Apart from Paddington Bear, I know nobody from ‘Darkest Peru’. I do know the cuisine is a fusion of tastes from the indigenous Inca population and immigrants from Europe (Spain, Italy, German), Asia (China and Japan) and West Africa.
The four traditional staples of Peruvian cuisine are potato, corn, Amaranthaceaes (quinoa, kañiwa, kiwicha) and legumes (beans, lupins). The Spanish brought wheat, rice and meat (beef, pork, chicken). Some of the traditional food such as quinoa, kiwicha and chili peppers (Ají Amarillo and Ají Limónare) are now available in our supermarkets and Peruvian cuisine made familiar by television cookery programs (the late Anthony Bourdain).
COYA, 31-33 Throgmorton Street, London EC2N 2AT
Tel: +44 (0)20 3907 0000
Recently, a grazing buddy and I stumbled into COYA Angel Court in London, near Bank undergrouund station, thinking it was an Italian restaurant called Cova.
As we were already there, we decided to fall in and try the £65 degustation menu. My buddy does not eat beef so we substituted the main course with a Peruvian-flavoured grilled chicken (Pollo a la Brasa).
The restaurant is one of two branches in London and has a bar, lounge and dining rooms.
The décor is eclectic Peruvian and the DJ plays music with beats. I hear that Peruvian entertainment shows are put on some evenings….
COYA restaurants are also found in London Mayfair, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Monte Carlo.
We ordered the wine first for isn’t that the correct way to go about it?
My grazing buddy selected a bottle of 2017 ‘Outer Limits’ syrah from the Montes® vinyard in Chile. Aurelio Montes & Friends planted new vineyards in Zapallar on the Aconcagua Coast.
The 14.7% alcohol content is masked by a bouquet of brambles, berries and spice. The wine is round and balanced with some acidity and fine tannins.
Ceviche Appetiser Trio
(Top) Lubina Clasica (sea bass, red onions, sweet potato, white corn)
(Right) Hiramasa (kingfish, dashi, truffle oil, chives)
(Left) Atun Chifa (yellowfin, soy, sesame seeds, shrimp cracker)
Ceviche is a South American preparation of marinated raw fish or seafood, garnished with herbs and served as an appetizer. Peruvian coastal ceviche is served with camote (sweet potato) and cancha (toasted corn). The Peruvian version is written as ‘cebiche’ and contains Andean chili peppers, onions and acidic lime.
The classic tiger’s milk dressing (leche de tigre) enriched with fish juice is a piquant melding of the sour, sweet and umami ‘yum-taste’ that gets the digestion going.
The Japanese origins of the Hiramasa cebiche can be recognised but the kingfish provides the luxurious creamy texture.
Finally, the Chinese influence on the Atun Chifa reminds us of the Asian immigrants. Chinese cuisine or ‘chi-fa’ is almost unrecognisable because of the lack of native ingredients and centuries of integration. By the way, ‘chi-fa’ is a corruption of 吃饭 (chī fàn) or “to eat” in Chinese.
Starter Course Trio
Croquetta de Lubina (Chilean sea bass croquettes, chilli aioli)
After the cool, soft textures and piquant notes of the cebiches, the crunch of these hot croquettes and spicy sauce made for a warm embrace on a cold evening; the epitome of comfort food.
These chicken skewers marinated with the aji amarillo chilli and garlic really hit the spot with charred edges and moist tender chicken in the middle.
Trio de Maiz (Josper corn, crispy corn, white corn, sweet onions)
This may have been my favourite dish. The ostensibly simple ingredients brought unexpected layers of flavour, texture and aroma as a perfect foil to the sea bass and chicken dishes.
Main Course Trio
Arroz Nikkei (Chilean sea bass, rice, lime, chilli)
I liked the use again of the same fish as in the croquettes because the taste and texture of sea bass was so different in either dish. Whereas the croquettes heroed the bread crumbs, this rice dish put the emphasis on the fish. It ran the Trio de Maiz a close second for the dish of the meal.
Lomo de Res (spicy beef fillet, crispy shalots, aji rocoto chilli, star anise)
We avoided this course because of my grazing buddy’s restriction but it sounds wonderful and deserves a try-out. The head chef is of Indian extraction so the use of star anise seems apt.
Our substitute was a version of Peruvian-flavoured grilled chicken (Pollo a la Brasa) that was most agreeable.
The restaurant has open kitchens: a Cebiche counter and an open charcoal grill.
Brocoli (sprouting broccoli, chilli, olive oil, sesame seeds)
Cooked but still crunchy. It is remarkable that something as simple as a plate of vegetables can be the downfall of many a kitchen but this is not the case at COYA. The broccoli was allowed to showcase its prime freshness and succulence.
Quinua con leche (rice and quinoa pudding, mango sorbet)
Until now, I had never taken to quinoa as I found it a strangely bland grain. However, this ‘rice pudding’ may have changed my mind. It was light and creamy most unlike the classic “boarding school pudding” and the mango sorbet added a fresh, cool element.
Tarta de queso (sour cream cheesecake, papaya & lime compote)
We often forget that many of the common ingredients today like potato, papaya and tomato originated in Central and South America but this final course left us in no doubt that the fusion of global ingredients such as papaya from Latin America and lime from South East Asia is a good thing. That’s coming from someone who does not like cheesecake!
COYA Angel Court London has a bright and colourful Pisco bar and lounge specialising in bespoke pisco infusions, over 40 tequilas and an extensive rum list.
As a digestif, I asked the waiter to bring a pisco. of course, it was a bit more complicated that that because I did not know which variety to order.
In Peru, pisco is produced from fresh grapes only using copper pot stills like single malt Scotch whiskies, rather than continuous stills for most vodkas. Unlike the Chilean custom, Peruvian pisco is never diluted after distillation and is bottled at cask strength.
Traditionally, many types of grapes were used to produce pisco with no standardisation of flavour, aroma, viscosity and appearance. This harmed attempts to export “pisco” under one nomenclature so the government introduced regulations in 1991. Four distinct types of pisco were recognised by the new regulations:
Puro (pure): Single variety of grape, usually Quebranta, although Mollar or Common Black are also used. No blending allowed.
Aromáticas (aromatic): Muscat or Muscat-derived grape varieties, as well as Albilla, Italia and Torontel grapes. Only one variety of grape per distillation.
Mosto Verde (Green Must): Distillate of partially fermented must before complete fermentation has completely transformed sugars into alcohol.
Acholado (multi-varietal): Blended from the must of several grape varieties.
The next variable is aging. To be labelled as ‘aged’, pisco must spend a minimum of three months in vessels of “glass, stainless steel or any other material which does not alter its physical, chemical or organic properties”.
Commercial pisco must not contain additives to change its flavour, odour, appearance or alcoholic proof. At COYA, they make their own special infusions and call it their ‘pisco library’.
Peruvian Pisco must be made in one of the five official D.O. (Denomination of Origin) departments – Lima, Ica, Arequipa, Moquegua and Tacna (only in the valleys of Locumba Locumba, Sama and Caplina) as defined in 1991.
After dinner, I stayed on at the bar for a cocktail or three….
Pisco Sour is a cocktail made from pisco combined with lime juice, egg white and simple syrup. I found it most pleasing and it is the most popular pisco cocktail.
El Capitan is a cocktail made from Barsol Pisco Acholado combined with Cherry Heering and Carpano antica formula. I found it a bit sweet and similar to a cherry brandy.
AlphaLuxe Four-Tongue Rating
As this was my inaugural Peruvian meal, I had no reference point to judge its authenticity but I can comment from the premise of taste. My grazing buddy and I concurred that it was a most tasty meal.
A Coya was an Incan emperor’s first wife or princess. To this end, COYA Angel Court, London certainly justified its illustrious name. Apart from the quality of the food and drink, special mention must be made of the personnel – from the greeter to the waitress and barman – who were most congenial and accommodating even though we turned up without a reservation.
Without hesitation, an AlphaLuxe Four-Tongue award.
Author’s Biography: Melvyn Teillol-Foo (MTF)
Dr Melvyn Teillol-Foo is a contributor on AlphaLuxe web-zine.
He was former CEO of PuristSPro.com horology discussion fora. He blends his scientific medical objectivity from the pharmaceutical industry with purist passion, in his musings about watches, travel, wine, food and other epicurean delights.
His travelogue ‘Lazing’ and feasting ‘Grazing’ series of articles have now passed into “mythic legend” on the original ‘ThePuristS.com’ website. Those were the halcyon days when he was “rich and famous” that he remembers with bittersweet fondness.
Dr Teillol-Foo is a quoted enthusiast on the watch industry, appearing in feature articles and interviews by Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Sunday Times (London), Chronos (Japan), Citizen Hedonist (France) and other publications. He has authored articles for magazines like International Watch (iW) – both U.S. & Chinese editions, ICON (Singapore), August Man (Singapore), Comfort (China) and The Watch (Hong Kong).