Small but comfortably intimate; there isn’t room for everyone at Ceviche. And as the lights are turned down and the food fiesta finds its momentum, you forget yourself and where you are.
It’s the grinding grooves of pitchy piano and rattlesnake maracas, the brassy crescendos and dazzling percussion of snappy cajons.
It’s the pitter patter of waiters as they offer samples of their favourite pisco blends, expertly describing what makes them all so different whilst you are seduced into a trance-like state of intoxicating pleasure.
We knew from previous experience that it would be naive to think we could get a table at such short notice – we had to book three weeks in advance last time just to get a table for two. But seeing as we’d already had dinner, we were more than happy to pull up a stool at the bustling, metal-clad bar. At Ceviche, you’re lucky to even get in through the door.
The “Wow! This place is something special” moment
Lunch and/or dinner at Ceviche simply must start with either one of two things: a bottle of Cusqueña Peruvian beer or a cocktail of pisco sour, which is zesty lemons and limes blended with egg whites, Angostura bitters, ice, and of course, pisco. This fruity, grape brandy makes for the kind of electrifying cocktail that gets your blood pumping and your feet thumping. As my friend Graeme says, “there’s pissed, and then there’s pisco pissed!”
The “Perhaps we should order something small, just to taste” moment
As we finished our second round of £7-a-pop pisco sours, our gazes turned to our neighbours’ tiny plates of culinary curiosities. “We should probably get something to pick at,” we convinced ourselves. “I’m not hungry but I just want to try whatever that is!”
We ordered a little bowl of yucas, the Peruvian equivalent of a bowl of chips. They come from the cassava root vegetable, something between a sweet potato and a parsnip. You dip them in huancaina (wan-kay-eena) sauce, which is a rich and creamy spiced cheese sauce. They go perfectly with an ice-cold bottle of Cusqueña – the only beer they stock.
The energy levels went up a notch, now with customers piscoed up and unleashing their Spanish on the barmen. We surrendered to the moment, accepting that this was clearly one of the finest places you could ever wish to be on a sunny Saturday evening in London.
Sylvie ordered us the causa los saicos, a mix of crab, avocado and palm heart piled on top of a bed of mashed potato. Light and fresh, there’s something very familiar about this fishy little dish, although I was left wanting for something with more of a kick of flavour.
The “How have I never tried this before!” moment
Ceviche, the dish that this Latin lair takes its name from, is an obvious but essential appetizer, whether you’ve snagged yourself a table or not. It’s made with fresh cured seabass, amarillo chilli tiger’s milk (a sort of zesty, spicy juice), raw red onions and slices of crispy sweet potato.
It’s light and zingy in the mouth, unlike anything you’ve ever tried before and frightfully moreish. But it’s the colours: the apricot orange of the sweet potatoes, the glowing pinks and purples of the onion and pops of green from the coriander. Oh, the coriander, with its peppery kick that rounds this dish off so perfectly…
You’re right, this isn’t so much a review as it is a piece of written worship. But I don’t care; I love this place and I genuinely want you to experience it for yourself.
The food is fresh and exciting, different from almost everything else in London. The service is efficient, casual and supremely welcoming. The dishes are priced fairly and offer outstanding value, especially when you consider how difficult it is to get a table here. They could double their prices and it would still be worth every last penny.
And the atmosphere is funky and intoxicating beyond superlatives, one of those places that truly makes you feel glad to be alive. Not only is it my favourite culinary experience in London but it’s also my favourite London experience bar none. Even if they offer you a table, I recommend sitting at the bar, where the buzz and soul of this special place is dialed all the way up to ten.
Make it Happen
Where to Stay
For a refined and extremely romantic stay in the very heart of Soho (London’s liveliest area), it doesn’t get much better than the famous Hazlitt’s Hotel. It’s a firm favourite with artists and writers – my hero Bill Bryson sings its praises in Notes From A Small Island. Ideally situated on the same street as Ceviche, it’s only a quick stroll to the dazzling Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, Covent Garden and the theatres of the West End. From £199 a night (Includes oil paintings, antiques and concierge).
Keep it Simple and Affordable
For a comfortable but affordable stay in central London, check out Gresham Hotel. Within walking distance of Kensington, Hyde Park and the majority of the city’s best bits, it makes for the perfect base for your London adventure. From £69 a night.
Book an Entire Apartment and Make Yourself at Home in London
If, like me, you like to feel as if you’re actually living in your new surroundings, I recommend renting out a whole apartment. It often works out much cheaper than staying at a hotel, especially if you’re travelling with friends and/or family. It also means you can keep a well-stocked fridge. Visit WaytoStay.com/london-apartments and book your very own apartment from £72.