Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Ceviche, Soho

My friend who came with me to Ceviche said that the food there is "nothing like anything I had in Peru". This, apparently, is a good thing. I'm sure a poor backpacker doesn't see the very best of a country's cuisine but his over-riding memories of mealtimes were of the same bland mush trotted out at whichever restaurant he happened to choose, washed down with enough Pisco Sours to make you not care. In a moment of misplaced bravado one night he tried the "national dish" - deep-fried guinea pig or cuy. What arrived was an oblong lump of batter with a pair of sharp incisor teeth protruding alarmingly from the front. The meat was greasy and tough, "like how you might imagine a deep-fried rat might taste", which I suppose isn't that far from the truth.

Fortunately, there was no cuy on the menu at Ceviche. There are, though, Pisco Sours - in many variations. They were all new to me, even the classic, but once I got over the alarming amount of egg white, which frothed up the alcohol into a kind of uncooked meringue, I decided I was a fan. Better still was something called Pasión de Ceviche, containing honey and passion fruit and making a sophisticated, smooth drink out of what is presumably quite an unruly base spirit. The bar staff at Ceviche are as pleasant as you could want and the bar itself is a very attractive place to spend the early evening, all shiny surfaces and mirrors. By the time we decamped to the restaurant at the back, then, we were really enjoying ourselves.

I'm not setting this story up for a dramatic fall - we did continue to enjoy ourselves for the remainder of the evening - it's just that not all of the food lived up to the initial exciting, exotic South American promise made by the bar. First to arrive were the titular Ceviches, a sea bass version, which was possibly just slightly on the sour side for my tastes but nevertheless powerfully flavoured with chilli and crunchy red onions, and one with various bits of seafood, best of which were a couple of juicy prawns. There is little not to like about marinated raw fish in lime and coriander, and we devoured them with gusto, but at £7 each for a couple of teeny plates of food, it didn't really feel like value.

And neither did two skewers of grilled steak, not just because you got so little food for your £7.50 but because they were so imperceptibly gently marinated they may as well just have been completely undressed. They were timed well to slightly pink inside, but the meat itself wasn't particularly high quality - rather livery and mealy - and the overall effect was a bit dispiriting. We really enjoyed the spicy mayo sauce (using a kind of chilli called rocoto) that came with them, though.

Something called choclo had a fantastic flavour, buttery and rich and spiked with fresh cheese and more red onion, but was £3.75 for a thin, 3 inch wide corn cake. And a small bowl of rice topped with a confit duck thigh (and yet more red onion) was admittedly wonderfully done, the duck being tender and full of flavour, and the rice nicely seasoned, but this was barely a starter sized portion for a whopping £9.80.

Apart from the steak, then, the food at Ceviche is good. Service was pitch-perfect too, not too friendly and not too stuffy, all young and enthusiastic and trendily-attired in that New Soho informal way pioneered by Polpo and Spuntino. And perhaps we're partly to blame for letting our new-found Pisco Sour obsession inflate the bill (we had 4 of the damn things, and they're £5.50 a pop) but at nearly £70 for really not that much food, this is not a restaurant that either produces anything with enough of a wow factor to justify the prices, or serves decent enough stuff at a price point low enough to make you feel good about it. It's an enjoyable enough spot to while away an evening, but given the astonishing level of the competition in Soho (the wonderful Koya is literally opposite), I can't see anyone returning once the initial novelty of being able to say "let's pop out for a Peruvian" has worn off. My advice: go early evening for a Pisco Sour and a bowl of cancha (crunchy fried corn) and then eat somewhere else. You won't be short of options.


Ceviche on Urbanspoon


Erik said...

It is on the pricey side, I suppose this could come down to the quality of the fish and seafood that they use. I think I'd go more often if they could get their prices down a bit.

I can't say I missed cuy, but I did miss the cactus dish that I had in Peru. I recommend having the cassava chips at Ceviche, among the better I've had in London.

Ally Smith said...

Couldn't agree more - nice food, tiny portions for the price. So many better value places around with equally good quality that I think it will quieten down after the initial craze...

Laurie said...

Your friend didn't go to the right restaurants in Peru!

Ed said...

I have eaten ceviche in Peru - including in Pisco. Nice as it is, I'm not convinced it'll ever provide a filling value meal in London, so your views on Ceviche are what I expected would be the case. I do love Pisco sours though ...

Unknown said...

"Koya is literally opposite"

So you mean, opposite, then?


The Abuse Of Literally Police

Anonymous said...

Completely agree with the review. We had a couple of sours, a couple of ceviche and a couple of the grill dishes. Of all of this, and a bill of £55, the only thing I would be happy to pay for again would be the lomo saltado, really good beef and a nice soy marinade. Too much for too little in terms of quantity and flavour.

Anonymous said...

We went just after it opened and it wa alright but as you say, very small portions.

I emailed the owner about this and he skirted the issue completely with lots of guff about sustainability and Soho tradition in his reply.

Would go back for the chips, the sea bass ceviche and the piscos, the rest is blah.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your review after a few days after we opened in March. We were petrified to have you and so many reviewers in during those first few weeks. Getting a team of people together to create a warm and fun environment, cook great innovative cuisine, serve it beautifully and do it effortlessly is an art. Like an orchestra we have been rehearsing for the last 12 months and are mastering our score. I think we are now playing in tune with each other and with our customers. We have worked on our pricing to find a way to give even better value. You can now eat at Ceviche for £11 (a dish and a cocktail) or have a full meal and great cocktails for £28. That's our regular average spend per person.

We have tweaked a couple of our recipes and worked on the consistency and taste. We thought that we would get only a few hundred people each week; that number grew so much that it surprised us and in the first few weeks we just didn't have enough hands to cook. We have now resolved that and flavours, recipes and consistency are also playing harmoniously. We have always been applauded for this so it was heartbreaking to read that on your particular visit a couple of our dishes weren't delicious for you. Its great that you loved others though.

Immediately after the first few weeks we focussed too on increasing portion sizes. They are now bigger. We also now always let people know that our dishes are large tapas sizes to enable these to be eaten on their own or shared. I think in the beginning some thought we were a classic menu style of restaurant serving a starter, main course, then dessert. But we are not. We want to give people the flexibility to how they eat and spend time at Ceviche. Feedback since we started communicating what we do and also since we grew portion sizes then has been great, with reviewers since giving us the thumbs up for value for money. Our food is healthy and fresh and uses the highest quality of ingredients. We don't compromise on that. We use locally sourced and sustainable ingredients. We were the first to work a logistics plan of how to bring just a few essential key ingredients from Peru like our Amarillo, Panca, Rocoto and Limo Chillies alongside the best artesian Pisco. Despite this we have managed now to keep prices low, grow our portion sizes and still be able to have a healthy and happy business.

Sorry I havent been able to respond sooner but its been a very busy few months. Its 24h a day, 7 days a week work and this means everything to us. We want to get this right as we feel passionate about our cuisine and our restaurant in Soho. We listened carefully during those first few months to get things right and our customers told us if we were on the right path or not. Today Im taking a slight breather to give you some feedback which as always, is very welcome. It hopefully makes us even better.

The vibe is always great at Ceviche and I hope that with the above important tweaks, you will come again soon.
Kind regards
Martin Morales, Founder, Ceviche