Pachamama East is the restaurant I’ll be spending these cold Autumn-turn-Winter evenings at. It’s Peruvian with infusions of Chinese and Japanese cuisine. Small-plate restaurants are la mode in London’s dining scene, and Peruvian classics ceviche and Pisco sours aren’t exactly exotic any more. But it’s a diverse cuisine and no place I’ve been has done it nearly as well as Pachamama. Though I’ve been enjoying the Peruvian scene in London (not yet Peru) for a while, it was news that these East Asian fusions aren’t so novel. Chifa is the blend of Peruvian and Chinese cooking brought to Peru by immigrating East Asians at the end of the 19th Century. There’s long been a Japanese diaspora in South America and so a culinary history in Peru – Nikkei. From whichever way Pachamama took each dish’s influence, it was a helluva good result.
Located on Great Eastern Street midway, Pachamama is discreet from the outside and pretty much hidden to footfall. Both times I visited, lost I scooped around onto the quieter street behind and came in through the bar. But people seem to know it and once you’re in . . . And both evenings, the bar and restaurant were full with a relaxed, chic thirty-something crowd and a cool ambience. The menu is for sharing, split into ‘Snacks’, ‘Soil’, ‘Sea’ and ‘Land’. Snacks are not to be missed either, if you’re in for the full hog. But it is a good thing that it’s small sharing plates as each one packs an incredible punch of flavour and texture. Plus, the dishes are so good you want to share each taste experience. Best start at the bar with cocktails and a snack or two to get in the groove.
The Pachamama East space is split into two. The back is the more relaxed bar area (with the full menu) where you can watch the barmen spin and knock up an impressive array of cocktails, including a vegan Pisco sour made with tiger’s milk, that’s definitely worth trying whether you’re vegan or no. The semi-open kitchen provides equal spectacle for both the bar and restaurant, with great flames from pans catching your eye. Sunk down a few steps below street level is the beautifully decorated and softly lit dining room. The high ceiling has hanging modern lampshades and lots of greenery to keep it warm and quite romantic. Or is that just the aphrodisiacs of tiger’s milk and bitters kicking in?
So food, from the start. Something never to pass up on a menu is Chicarrones, and certainly not here. Pork belly, fried, served with salsa criolla – Peruvian pepper, coriander, onion and lime. Pair this with a pineapple-tequila cocktail (recommended) and you’re set, if only there wasn’t the rest of the menu to explore. The sweet but clean drink ‘paired’ with the taste of softest pork and melting fat is what it’s all about. Another meaty snack to try is the lamb neck anticuchos (skewers); a Peruvian classic. These are served with Japanese yuzu kosho that really makes it – a Japanese seasoning of fermented chilli peppers, yuzu peel and salt. The paste adds so much spice, but of course so beautifully done it doesn’t kill the taste buds. After the snacks, plates come to the table as and when, sometimes with big gaps. It’s a decadent meal so sitting back, enjoying the wine (from a very decent list), the atmosphere and company between each brace of beautifully rich dishes is ideal.
From ‘Soil’ we had caramelised aubergine with peanuts and coriander – it is a solid Asian favourite for good reason. Make sure you have your ceviche before your tongue gets a blast with the strong, sticky BBQ sauce. Sprouting broccoli with nori (seaweed) mayo seemed to be the only green we had down. No guilt though, it’s all too good to worry about balance. We might have missed the ‘Duck on Rice’ from ‘Land’ had our waiter not pushed it. And thank God he did. Or rather thank Pachamama (Mother Earth) and chef John Javier for the creations. The richest, softest duck pulled off oh-so-sweetly onto the smooth textured dashi rice, flavoured, as was the sauce, with turmeric. Whatever else I’ve missed that goes into this simple-named but crafted dish makes genius – the taste of each bite lasted a minute or more, which didn’t stop forks clashing for our share.
Whole sea bass, pickled chilli, scallions and salted black beans was the other well chosen (encouraged) main course. I’ll go the same again next time, but perhaps bring a bigger party just to add add more options to this solid start. For dessert (why stop now?) we had Peruvian chocolate ganache with quinoa ice cream, as well as a taster portion of the corn ice cream with parsley oil. The latter was more a mercy offering for me not knowing corn to be a Peruvian staple. Even for postres . . . The East branch is an offshoot of Marylebone’s Pachamama. I have not eaten at the original, but now knowing the Shoreditch draft I doubt I will. As far as Peruvian kitchens go (which is a long way in my books) this one has topped the charts. Something standout from both visits was the knowledge and enthusiasm of the staff. They knew the menu back to front, as well as deep background of the ingredients and recipes. A final word: it’s a great option for vegans (we’ve all had the menu struggle with one) – there’s little dairy and the dedicated ‘Soil’ section I might even limit myself in order to try it all.