Closed on Sundays
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Chicha, Hong Kong’s first and only Peruvian restaurant, took over the old Chez Patrick space on Peel Street in Soho and it has undergone such a change that we nearly walked right by without recognising it. Gone are the slightly stuffy dining rooms, replaced by a much more informal atmosphere with large wooden tables that are communal in style. The entire front of the restaurant is floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing those dining on the high seats by the bar a good people-watching opportunity. To finish off the sultry, south American vibe, palm fronds line the entrance.
When we first heard that there was a Peruvian restaurant opening in town manned by executive chef of Concept Creations Michael Van Warmelo, who visited Lima back in March with the help of the Peruvian Consulate General for a crash course on everything Peruvian, we were understandably wary. Could a chef, no matter how talented, really pick up another culture’s cuisine so quickly? The answer quite simply, is yes. While the food served at Chicha is not perfect, it is definitely good, and showcases the diverse flavours of Peru. We start off with the quintessential Peruvian dish: ceviche. We are fond of saying that we have yet to try a great ceviche in Hong Kong, and sadly, Chicha’s does not fill that gap. Still, it is probably the best we have tried here, with a delicious leche de tigre marinade that is appropriately acidic and creamy. However, the chunks of sea bass are cut too large to soak up enough of the liquid, resulting in a bland start. We preferred the king fish tiradito, which is similar to a ceviche except that the fish here is sliced thinly, sashimi-style. It comes with an aji amarillo crema, an orange sauce made from the Peruvian chile and topped with potato chips, which lend a nice crunch. Next up is the causa: Peru has over 3,000 varieties of potatoes and causa, a cold mashed potato seasoned with lime and served with a topping, is one of Lima’s most popular dishes. It must be difficult to import Peruvian potatoes as Chicha uses Yukon Gold, which creates the biggest issue with the dish. Presumably, the highlight should be the potato, with the toppings serving as a garnish. But as the Yukon Gold is bland and tasteless, the kitchen overseasons the toppings (we tried all three: yellowfin tuna, squid and crab) to make up for it, resulting in a confused plate, and diner. One of the biggest surprises of the evening was the fish taco. We didn’t think that tacos were Peruvian, but after the first bite, we didn’t care. Served in a hard tortilla shell, it is flavourful and spicy, thanks to an aji rocoto coleslaw and given a bit of sweetness with a mango salsa. This is the best taco we’ve yet tried in Hong Kong. Moving onto meat, we loved the pan con chicharron, a pork burger with two slices of fatty pork and another appearance by the aji amarillo sauce. There were also thick slices of sweet potato, which made it unnecessarily starchy, but this is still a snack we wouldn’t turn down in a hurry. Finally, our “big share” main course (which is huge, share with no less than four people) was the dish of suckling pig and pork belly. This is a simply cooked dish, but utterly delicious. The pork belly is juicy and tender, with alternating layers of meat and fat, while the crispy skin of the suckling pig is delightful. Avoid the papas rellenas on the side: these dense, deep-fried potato balls will merely take up room that should be for the meat. Our dessert was the biggest disappointment of the night: an encanelado (cinnamon sponge cake) that is as heavy as a paperweight, opt for a Pisco brandy digestif instead.
There are a couple of unusual wines available at Chicha, including sparkling wines from Brazil and Peru and a glass of pinot grigio riesling from Brazil. Unfortunately, the novelty wore off quickly as neither the Brazilian sparkling nor white wine were very good. The wine list is exclusively new world, with some interesting, boutique selections. Prices range from an affordable HK$360 a bottle (a riesling from Chile) to HK$2,850 (a chardonnay from Knights Valley in the US). Pisco sours and chicha morada, made from purple maize, are available here.
There is no service charge at Chicha and the waiters work hard for their tips. We were impressed by their knowledge, as they were able to explain clearly all the unfamiliar lingo dotting the menu. Service is on the whole friendly and casual, with a high staff-to-customer ratio.
HK$1,300 for a filling dinner for two (two glasses of wine, plus one Pisco sour) is definitely not cheap: but hey, where else are you going to find Peruvian food in town?