At the start of the year, food pundits looking for 2012's big food trends in London were almost unanimous in tipping Peruvian food to be the big one. Openings of trendy restaurant/cocktail bars in Soho, Noho and (soon) Shoreditch happened, and the joys of pisco sours became better known. But for those who don't need exposed brick and industrial lights to enjoy good food, a good Peruvian option could be enjoyed without leaving North/East London.
Tierra Peru opened early in 2012 on a slightly forgotten strip of Essex Road, the main traffic artery connecting Islington with Stoke Newington, Dalston and Hackney. When I lived in Newington Green this was my main route into town – there were a few interesting looking places on Essex Road but none ever looked too busy. Busy roads can be unforgiving places to hang out: the traffic discourages street life, the lack of street life discourages interesting cafe life.
But Tierra Peru is busy every night, with it's good value, generous portions of authentic Peruvian food. There are no nods to Lower East Side NYC in the décor here: it's all leather chairs, glossy surfaces, plasma TVs, slightly garish in a different cultural interpretation of 'stylish'. I'd always rather restaurants focused on good value food than instagram friendly interiors.
Ceviche is the big draw – fish and seafood marinaded in lime and chili, effectively curing it and making it edible without losing any of its freshness. Some of my friends were a bit sceptical about the thought, but the plate we ordered was hoovered up in no time. It came with cassava, crispy corn kernels and fried plantain. Mmmmm.
We also shared some potato in a cheese sauce – like the horribly synthetic nacho cheese ala Dorritos – but GOOD. Slithers of black olive and slices of hard boiled egg making for an interesting taste combination. That, and a chicken pastry with a salsa.
The main courses were meat and carb heavy – a couple of us plumped for seafood and rice options, the others had big bits of juicy meat on the bone, with croquettes and plantains. My seafood stew was good – full of fresh tasting seafood, chunky squid, plump mussels and juicy prawns. They didn't skimp on the good stuff and the flavours were nice, but it was less interesting than the first course.
The pisco sours were great – tangy, and frothy from the egg white whisked in.
I think if I was to go again, I would do it more tapas style, sharing a greater number of interesting starters and supping on more piscoes as I went along. But if you want to sample Peruvian cuisine without the queues and hype, and without leaving the 'hood, Tierra Peru is a good start.