Peruvian Palate Perfection:
Have you ever visited a restaurant that has rocketed into your favourites on the premise of one stand-alone visit? Well, I hadn’t until last Wednesday evening when I gratefully took up an invitation to celebrate the launch of the new Casamigos Tequila tasting menu. The food and cocktails were exquisite, the Tequila education an eye-opening delight, our surroundings perfectly attuned to the Latin American theme and last but not least a cordial and upbeat atmosphere with my fellow diners made the whole evening a highly pleasurable and satisfying experience.
It felt special from the outset – we dined in the intimate Private Dining Room (maximum capacity of 12) with fabulous decor including what can only be described as a gnarled wooden table with patterned swirls and lots of indentations ideal for accommodating bowls, plates, large dishes and glasses. One entire side of the room was adorned with modern contemporary art, think Banksy type energetic graffiti with symbolism hidden in every swirl of the brush. For the purposes of reviewing the meal, I will be addressing the Tequila tasting and food options as separate entities. This is not merely to accredit both of them with the individual merit they deserve but to try and identify their distinct separate qualities that attract and complement the pairing with a perfect synchronicity. On arrival, we were all armed with a Maya-Huel (Casamigos Tequila, pomegranate, mint, lemon, and green chilli) a delicious concoction served in skull cocktail mugs that were such a fun novelty and signalled the start of what was to be a Latin American Extravaganza.
Generous portions were evident from the appearance of the first course. Appearance was consistently of exquisite quality, inducing myself and fellow diners to want to try a small portion of everything! The first set of dishes that arrived included Lubina Clasico (Sea bass, red onions, sweet potato, white corn), Tiradito de Cobia (Cobia, edamame, baby gem, ponzu), Corvina Chifa (Corvina, soy, sesame seeds, shrimp cracker) and Ceviche de Tomates (Tomatoes, coriander, green chilli which I am determined to ‘rustle’ up at home). I particularly loved the fish dishes, The Sea Bass flaked to perfection and my first ever taste of Corvina was one that I would highly recommend to fish lovers – often served in Corviche, the meaty, flaky mild taste was really enhanced by the Soy and Sesame Seeds and made a mouth-watering combination.
Barely had we time to draw breath before the next round of dishes magically appeared – Calamares Fritos con Ocopa (Baby squid, Peruvian marigold, quinoa), Ensalada de Maiz (Josper corn, crispy corn, sweet onion, red chillies), Setas Anticucho (Mushrooms, chia, miso) and last but certainly not least a Tartare de Atun (Tuna tartare, spring onions, radish, wasabi mayonnaise, katsuobushi). The Mushrooms really stood out for me – there was a meaty earthiness to them that my palate worshipped! Seasoned perfectly with the Miso and with the addition of the much revered Chia, both for its health giving benefits and nutrition-packed ingredients, this was one delicious bowl of food that I could have happily have eaten as a stand alone dinner.
Room for the main course anyone? You can always find room where temptation is factored into the equation! Arroz Nikkei (Chilean sea bass, rice, lime, chilli), Bife de Chorizo (Josper grilled sirloin, chimichurri (no relation to Mary Poppins!) and tamarind salsa) plus Pechuga de Pato (Duck breast, chifa vegetables, lucuma). Whoever made that duck dish please step forward and take a bow for my favourite dish of the evening. The tenderness of the meat, the added sweetness of the Lucuma and not forgetting the Chifa element (think along the lines of Peruvian and Cantonese fusion) made for an eclectic dish with a potent perfection of wholesome flavours. Accompanying the main dishes were Patatas Bravas a la Peruana (Crisp potatoes, spicy tomatoes, huancaina sauce), Arroz Peruano (White rice, white corn, sweet garlic) and Broccoli (Sprouting Broccoli, chilli and garlic butter) each adding the perfect accompaniment to the overall masterpiece.
Our waistlines were groaning, we were sated with the most beautiful delicacies, was there really any chance of managing a single spoonful of pudding? The answer is a resounding yes – I didn’t stretch my taste buds to the Mousse de Coco (Coconut mousse, pineapple sorbet, lime and coconut granite) but I did miraculously manage both the Sundae de Maiz (Corn sundae, sweet corn ice cream and popcorn) plus the Caramelo con Chocolate y Tequila (Chocolate Ganache, casamigos tequila, mango). The Sundae de Maiz was fun and would have headed up the sales of the most discerning ice cream counter but the Chocolate Ganache had an utter brilliance that gave this scintillating meal a legendary encore. Gooey, soft subtle hints of rounded caramel Tequila and the fruitiness of mango all enveloped in layers of chocolate – my salivary glands are still being activated at the mere reminder of this plate of paradise.
So just where do I hear you ask does Tequila fit in? Everywhere is my vehement response to that. Pre, During and Post dinner, Tequila brings a Latin American Joie De Vivre straight to the table accentuating the smooth roundedness of the meal. This is the new wave South American version where strong citrus sharp flavours are the order of the day. Casamigos (House of Friends) Tequila was founded by none other than the heartthrob George Clooney, Rande Gerber and Mike Meldman. Forget your previous experience with the drink – for me, it conjured up images of salt around glasses burning your lips served in a sawdust-strewn barn environment followed by a thumping hangover the next morning. This brand couldn’t get further away from the student paint stripper image I imagined. Made from 100% Blue Weber Agaves, the quality is nurtured by the red clay and ideal climate of the Highlands of Jalisco in Mexico. We started off pre-dinner with the Casamigos Blanco which is rested for up to 60 days. The smokiness and sweetness were evident with peppery notes in addition to giving a long and crisply smooth taste that lingers for a short period. A softer version with ice can also be produced which somewhat dulls the taste. Then it was on to my real favourite, the Reposado aged in small barrels for between 2-12 months producing a straw hay colour influenced by contact with the wood. Simply divine would be my interpretation – this had a softer, more caramel and overall sweeter taste making it a really popular all-rounder drink with the most gorgeous lingering silky medium finish. The last Tequila we tried I would term the ‘big boys’ drink’ – the Anejo packs a BIG punch alternating from sweetness via the blue weber agaves against the spice and barrel oak notes. A very smooth rounded finish was apparent but lining them up in terms of personal preference, the Reposado took my vote of popularity by a whisker mainly down to the overall softer taste. There are several other elements residing behind the success, namely the slower fermentation, the proprietary yeast and the slower cooking process. Good things come to those in wait sprang to mind.
This was an evening of companionship, education and celebration. My miniatures goody bag will be sampled at special occasions! I would like to thank the brand ambassador whose encyclopaedic knowledge and passion for Casamigos Tequila came across with such verve and enthusiasm. Gratitude in an ample manner must also be extended to those involved in the culinary preparation, cooking and serving of dishes. The customer service and serving tasks were carried out with a warm professionalism that made us feel valued clientele. It may have been my first visit, it certainly won’t be my last. Treasures such as this restaurant and its menu need to have the merit they deserve heralded far and wide about the exemplary experience and quality of hosting. I end my review with sharing perhaps the best advice I could pass on when it comes to the subject of Tequila – never add or drink a Tequila with salt around the edges, it not only will confuse your brain and senses, it may well sting your lips! As for pre-mixed Tequilas, honestly, you are doing yourself an injustice when you can get the real taste of Latin America from Casamigos Tequila. A resounding Cheers for the entire evening that was a pleasure from start to finish. Definitely, an experience that left a smile on my plate…….!