Pachamama, Marylebone

There are now a number of fine Peruvian restaurants in London, cementing the trend for South American cuisine. Each time I sample the dishes at these trendy London hotspots I can’t help but wonder if the plates in Peru are presented with the same finesse and creativity. Pachamama is the latest Peruvian eatery to receive rave reviews from critics and locals, offering flavoursome and innovative dishes in a characterful setting.

It is easy to walk past the modest front door of Pachamama, it is only once you walk in that your senses are flooded; warmth from the kitchen, laughter from the guests, colour from the beautifully tiled interior and aromas from all around. The design is the definition of shabby chic, rough edged but with thoughtful touches everywhere. Before you even look at the food menu, order a round of Pisco cocktails – my favourite was the Mama’s Pisco, a fruity combination of fresh raspberry, mint and orange, with a good measure of Pisco, Peru’s national spirit.

The staff recommend around three dishes per person, but you will have a hard job picking from the array of interesting choices. The menu is split into Land, Sea and Salads; we aimed to pick at least one dish from each section to taste a variety of the offerings. I really wanted to try the sweet plantain but apparently the new chef forgot to add it to the produce order. Instead we opted for intensely flavoured sea bass ceviche with samphire, radish, sweet potato and tiger’s milk. The soft fleshy fish was sitting in a pool of wonderfully sharp vinegar dressing and topped with delicate specks of garnish. Flamed octopus with purple potatoes, capers and crispy shallots is a powerful dish: large chunks of seafood accent a thick, alarmingly black sauce. “Duck on Rice” was possibly my favourite dish, tender strips of meat with a crisp edge are drizzled with a sweet sticky sauce and served with gloopy but tasty avocado rice. I would also recommend Smoked Gloucester Old Spot ribs with English malt and peanut glaze, although rather messy to eat. For dessert we indulged with the chocolate fondant, brittle and salted peanut ice cream. I’m not sure how authentically Peruvian this dish is but it was good enough that we stopped caring after mouthful one. The dense chocolate fondant was gloriously rich and had an almost bitter cocoa flavour, thankfully the nutty, sweet ice-cream contrasted brilliantly.

The lunch menu at Pachamama is unmissable giving diners the perfect opportunity to taste the food without spending a fortune. Available between 12 noon and 3pm each plate costs just £6, a big reduction on the standard prices.

If Peruvian food at home is as good as the grub at Pachamama put me on the first flight.

More information about Pachamama here:

Chiltern Firehouse, Marylebone

Chiltern Street will never be the same again. The arrival of the celebrity zoo Chiltern Firehouse has shaken London’s restaurant scene unlike anything else. Reservations are non-existent and only a famous friend can help you get a table here. I insisted on registering for the waitlist for an August Monday evening and my luck was in as Lindsay Lohan or Miley Cyrus obviously got a better offer for that night as a table became available for little, unimportant me.

Despite the hovering paparazzi at the entrance, I saw zero celebrities inside, which was extremely disappointing considering the A-listers who have been pictured there recently. With this in mind it seems fair to focus this review on the food and service I experienced at London’s hottest hang-out. The building itself is lovely, an old red-brick fire station and this gothic venue certainly sets the mood of the exclusive restaurant and hotel. It is the latest offering from Andre Balazs (prestigious hotelier) and Michelin-starred chef Nuno Mendes (of Viajante fame) takes control in the open kitchen.

Ushered in and checked off on the reservations list we took a seat at the bar, which seemed to be an area for elegantly dressed waitresses to gossip amongst themselves. It seemed silly not to try a couple of cocktails, seeing as we were finally here. We sampled a Kiss and Tell (Poached rhubarb, vermouth, vanilla bitters, raspberry air emulsion) and a Happy Marriage (Gin, lemon juice, violet liqueur, lavender sherbet, bergamot). Both were delightfully light and innovatively flavoured drinks, priced at £12 each.

Service is NOT the strong point here, our waitress was a complete mess… dashing about frantically, persuading me to order the most expensive wine, spilling water over the table and working with such haste that charm and efficiency were absent. She seemed to move around the restaurant at a run, I wanted to grab her and calm her down, or encourage her to delegate some of her jobs to the idle workers at the bar who were prioritising chatting over customers.

Nuno Mendes’s new eatery has already become known for several signature dishes… we ensured we tried the Crab-stuffed donuts with coral dusting from the snacking menu. They are tasty and attractive balls of brioche filled with soft crabmeat, nice but not spectacular. The bar menu had some of the most delectable sounding dishes and we also opted for the strangely cold but vibrantly flavoured Cauliflower Florets with spiced truffle paste, the very delicious thick Cornbread Fingers with naughtily rich Chipotle-maple butter and the exquisite Fried Chicken with smoky-bacon ranch dip. So far I was impressed.

We skipped starters in favour of a main course each, I thought here Mendes might compromise his creative cuisine for something rather more mainstream, but the flavour combinations were quirky and mostly successful. Chargrilled Iberico Pork with raw and roasted turnips was delicious, fine meat cooked red with a crispy salty edge, concealed in greenery – it felt healthy and satisfying. The Spring Lamb was cooked slightly too rare for me, it was a woody recipe accompanied by black garlic, goat’s curd and grilled lettuce. Both arrived a little lukewarm which was disappointing.

Desserts don’t come cheap, at £9 a plate. We shared the Frozen Apple Panna Cotta with herb granite and dried meringue. I loved this fresh and light pudding that combines garden ingredients to make an exotic and exciting dish, it cleansed the palate and gave a nice little sugar kick simultaneously.

I’ve heard that Chiltern Firehouse is a different affair at lunchtime, when the whole place is rather more relaxed and far less manic. Although the service and attitude lacked appeal, Nuno Mendes is the saving grace in the kitchen, creating food that is memorable and magical. As always the hype rather overshadows the product, I overheard a punter leaving commenting to his lady: “I don’t know what all the fuss is about… Chiltern Shit-house.” Shame really, this should be a restaurant for foodies but it is instead over-populated by celebrities and wannabes who only appreciate the pretension and trendiness. Let’s see how long the monarch of Marylebone lasts.

More information here:

Lockhart, Marylebone

It was a famous food blogger who recommended the Lockhart to me. This Southern US restaurant on Seymour Place, Marylebone has an enviably chic clientele. Discreet from the exterior with a classic and fresh interior, the design is instantly likeable with furniture from antique markets including old railway benches and vintage sideboards.

“Mississippi born chef Brad McDonald is at the helm of the kitchen serving dishes from the Southern States. The style of the Lockhart takes on the ethos of Brad’s previous culinary ventures in New York – dinner a la carte features some of Brad’s Brooklyn gastro flair – a refined spin on Southern American cooking. The wine list aims to showcase the diversity of American wines featuring American growers from states including Oregon, Washington and California. The wider drinks list champions a carefully picked selection of Bourbon, Tequila and Mezcal.”

The grilled chicken oysters with yellow mustard sauce are a satisfyingly tasty treat to nibble on whilst perusing the concise menu – mouthfuls of tender grilled chicken with a slight smoky flavour, dunked in creamy mustard sauce, topped with chives. The main course meat and fish options change regularly with fine quality ingredients and bold flavours. My recollections of dessert are distant… warm beignet bites, light and sweetly magic.

Find your favourite friends and take them to the Lockhart, order a carafe of wine and a delicious plate of food… all the ingredients for a perfect evening out. Or if you are feeling really indulgent organise a breakfast meeting and enjoy Lockhart’s wonderful square salted caramel donuts.

More information and book here: