Guest Feature by Natalie York:
The area around Green Park station is arguably a little bit barren when it comes to really great food, fancy food certainly but it can be tricky to find places there where you feel like you’re paying for what’s on the plate rather than the luxury of dining within a few hundred feet of the queen. Step up Coya, a Peruvian restaurant which, for the last couple of years, has been quietly defying the bland grandeur of the area providing fantastic and authentic food whilst still managing to feel a little bit fancy.
I went along to try their new lunchtime masterclass offered every few weeks for those who want to polish up on their ceviche skills. Since all the fish is cooked by the lemon and lime juice we could conduct the class in the gorgeously decorated dining room. A table was set out with a range of brightly coloured ingredients, all sliced and cubed with stunning precision and floating daintily over iced water. In the class we learned all sorts of secrets and tricks of the trade on how to prepare several different types of ceviche. I have read different theories on how long the fish should be left to cook before eating but our host was adamant that after more than 5 or 6 minutes the flesh will be left unacceptably rubbery, loosing its freshness both of flavour and texture. Another revelation was the “Leche de Tigre” (literally “Milk of the Tiger”), the frankly magical marinade the fish is cooked and served in. Including lime, celery and chilli the chefs at Coya frequently drink shots of it on its own and I might start doing just the same when I’m feeling run down as it tastes like a blast of pure, unadulterated goodness whilst also being utterly delicious. The lime, interestingly, is only squeezed a little to release the first few bursts of juice before being discarded, at first this seems like a bizarre waste but we tried the difference in flavour between the juice from a lightly squeezed lime and from one that had been wrung out and the change was really surprising, the former was much sweeter whilst the latter was more bitter as, it turns out, you end up squeezing the oil from the skin into the juice.
After the class we were sat down for a proper meal to see how the pros do it, of course we started off with ceviche, three different kinds, the classic and then two others inspired by the Chinese and Japanese influences on Peruvian cooking. The Japanese style featured salmon paired with a light leche de tigre that allowed the sharpness of the lime to shine, salmon may not be the most obvious fish for a ceviche but I thought it worked the best as the flesh took on an almost creamy taste, melting in your mouth. The Chinese version was easily the hottest with the chilli providing a rich warmth that went well with meaty chunks of tuna, probably the best fish to pair with such robust flavours as it can easily hold its own. The classic used sea bass as ceviche is traditionally done with a white fish and came with a herby leche packed with coriander and served alongside the most delicious crunchy corn and cubes of sweet potato.
After this we moved on from ceviche to try some of the other highlights of the menu. The grilled octopus was fantastic with a tender texture and a salty, garlicky flavour that made it very moreish. Additionally the creamy, truffled mushrooms were deliciously soft and smokey and the quinoa salad came with just the right balance of tangy, crunchy vegetables with a sharp lime and pomegranate dressing, simple but providing a vital contrast to the rich, warm dishes coming out of the grill.
Probably my favourite was the beef steak, charred to perfection on the outside and perfectly rare and soft on the inside served with a sharp tomato sauce that cut through perfectly. As it was presented in thin strips it, like all the dishes we were served, could be easily shared out providing a fun, communal feeling at the table as everyone tried a bit of everything.
I think Coya is really doing something pretty special over there in Picadilly, providing a fun, friendly atmosphere and genuinely fantastic and exciting food amidst all that glamour and glitz. The masterclass is a pretty good way of introducing yourself to it, especially if you don’t know much about or want to know more about Peruvian cooking. I could see it as a really special birthday or anniversary present maybe, I’ve been treated to it myself once and would very happily head over again!