There seems to be a plague of style-over-substance fusion restaurants opening in central London. They have names like ‘Burger + Bun’ or ‘Gin and Beer’. Often than not, fusion is slopping ‘kimchi-naise’ on anything hot. The fries come in a mini fryer basket, your burger in a pint glass and your pint in a civil war-era mess tin.
Señor Ceviche is the antidote. The food, decor, music and staff are all excellent and unpretentious. And if you’re expecting a sting in the tail when the bill comes, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. It’s very reasonable, especially for the West End.
Origins of Nikkei Cooking
Although the term ‘fusion cooking’ wasn’t coined until the late 80s, the idea is thousands of years old. After all, it seems inevitable that two neighbouring countries would blend their cuisines.
What’s surprising is that the countries in question are not neighbours at all. Peru and Japan are separated by 15,000km (9,600 miles) or one and a half laps of the moon. Yet, their cuisines have become intertwined.
This cultural combination began in the late 19th century when Peru became the first Latin American country to accept Japanese immigrants. Since then, Japanese Peruvians have greatly influenced the culture despite accounting for less than 0.1% of the population. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the food, often called Nikkei or Nikkei Peruvian.
Señor Ceviche is a lively Nikkei Peruvian restaurant and Pisco (South American white brandy) bar in central London. It has gone the route of many of London’s up-and-comers, starting as a food stall before becoming a fully-fledged restaurant. Once the founder Harry Edmeades flew the pop-up nest, he set up shop in Kingly Court, halfway down Carnaby street.
Kingly Court itself is an airy food hall with a wide selection of places to eat, most of which are chains like Pizza Pilgrims and Shoryu Ramen. Señor Ceviche, on the other hand, is a one-off.
The Nikkei cuisine consists of Peruvian core ingredients like tropical fish, sweet potato, aji amarillo chilli peppers and corn, spliced with Japanese flavours and techniques, creating punchy flavours, delicate textures and some matches made in heaven.
Of all Nikkei dishes, ceviche is the flagship. In a traditional Peruvian ceviche, the fish would be left to steep in the acidic marinade for hours, almost pickling it. Instead, Japanese cooks introduced the Peruvians to just bathing the fish for a couple of minutes, resulting in a more sushi-like dish with a lighter flavour. This, along with BBQ and Pisco Sours, is Señor Ceviche’s bread and butter.
Calamari serves as a great litmus test as it requires precise timing and a light touch. When not up to scratch, it’s usually a red flag. Señor Ceviche’s Calamares were on point: tender baby squid, dusted with flour and fried until perfectly crispy.
But the sauce they came with stole the show: pickled jalapeño miso salsa: tangy, spicy, silky and the most stunning shade of forest green. When asked about the colour, the waitress divulged the somewhat surprising secret ingredient: spinach.
Chifa is the Chinese-Peruvian sister cuisine to Nikkei, and Chiccarones generally consist of fried pork belly or rinds. So when you see Chifa Chiccrarones, you know you’re in for a treat. And what a treat it was: brittle cubes of crispy fat, housing velvety meat, nested in smoked sweet potato puree and sticky chancaca soy. Decadent and highly addictive.
The ‘Mamacita’ couldn’t have matched the food any better: Don Julio Blanco tequila, Cointreau, chilli cordial and lime juice with a chilli salt rim - essentially a spicy margarita. Our doubts about chilli in a cocktail were quickly assuaged.
Along with the starters came two ceviches.
The first celebrated the restaurant’s Peruvian roots: sea bass, octopus, avocado, red onion and a few extra calamares marinated in tiger’s milk with a sweet potato puree (tiger’s milk typically consists of lime juice, onion, chilli, salt and pepper).
The second celebrated its Japanese influence: Yellowfin tuna, sea bass, ponzu tiger’s milk and yuzu topped with a langoustine cracker. However, the langoustine cracker seemed a bit unnecessary as it wasn’t overly langoustine-y.
Both ceviches were top-notch: almost-sashimi, laced with a delicate mix of lime and chilli, topped with red onion and coriander.
Next up, Pachamanca pork ribs and ‘Super’ pollo with sweet potato fries.
Ribs are always a good option as you’re probably not going to make them at home. Not like this anyway. The steak knife that accompanied them was unnecessary. These ribs had been slow-cooked to perfection, and the meat easily slid off the bone. The Yakiniku - “grilled meat” in Japanese - the sauce was sticky and sweet, and the ribs were dusted with toasted peanuts and spring onion. Heavenly.
The ‘Super’ pollo was juicy and succulent on the inside, but the outside was over-charred. It could be that the grill was too hot, or the marinade had a tad too much sugar. Regardless, the result was a slightly bitter exterior.
On the other hand, Sweet potato fries only have one hurdle to overcome: not being floppy. Nevertheless, they passed, accompanied by spicy aji rocoto mayo - a particular combination (aji rocoto is a golf ball-sized chilli, recognisable for its black seeds and curry leaves).
Dessert at this point could easily have been overkill. But dulce de leche ice cream, topped with crispy biscuity dust, arrived as requested with the - excellent - espressos, allowing for a dulce de leche affogato lovechild. Enough said.
Señor Ceviche is an excellent spot for cocktails, small plates and big plates with friendly service and music. They describe their food as “the perfect balance of healthy and indulgent”. This is a flat-out lie; it leans more towards the indulgent side. And that’s just the way it should be.
Don’t miss the highly good-value weekday lunch menu. Two must order, but you won’t need anything else. There is also a bottomless weekend brunch menu with unlimited cocktails and wine.
Find Señor Ceviche on the first floor of Kingly Court, seven days a week. They also have a sister restaurant on the top floor, Korean Dinner Party. Visit their website
Next up, find out where to go for the best Korean restaurants in London.