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Ceviche Old St review by Will Squires
A shadow announces Old St’s Ceviche. A metal logo, lit from above and projecting across the brickwork of the building, serves as a conveniently artistic introduction to a meal filled with cleverness, the interplay between texture and flavour mirroring the sign’s dance between light and dark.
Ceviche Old St is the latest offering from Peruvian chef, Martin Morales, the curator of Ceviche Soho and Andina. The restaurant is nestled within the historical ground floor of the former Alexandra Trust Dining Rooms, built over a century ago to feed the poor of Hackney and Islington.
The building itself is grand; richly appointed mahogany furniture, colossal chandeliers, and a vaguely Imperial brasserie feel – were it not for the throbbing Latino beat sashaying throughout, you might feel transported back to the British Raj. Upon opening the menu, I’m hesitant. I’m a strong believer in the less-is-more philosophy. Ceviche boasts an impressive if slightly daunting array of submenus; Nibbles, Ceviche, grill, classics, rotisserie, sides, kitchen sink. In an effort to allay my fears, I consult the waiter, an effortlessly charming gentleman named Jacopo who possesses an encyclopaedic knowledge of ceviche. The restaurant stocks an impressive selection of South American wines, the Single Vineyard Carmenere being a winner, and a pisco-orientated cocktail menu, with an ‘impostors’ menu of botanical-infused piscos meant to mimic the flavours of gin, whisky, rum and tequila.
Delving into the nibbles, we’re impressed by the Golazos de Chicharrón; gorgeously appointed steamed buns in the style of current-capital-favourites Bao. Redolent with confit pork belly and a punchy salsa, the killer hit is served by perfect cubes of watermelon, providing a fresh twist to the often overpowering richness of pork belly.
Ceviche itself is a strange food. Most dishes have a basis for comparison with another – I’ve heard arguments that ceviche is the South American tartare, but I’m not sure that holds either. The Trujillo tiradito is beautiful; long, sushi-like cuts of sea-bass marinated in a rocoto chili tiger’s milk. The fish itself is beautifully rich, but I find the Greek yoghurt accompaniment too tart, detracting from the balance of citrus so delicately applied to the fish.
You’ll find no complaints hear about the next dish. The Carnaval de Conchitas is aptly named. Hand-dived scallops are cured with a mandarin tiger’s milk, and served nestled up against the most impressively cut avocado I have ever seen. Sliced ludicrously finely, the fat-content leaves it perfectly opaque, the nutty richness of the avocado serving as a decadent counterpoint to the scallop. I could write on and on about this dish – the tiger’s milk is fantastically volatile, launching an olfactory expedition into your skull.
Less impressive is the lobster tail from the grill section. It’s the most expensive item on the menu, yet it lacks the delicacy or consideration of the other dishes, giving the impression that it’s a panacea to people with more money than sense. The roast duck, marinated in Mirasol chili and orange, is excellent, if confusing. There’s an almost bovine quality to it; incredibly rich, incredibly dense. It’s the sort of dish you have to pause before returning to; each bite requires time to contemplate. Meanwhile the pastel de Choclo, a corn and feta savoury cake is crowned with a mound of gloriously ripe tomato and olive, cleanses and excites the palate in a one-two haymaker combination. The cake itself is poignantly Mexican, a sort of upper-class cornbread that is swiftly demolished.
To finish, we share the picarones – pumpkin doughnuts drizzled with chancaca honey and cinnamon ice cream. The doughnuts themselves are passable, but the heavy weight of the pumpkin denies them the fluffy lightness of a truly great doughnut. The only critique of the cinnamon ice cream is, perhaps, that there isn’t enough of it.
Ceviche Old St is an impressive restaurant. Skilled staff help to make the most of a complex menu – all of the recommendations were fantastic. The food is exciting, beautiful and easy to share, giving you plenty to talk about over dinner. Just make sure you go for the scallop.