I had a birthday brunch at Chicama’s sister restaurant, Pachamama, last year, where Mike had demolished the highly decorated Pan Con Chicharrón burger – winner of 2015’s Slider Decider – and James 1 had got so drunk on pisco punch he’d accidentally broken someone’s arm. It had been a fun afternoon, and had firmly established Peru in Mike’s head as one of the meat capitals of the world.
Unfortunately we’d neglected to tell him that Pachamama’s new sibling was meat-free. “Where are the chicharróns?” he asked as we looked down at our menus, he in dismay and James 1, Chris and I with barely concealed lust. Mike had been looking forward to the little Peruvian pork scratchings all week, but Chicama is a seafood restaurant, and the rest of us were excited about the things that people at Pachamama could do with a sea bass or a scallop.
It was a shame not to sit inside the restaurant, as someone very tasteful had clearly thrown an absolute shitload of money at it. Columns of brand new crockery in every shade of quartz were stacked neatly behind a long pink marble counter so beautiful it made me feel broody. Staff, like plate-bearing cocker spaniels, bounced around obsequiously but we put it down to opening-week nerves and the fact that a certain level of sycophancy is generally expected in the kind of joint that charges £17 for two fifths of an octopus.
A mixed bag of ‘nibbles’ were on the house after we were moved from a large, sunshine-dappled table in prime people-watching position to a tiny one wedged behind an ever-swinging patio door. Popped-corn Monkfish Cheeks with Ají Amarillo Mayo (£9.00) got us all hot and bothered on paper but failed to deliver – those carefully extracted morsels of fish may as well have been chicken nuggets by the time they’d been ‘popped’ (deep fried?). The fishy nibble to go for is the Crispy Confit Seabass Rolls with Brown Crab Mayo (£8.00), which reminded me of Hakkasan’s incredible golden radish crabmeat dim sum (see here) with its pretty ridged shell and soft seafood centre.
A 9,000 mile tangent to Japan resulted in a plate of fine, fat mushroom gyoza (£5.00), which sat in a smear of fermented yuca ponzu and reminded me of Jabba the Hut.
A selection of small plates took us to sturdier ground, starting with a superstar sea bass ceviche (£10) made with a hefty infusion of coconut; a pleasant cauliflower dish with pine nut salt and smoky, milky burrata; and a ‘milk-fed’ aubergine (honestly) with plantain miso and pecans, which, once you’ve gotten over the ludicrous description, presented a bold palette of flavours abroad the succulent meat of the aubergine, with an unexpected kick.
The four of us fell upon £20 plates of scallops – discounted to £10 each during the soft launch – and could have eaten many more if public decency and our bank balances had allowed. Monster scallops sat proudly like enormous meaty jewels in an ornate crown of mushroom ‘steak’, plantain and apple miso, a combination so audibly lip-smacking we practically licked our plates clean. It’s a small plate with a big plate price-tag, but to be honest if you’re in for a penny you may as well be in for a pound, and that solid marble countertop isn’t going to pay for itself.
There’ll be sticker shock too at the aforementioned octopus, but it’s difficult not be charmed by its perfectly puckered little suckers, artistically charred, each tentacle curling into a crisp little corkscrew.
I asked if the fresh sea bass (£17) came filleted and our jolly French waitress – the only member of staff who didn’t seem to be on edge – declared she would do it for me (because NOPE to spending precious eating time pulling fragments of fish bone out of my dinner). Despite her best efforts we still spent a good while trying to spit out bones with at least some sense of decorum. I liked the rice it came with but, honestly, I’d rather have had another plate of the octopus. Less faff.
It was a Tuesday night so we had a glass of wine each, but some of the other diners were awkwardly sipping cocktails from glassware that looked suspiciously like the little ramekins Gü’s Melting Middle Chocolate Puds come in. (I am very familiar with these because we have about 30 in our kitchen at home, which we keep in the vague hope that they may one day be useful for something. In reality we occasionally use them, one at a time, to serve mayonnaise when we’re feeling posh.)
In lieu of cocktails we tried the short menu of puddings, which included a wonderful, comforting sweet potato tart with a savoury edge – think pumpkin pie with the crisp, varnished shell of a creme brûlée – and a comparatively uninspired dish of ‘whipped chocolate’ (i.e. mousse) with peanuts and blackberries.
Top to bottom: Sweet Potato Tart, Malt & Bourbon Cream; Whipped Chocolate with Peanuts and Berries; Banana & Yuzu Ice-cream, Torched Meringue, Banana and Coconut (all £6.50).
All in all, not bad for their first week, though a smart diner would ignore the grilled fish and stick to the small plates. Is it as good as Pachamama? No, not yet, but give them time.
Chicama, 383 King’s Rd, London, SW10 0LP
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.