An old friend of mine, Cynthia Chin, has a food column in the Chinese paper, and on this day, I am tagging along as her guest while she visits two Peruvian restaurants in Hong Kong. My son and I love Peruvian food, and we eat it about once every few months, so I’m excited to see how the Peruvian food scene is here.
Our first stop is El Mercado, a little spot on the 21st floor of a building in the Wanchai district offering Nikkei style cuisine — Japanese-influenced Peruvian food. The elevators open to reveal a delightful eatery with wooden tables, and an eco-environment complete with edibles in windowsill planters as decor.
I meet Chef Jose Manuel, a 27-year-old who has worked at Astrid Y Gastón, one of the 50 Best Restaurants in the world, under renowned Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio. I watch Chef Manuel as he puts together the finishing touches on our plates with extreme focus and meticulosity.
Cynthia begins with Ostra Acevichada (HK$58/USD7.50), a Japanese oyster topped with lime and squid ink foam.
A pot consisting of a dressing and liquid nitrogen is served table-side emitting puffs of “smoke” from the spout. It is an impressive way to present to customers in the dining room. Since I am unable to partake in the oyster, I ask for a spoon to taste the dressing. It is perfectly tart with fragrant aromas from the various ingredients infused in the pot.
I am tickled by Ceviche Classico (HK$168/USD21.70) using Ohnibe — a Japanese croaker — which I am unfamiliar with. Bathed in leche de tigre, its flavors are well melded with each morsel of fish possessing that milkiness typically associated with leche de tigre. The fish is firm and holds well under the acid. The sweet potato calms the palates in between bites of ceviche. Chef Manuel takes it up a notch by infusing slivers of sweet potato in squid ink, then flash frying them to create strands resembling seaweed. There are crispy battered squid rings which accompany, but frankly, they are not necessary. The ceviche and sweet potatoes served two ways is ample enough to complete the dish.
Del Amazonas (HK$68/USD8.75) is nigiri sushi topped with seared flank steak, and finished with a runny poached quail egg. The mouthfeel is unctous and decadent. Simply sublime!
Anticucho (HK$148/USD19) is one of my favorite Peruvian dishes and Chef Manuel’s is absolute perfection. Slices of tender grilled beef heart is marinated in chile oil puree and set atop roasted baby potatoes bathed in a corn puree. Fried corn husk adorn the heart which not only adds texture, but also, flavor to each bite.
The most recognized Peruvian dish in the US is Lomo Saltado (HK$308/USD39.75) and here, the dish is elevated to another level. Strips of beef is seared with onions, potatoes, grape tomatoes, and red peppers, then tossed in soy sauce and served in a little ceramic pot. A flavorful rice with peas and corn is served alongside. This is a dish which is reflective of the chifa style of cuisine — Chinese-influenced Peruvian food.
We finish up here and quickly head to Chicha, another Peruvian installation in Hong Kong. We meet Chef Abel Ortiz, who joined Chicha only a few months ago, who has also worked under Gastón Acurio. Here, the atmosphere is a little more casual and the plates, more in tune with the Peruvian food I am familiar with.
We begin with Scallop Hot Ceviche (HK$70/USD9 each) served in its original shell. An aji amarillo butter is drizzled over the scallop seasoned with soy and honey. Wedges of fresh lime is provided should you prefer an extra hint of acid. Dots of olive creme is savory and provides a saltiness I am very fond of.
I’m a huge fan of duck, so naturally, my eyes gravitate towards Aguadito Criollo De Pato (HK$310/USD40). The duck is presented two ways — roasted and sliced, and also, a slow-cooked duck leg. Both sit on top of a beautifully green hued aji panca arroz flavored with Cusquena beer. It is sublime and I am not able to stop eating.
If you’re a fan of fish, then Corvina a la Casmena (HK$350/USD45) is perfect. A whole grilled filleted seabass is topped with salsa chalaquita — a finely diced chalaca (what is typically used in choros a la chalaca — what we know as pico de gallo. — A warm leche de tigre dresses the fish and there’s some offered on the side if you need more. Grilled plantains are beautifully caramelized and offer a hint of sweetness to balance the palate.
Those with a sweet tooth will relish in Picarones (HK$58/USD7.50), fried sweet potato doughnuts drizzled with orange spiced syrup. I like how Chef Ortiz offers extra sauce on the side for his dishes because I often find things overly dressed, while my friends may prefer more. This way, we can adjust accordingly. The doughnuts are light and fluffy and not overly sweet.
Both restaurants offer stellar examples of Peruvian cuisine. El Mercado is sophisticated, while Chicha is what I’m more familiar with — hearty dishes with robust flavors. If you’re in Hong Kong and looking for a unique experience, here are two excellent choices to think about.
21/F, 239 Hennessy Road
Tel: +852 2388 8009
G/F, 26 Peel Street
Tel: +852 9637 7701
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