Peruvian cuisine is on-trend right now. First there was Ceviche, then the much-lauded Lima, and now Coya launches hot on their heels. For anyone fed up of the same-old, same-old Spanish, Italian and French menus, it might be time to try something a little different.
Coya is a beautiful restaurant. It is the kind of place where every aesthetic detail has been carefully thought through and the result is sheer decadence. The space itself is a good size, with enough room to seat around 100 covers at any one time. It’s spread out across different areas of visual tantalisation. For a start, there are three (count ‘em!) open kitchens, each dedicated to a different part of the menu: the main kitchen; the charcoal grill; and the ceviche bar. Then there’s an adjacent bar area dedicated entirely to the art of pisco.
Although the décor could so easily have gone overboard with the Latin theme, they have instead kept things incredibly tasteful. Mustard leather chairs mix with orange leather sofa seating for a bright mix that isn’t in your face, and terracotta floors clash (in a good way) with the browns, creams and whites of the wall tiling. Meanwhile, blue and yellow feature walls in the bar keep things interesting. A real decorative highlight, however, are two huge, intricately carved wooden doors set into one of the walls (think The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and you're almost there). This is the kind of place you could visit several times over and still spot new decorative embellishments missed before.
Coya manages to capture the Peruvian spirit with its bold décor and open kitchens flooding the room with incredible aromas. Some tables are better positioned than others; if you get stuck on the end then you can feel a little distanced, and the waiting staff seem to pay you a bit less attention. However, sit by one of the open kitchen areas and the theatre of the restaurant really captures the imagination. The Coya Collective is worth checking out, too, as they bring together musical events and art for a real celebration of South America.
The menu at Coya is pretty wide, with a big focus on bold flavours and fresh ingredients. To start, the ceviche selection is worth trying. Priced between £8 and £11, it's basically incredibly fresh fish marinated in lemon or lime juice and given a little bit of heat from a spike of chilli. The atún chifa brings together delicate, light pieces of raw yellow-fin tuna, lightly seasoned with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and served with a crisp, surprisingly light shrimp cracker. It’s not exactly the most filling dish in the world, and for £11 it’s certainly not the cheapest, but the careful balance of flavour and the incredible freshness of the fish explain why the price tag is where it is.
For mains you have the choice of opting for a range of smaller plates or going for a more substantial dinner instead. And this is where you have to ignore the rest and make a beeline straight for the marinated meat and fish cooked on the charcoal grill. Incredibly priced (starting at just £6), it’s surprisingly filling – especially when bulked up with a side dish. If you’re squeamish then the ox heart might not be too tempting but it is incredibly delicious. The heart is surprisingly tender and full of rich, offal flavour, enhanced by the freshness of a sprinkling of parsley. It also packs a bit of a punch as it comes served with rocoto chilli – and yes, this will burn your mouth. Order with a bowl of white rice, white corn and sweet garlic (£5) and you’ll be really full for well under £15. If you have money to spend then go for a few of these skewers for a substantial banquet.
There’s an entire Pisco Bar available so it’s no surprise that the menu focuses on cocktails, as well as tequila and rum. In fact, they stock more than 40 different tequilas here and many of them are rarely seen within the capital. As tequila becomes increasingly popular thanks to Mexican bars upping their game, it’s good to see that this spirit is becoming more than just something you shoot and shudder at.
The drinks aren’t cheap but they’re roughly in line with similar bars. You’re looking at a price tag of at least a tenner to enjoy a tipple, though so you may want to just play it straight. If you don’t have an issue with the cost then the Zacapa Old Fashioned is worth trying. It tastes strongly of alcohol and is as a cocktail should be – free from sweet, sickly syrups and soft drinks to dilute it down. If a strong drop is too much for you then for £4 each you can enjoy a pot of tea, such as the Belsari Assam, which is ideal for settling the digestion before the journey home.
The Last Word
It’s easy to see why Londoners have adopted Peruvian cuisine so readily. Coya does a great job of offering something a little different to the rest, so it’s no wonder that it has already gained a loyal following.