Small plates from the sea at Chicama, Chelsea

A few years ago I had my birthday brunch at Pachamama, Marylebone, where we gorged on ceviche and the (justifiably) much-hyped Pan Con Chicharrón burgers, and my housemate James got so drunk on pisco punch he accidentally broke our mate Chris’s arm. 

It was with that very same housemate that I visited Pachamama’s sister restaurant Chicama last month; older, wiser, and determined to return home without having to swing by A&E. It had been on my list for awhile because a) Pachamama is a really, really good restaurant, b) Peruvian food is one of my all-time favourite cuisines and c) Chicama is an all-seafood joint.

(This meant that there were no chicharróns of the conventional porky variety, but they did have some made of squid (£8.00). They were, since you ask, nice enough, but once you’ve subjected something to that kind of deep-frying treatment you could really be eating anything.)

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 beautiful crockery in every shade of quartz were stacked neatly behind a long pink marble counter so cold and beautiful I just wanted to roll my sweaty face all over it. Alas, in places such as this one must have a sense of decorum. Seeing as it was still about a million degrees we opted to sit out on the nice little terrace, so we ate our dinner watching Chelsea’s absolutely preposterous stock of giant fuck-boy cars casually desecrate the planet.

It would be flat out demented to go to Chicama – or, indeed, any Peruvian restuarant – and not order some ceviche. If you’ve never tried it before, ceviche is a dish of very fresh fish, cut into small pieces and cured in a cocktail of citrus fruits with various other bits and pieces chucked in, and it is the ULTIMATE summer food. It’s cold and fresh and light but also deceptively filling and indulgent. There are a few different kinds at Chicama and we chose the sea bass (£13.00), an absolute dreamboat of a dish with a hefty infusion of sesame. I could have ordered all the ceviches and just had that for dinner but then this review would just be ‘FISH I REALLY LOVE IT‘ in giant capital letters.

Next was the blackened octopus (£17.00) with confit potato, a tangy tomato sauce and teeny clouds of cauliflower. It’s a small plate with a big plate price tag, but this is Chelsea and that solid marble countertop isn’t going to pay for itself. Once the sticker shock wore off though, it was hard not to be charmed by the little guy’s perfectly puckered little suckers, artistically charred, each tentacle curling into a crisp corkscrew.

To avert scurvy we ordered the cauliflower (£9.00), because since discovering you can make Berber & Q’s cauliflower shwarma at home (recipe here, you’re bloody welcome) I have become, shall we say, a cauli connoisseur. And this one scores high, a solid 8/10, could have done with a bit more char. We also ordered the sprouting broccoli (£9.00) because it came with a coffee and smoked chilli dip which sounded bloody fantastic, like a Jo Malone candle you can eat, but turned out to be a bit underwhelming. The coffee gave it an unusual depth of flavour but what I really wanted was something wonderful and weird. Also, there wasn’t enough of it. (In my book, shortchanging customers on dip is a crime akin to cooking a steak medium-well, or putting chips on a pizza.)

Speaking of weird, you do not need to order the tapioca marshmallows (£6.00), which we tried out of sheer curiosity. You must fight the urge to get them yourself, because they sound so goddamn bizarre, but I am here to tell you they taste like blocks of sticky wadding that’s been marinaded in the sea for awhile. Spend your money on extra ceviche instead.

We also ordered the prawns (£16.00), rare for me because I hate playing with my food, but these were worth the faff, all gussied up in fermented Japanese Yuzu Kosho dressing with their shells falling away easily from the wodge of sweet prawn meat within. It’s shit like this that makes me want to start playing the lottery, so one day I can move to some exotic seaside and pay someone to peel giant prawns and feed them to me like grapes. Aaah. A girl can dream, right?

In lieu of cocktails we tried a couple of puddings, which included a wonderful, comforting sweet potato tart (£7.00) with a savoury edge – think pumpkin pie with the crisp, varnished shell of a creme brûlée – and an obscenely rich, deepest, darkest chocolate and olive mousse (£8.00), which alone could have comfortably pushed two people over the edge into a calorie-induced coma. It did look rather like something you’d take pains to avoid stepping in on a pavement but we’ll forgive it because it was bloody lovely – I don’t have an especially rampant sweet tooth but there”s something about the combination of dark, brooding chocolate sweetness and the salty sourness of olives that really tickles my pickle. (Hakkasan does a bloody lovely olive and chocolate pud too. It’s a secret dream combo.)

We skipped back to the tube only lightly pissed on pisco sours, i.e. drunk enough to squint shamelessly into the houses of any posh folk who’d left their blinds open and loudly speculate how much they must have paid for them, but not drunk enough to start breaking people’s arms. That’s adulthood though, I’m afraid.

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 East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.