Afterthoughts – Chicha Peruvian
South America is definitely a must-visit continent on my checklist of travel destinations. I’ve always been mesmerised by the great, ancient civilisations of the Mayans and Incas, and the fantastical kingdoms they created on the bones of incredible engineering as well as bloody ritual sacrifices. South America is a long ways from where we currently reside, but it will definitely be a major travel destination for us once we’ve returned to North America.
As I am very far from Peru at the moment, I settled on the next best thing – a trip to Chicha for a taste of Peruvian cuisine. Chicha, tucked away on the slopes of Peel Street, have been generating plenty of hype since it’s opening a year ago. Backed by veteran restaurant group Concept Creations and the Peruvian government, the tables here are still packed after one year of business, which could be interpreted as a very promising sign. However, I’ve heard mixed reviews and wanted to see (and taste) to form my own opinion.
Dinner reservations are made via text message (a tad odd) and if you are feeling dangerous, you can always risk it and try your luck at a walk-in. The restaurant feels almost lounge-like, with long banquette seating and subdued lighting. There is an open kitchen beside the bar area where diners can gawk and eat at the same time.
Settling down in our comfy banquette seats, we started the evening with a couple bottles of wine while perusing the menu. Chicha’s menu resonated the tapas bar structure, with several sections of smallish dishes (cause, tiradito, taco, anticuchos, ceviche, chicharrons) plus a section for “big shares”. We decided to awaken our palate first with a ceviche Mixto, a blend of shrimp, octopus, scallops, squid, passionfruit, tossed in honey, ginger and leche de tigre. This came to the table crowned with a halo of fried calamari. The dish was refreshing enough, but lacked serious edge. When I think about ceviche, the first thing that hits me is the powerful, zingy citrus notes that are what gives this dish its signature. Well, the mixto here clearly lacks a zesty punch, and left us craving for something that will really enliven our palates.
Next up, the Pollo Chicharron, a marinated crispy chicken with Aji Limo sauce. The morsels of chicken were crispy on the outside, yet tender and juicy on the inside. Each bite was a dynamite of flavours when paired with the fiery Aji Limo sauce and fresh corianders.
I am a sucker for tacos (in fact, almost anything made from corn), so I was ecstatic when the Peruvian tacos arrived at our table. We went against the popular recommendation of Pollo and instead chose pork and fish tacos instead. What a win! The tacos shells were bursting with toasted corn flavour, and obviously made fresh in-house. The pork taco came with melty, juicy slices of pork belly that felt like nirvana for a carnivore like me. The fish, however, was our favourite. Succulent, fresh white fish lightly fried and tucked into shells filled with mango salsa. It was refreshing, light, and ever so tasty! I could have come to Chicha just to have the tacos, and leave a very happy customer!
I was very curious about the Anticuchos (grilled skewers) and we elected to try 3 options: Corazon (beef hearts, aji amarillo, walnut), Oh My Cod (ponzu miso, aji rocoto aioli), and Camote (sweet potato, ocopa, quail eggs). The beef heart was only marginal in my books, as it lacked the juiciness I usually associate when biting into grilled hearts (that sounded barbaric!). The Oh My Cod (love the name!) was incredible! The buttery cod was grilled perfectly, and the garlic aioli complimented the fatty fish to a tee. The Camote was also amazing, perfumed with sweet, smokey notes.
Now, on to the “Big Shares”. We first ordered the Lomo Saltado, a very traditional South American dish of tenderloin, tomato, scallions and choclo arroz, but it never arrived at our table. It was sad that they forgot our order! Our second Big Share was the Pollo a la Brasa, a yuzu infused chicken with tacu tacu and rocoto tomato salsa. The dark meat of the chicken was deliciously succulent, but the white meats fell short, way short. The large chunks of white meat were flavourless and dry, and no one at our table wanted to tackle a piece. However, I loved the tacu tacu balls that accompanied the chicken. Tacu tacu can trace its origins back to the African slaves who worked on South American plantations. It is a mixture of rice and beans, often from the leftovers of slave masters. The slaves made the best of their situation and invented tacu tacu. Traditionally, tacu tacu are served with a fried egg or fried plantains for a working man’s meal. The Chicha version has been adapted and came in the form of fried, breaded tacu tacu balls. The texture and flavour reminded me of risotto balls, and they were utterly delicious.
We also ordered a quinoa salad to accompany the chicken, since we were missing a main. The quinoa was good, but to be honest, how mind-blowing can quinoa be?
Verdict: Good attempt at Peruvian cuisine, and definitely an one-of-a-kind restaurant in this genre, in Hong Kong. The atmosphere was fun, hip and very social, all elements of a great night out with friends. The dishes are perfect for sharing – another great social element. However, one of our friends, who has been to Peru and dined at some of their top restaurants, noted that Chicha’s renditions of modern Peruvian cuisine are far from perfect. But I think Chicha is a great first attempt, and certainly a fresh divergence from the mainstream French, Chinese, Japanese and Italian establishments that are ever so prevalent in the Central district. I know I will certainly be back for seconds. The tacos alone would draw me back!
26 Peel Street, Central
Tel: 2561 3336, text 9637 7701 for reservations