Coya restaurant review: shining a light on deepest, darkest Peru
Top-end Peruvian cookery in the heart of Mayfair
When the Peruvian migrant Paddington Bear arrived in London 59 years ago last week, his country’s food was unknown to the majority of British diners. In the intervening decades, interest in Latin American cuisine has grown steadily, peaking over the past year after a flurry of restaurant openings.
US food critic Eric Asimov describes Peru’s fast-growing fare as “one of the great cross-cultural exchanges of all time”, having absorbed influences from almost every continent over the last 500 years. And the good news is that Londoners don't have to travel all the way to Lima to try it out. Mayfair restaurant Coya’s interpretation of Peru’s fascinating fusion cuisine is both authentic and upmarket.
Located close to Green Park in the heart of the capital, Coya occupies the Venn diagram crossover point where atmospheric private members’ club meets high-end eatery. The lighting is low, the decor well judged, and the food exceptional, if pricey.
The menu opens with a selection of ceviches – raw fish dishes cured in citrus fruits and spiced with chilli. The true origin of ceviche is unknown, but Peru claims it and Coya makes it its own.
We opt for two, the Lubina Classico and the Salmon Nikkei, and couple them with Peru’s answer to sashimi – a scallop tiridito. All three arrive promptly and the ceviches immediately deliver. The Classico is a classic for a reason – fresh fish, beautifully presented, that’s soft and subtle when eaten on its own and wonderfully tart when coupled with corn, potatoes and lemony sauce. The Nikkei is less understated, with wasabi adding heat and ginger acting as an instantaneous palate cleanser. The only weak spot in our opening salvo of raw dishes is the tiridito. The delicately sliced scallops are overwhelmed by a powerful Peruvian olive puree.
Things get immediately and spectacularly back on track when our mains arrive – the restaurant’s famed “iron pot”, the Arroz Nikkei, and a tiger prawn dish, the Langostino Tigre.
It’s hard to overstate the excellence of Coya’s much-praised iron pot. Our waitress recommends it to us and and to the tables on either side. She’s right to do so – it’s outstanding. The dish arrives at the table with the sea bass intact, then mixed until all the ingredients are combined. The result is an unctuous combination one wishes would never end.
At £39, the iron pot isn’t cheap – though it isn’t the dearest item on Coya’s menu, which includes a Wagyu sirloin for just shy of £100 – but it’s unquestionably worth every penny. This is a destination dish if ever there was one.
Our other main, the Langostino Tigre is billed as a tiger prawn, but is almost the size of a lobster. A lovely accompaniment, this would be a star dish in other company, but plays second fiddle to the glorious Arroz Nikkei.
For food lovers with a sweet tooth, there’s a trio of dessert options. The most unusual on the list is the Sundae de Maiz, a corn-based frozen dessert, which may sound like an odd proposition. In fact, it’s very nice – a sweetcorn ice-cream speckled with caramel popcorn.
Prices can seem high, but the drinks list includes excellent wines by the glass at reasonable prices, which makes a big difference to the final tally.
And the high-quality cookery on show at Coya makes it clear why Peru’s cuisine is neither so deep, nor so dark as when Paddington first arrived.
Coya, 118 Piccadilly, W1J 7NW, coyarestaurant.com, 020 7042 7118