraschino, Grand Marnier, Ocult Pisco, Cava, Port, Mozart Chocolate Bitters and the world's tiniest Angostura Bitters, just in case they weren't allowed anything with even a hint of booze. A slight improvement on the couple next to us who had brought Smirnoff & Bacardi...
Jill set to work, with the occasional input from Davide who was looking after a larger group to our left. Here's how the next two hours went:
- Trinidad Sour - a twist on a Pisco Sour with 1/3 Angostura Bitters and a homemade shrub
- Blue Moon - an Aviation twist with Dogs Nose Gin, Maraschino & a blue curacao syrup
- Chocolate Orange Old Fashioned with Dalwhinnie, Mozart, Grand Marnier & a dash of almond
- Another Aviation twist, this time with cucumber and cassis
- Passionfruit Daiquiri with a subtle chilli kick using Angostura 5yo
- Laphroaig Sour - bold, smokey, divisive, awesome
- Pisco Sour with a hibiscus shrub to finish
|Davide in action|
They have a great array of glassware and garnishes that were lacking in Covent Garden, and they aren't afraid to mix it up with punch bowls and Tiki drinks depending on the crowd. Jill clocked early on that we were serious about our drinks, and kept things strong & sour. It may be different when they are at capacity, but the service was efficient and personal at the same time. And, as it turns out it was Jill's first shift - she absolutely smashed it.
|One dimly lit photo from me - proof of our visit!|
Sadly we eventually had to venture back out to the 21st Century but I should expect it won't be too long before we time travel again. Now they have top bartenders, BYOC is a unique and fantastic London bar experience that everyone should get on board with. And help them out - take some interesting booze along, you'll still have plenty to take home with you afterwards and your cocktails will be all the better for it.
Whilst I'm on a Camden roll, I should just point you in the direction of the Camden Town Brewery fun going on next week (3-9 November). To mark the launch of a new India Hells Lager (an IPA lager hybrid), they are running a week long Temple of IHL popup at 205 Royal College St, NW1, with different events everyday. Scroll down for more details (and a quirky stop motion animation for non-email readers):
On the first day… Monday 3rd November
BLESSED BE THE HOME BREWERS: Calling all home brewers! Learn how we make IHL and help us brew a mini batch on our 50L pilot brew kit. Plus, bring along a bottle of your own brew for our Camden Beer Gods to taste! 6pm for a 6:30pm start. Tickets are £10 and include beer and pizza. Get yours now.
On the second day… Tuesday 4th November
OUR GOOD LORD LAGER: Camden Brewing Director Alex Troncoso preaches the good word of lager with the aim of bringing non-believers over to the light side. You will leave converted. 7pm for a 7:30pm start, £10 tickets, including 3 beers. Reserve here.
On the third day… Wednesday 5th November
THE ART OF CRAFT: Beer & Illustration, a match made in heaven. Hallowed designers and illustrators ponder the liquid muse. 7pm for a 7:30pm start, £10 tickets, including beer and an IHL t-shirt. Book now.
On the fourth day… Thursday 6th November
FULL MOON PARTY: We celebrate the coming of IHL with an evening of bacchanalian beer worship open to a chosen few. Buy tickets to any of our other events this week and you’ll automatically be entered in a prize draw to win a pair of invites. 7-11pm, guest list only.
On the fifth day… Friday 7th November
THE FEAST OF IHL: Eat, drink and be merry with a four-course Sabbath banquet created to glorify IHL! Praise be! Chef and menu to be announced later this week, spaces are limited so register your interest now.
On the sixth day… Saturday 8th of November
FESTIVAL OF CANS: We come together with our brothers in aluminium to celebrate all things can-shaped. Tastings throughout the day with beers from Beavertown, Brewdog, Fourpure, Ska, Oskar Blues and more! 12-6pm, Free entry.
On the seventh day… Sunday 9th of November
DAY OF REST."