I am on a roll. Another new London restaurant that has not already been mauled by foodies to try. Opened in early December 2013, Andina describes itself as an ‘all day restaurant serving healthy food and drinks inspired by the Peruvian Andes’. I’ll be honest – I was slightly put off by the word ‘healthy’. Was this one of those substitute one bad thing for another eating – craze restaurants? A quick Google left me suitably cheered. The founder, Martin Morales, and head chef, Tomasz Baranski, are both of Ceviche fame, so I brushed my concerns aside and arrived in anticipation.
It was an early sitting, 6.30pm, but the atmosphere was already buzzing. It had the feel of a venue that is at the start of a very good evening of fun…
There was no shortage of relaxed and friendly staff, which allowed for easy and unhurried, service. The menu was sectioned into street food (nibbles), ceviche (starters), then salads and mains. A helpful mini-glossary graced every table, explaining the exotic and esoteric ingredients. A couple of street food options were suggested to go with our aperitifs, allowing time to browse and explore the menu. The mini chicharrones were a delight – confit of pork belly with red onions all smothered in rocoto chilli jam. The pork was succulent and salty, the red onions adding sharp flavour and crunch. The jam was sweet and sticky with a warm heat enveloping your mouth. Incredibly moreish. Quinoa croquetas were crunchy, crisp balls with a soft, malty, cheesy centre. Again, the rocoto jam graced the plate and the balls were dragged through this and gobbled up in a manner normally reserved for dining in one’s own home…in a onesie…on the sofa – you get the idea. The dining continued with the Res (sliced raw beef with fig) and Setas (wild mushrooms in amarillo chilli tiger’s milk, sweet potato and orange honey dressing) ceviches. Both were stunningly fresh. The Setas dressing had tang, sweetness and crunch in equal measure. The Res was simple and elegant with a complex dressing that added an unexpectedly welcome depth to the dish. The Tomalito street food was a surprise dish of quinoa with coriander, which had been steamed in leaves like Asian dumplings. Tucked inside was fresco cheese that could have been more generously distributed as it lifted the dish from average vegetarian fare to something more special.
Mains were a carnivorous affair of rib-eye steak and lamb skewers, both quickly devoured. Peruvian twists permeated these dishes. The rib-eye was properly cooked medium-rare, as requested (and recommended) and deeply flavoursome. The chips were satisfying, but the real gem was the lucama puree. For those without a helpful dining glossary, lucama is a subtropical fruit that is native to Peru and the Andean mountains. This puree was creamy, earthy and sweet – almost akin to refried beans crossed with a crushed mango. It was so delicious that a second portion was ordered as it went beautifully with the lamb too. These skewers were meaty and smoky, but a slightly more pink centre would have made them melting good. An Andean herb Uchucuta sauce made a fresh accompaniment and was a nice alternative to a typical mint sauce. The choclo corn was like a super-chunky corn on the cob. Interesting to try, however it did not add a great deal to the dish. The salad that accompanied the lamb was an unfortunate and isolated dip. Simply the saddest side of lettuce I have seen in a while (and I have been known to eat NHS canteen food, so believe me this comment is made with context). Such a shame.
The Chakana Malbec 2012 helped wash down the mains with soft, round and mildly fruity flavours. Very easy to drink. Overall, the wine list was considered and succinct. It seemed only necessary wines were present. The cocktails were inventive and packed a punch – beware drivers. The non-alcoholic selection was a joy and perfect for those wanting a real drink with their meal, but without booze. Take note restaurants – fizzy drinks and juice do not a decent non-alcoholic selection make.
Picarones were a pumpkin doughnut sharing dessert, but since when are six doughnuts too many for one? Aaah, maybe that was the ‘healthy’ bit…They had an unusual savoury taste, but the icing sugar dredging and sauce accompaniments made it all make sense. I could take or leave the chocolate fudge sauce, but the purple maize syrup was a heady, saccharine hit that worked perfectly. The dessert crown, however, has to go to the Lengue de Segura. Simply puff pastry with crème de leche filling. The pecan ice-cream on the side was an un-needed distraction. Alone, this dessert was sublime. Sweet, creamy and crispy balanced sublimely. Divine. The bill came to around £60 a head including drinks and service. Glossing over the salad low point, the whole experience was a rather lovely Peruvian affair.
Rating: precioso 7/10
1 Redchurch St, Shoreditch, London E2