In A Word
South American food trail people who may or may not have yet reached Peru and want to do this in a fashion that is very exciting and authentic (as far as I can tell – I’ve never been to Peru)
People who enjoy restaurants that feel quite a lot like dining in someone’s front room. Said person is from South America and is also rather good at cooking. Said person loves big parties and also overestimates how much space there is in the front room.
Peru in Islington
Tierra Peru, which we can abbreviate to TP (*Beavis & Butthead snickering noises*), is a bloody good way to get better acquainted with Peruvian cuisine. I am proof.
So – begin with the stuff that most foodies have heard of and get progressively weirder? OK. We are encouraged to start with a Pisco Sour, which we do – as does everyone else dining here. It is indeed sour, and contains Pisco – making the name and taste 100% accurate.
Said taste is complex… the sourness follows the sweetness, and then both linger on your tongue with a tartness that may remind you of drinking raspberries. I’m not a fan but the least I can say is that it is an entirely memorable flavour.
But how about Pisco? As I understand it, Pisco is essentially Peruvian Brandy or Eaux De Vie. I’ve had Eaux De Vie straight twice and regretted it both times. Brandy I am still working on. I have yet to try Pisco straight, and am reserving my opinion.
I am here with my laconic friend Garrad (who is also sour, sometimes…), Garrad weighs in on various things with withering responses that cut to the point and through the point to a pointless place. It’s halfway between food critique and a Zen Koan.
We’re warned that the food could be hot, but also told they’ve ‘turned down’ the amount of heat that you could come to expect as a Peruvian native – as they’ve somewhat adapted to British tastes. Nothing on the menu quite reaches ‘napalm on the tongue’ (and I don’t have all that spicy a palette) – so I assume that we missed out on the hotter dishes.
The decor is full of Peruvian TV – footage of trains driving through Peru, lush untouched jungle, rivers that stretch into infinity and Mesoamerican pyramids. I eventually notice that the TV is looping footage from a DVD about Peru, though they will later change the program to something about music.
Speaking of music…in the background, there is the sound of what I believe is Peruvian music (it is certainly Latin American music). Think guitar like stringed instruments and female vocal theatrics. Eventually this becomes pan pipe music, which is what you’d expect, right?
The walls are covered in memorabilia that is quite likely of Peruvian origin. I don’t get any of the cultural references but assume that the Peruvians dining here do! We’re kinda stuck/secluded behind a bunch of other tables, placed against the wall. I suppose boxed in is one way to put it, oho!
Not a good piece of spatial planning, guys 🙁
The bar doesn’t seem all that well stocked and you could probably seat about four people at it (small being the theme). Staff uniform is a black shirt, black jeans, and a colourful Peruvian sash worn around the waist. Once the place has filled up (circa 8:30pm onward) the place starts to really fill up. It gets heaving, too close for (my) comfort – though it starts to empty out about 9:45.
There’s a South American family with a baby who stick around for an hour or so. I always take expats (pretty sure they’re Peruvian) dining at the place of their origin for a good sign.
This becomes one of those reviews where you eat so much that you are unable to drink much alcohol.
This is because the platter we end up ordering is a potent combination of starchy grains and fatty meats (all the delicious stuff that fills you up but leaves no space for drinking – unless you’re a fan of projectile vomit and feeling like you’ve been carpet bombed by calories)
But I digress…
Introducing – The Inca Platter (£25 PP, minimum order of 2…)
Said platter is substantial enough to get its own acronym – Extremely Substantial Platter (ESP). TP ESP.
We ask for them switch out the Seafood Risotto (Arroz Con Mariscos) that usually comes with this for beef hearts. This because Garrad has an entirely irrational vendetta against delicious fishes which makes me sad but THIS IS THE TRUTH AND THE TRUTH CAN HARD
So, the platter now consists of…
My notes describe this as “Amazing oral feelfestival. JOY.” The sauce is similar to Chinese sweet chilli sauce, but a little more toned down in terms of sweetness.
Beef hearts are the first Peruvian dish I am aware of trying, and these ones are just as good as I remember. The heart possesses a concentrated beefy taste, lacking the sharpness that you may expect from offal. The gateway experience to the wonderful world of edible internal organs.
The dipping sauce comes in a pouring container, despite being so viscous that it’s uh…not pourable. Maybe it’s an ironic sauce? IRONY SAUCE
Garrad weighs in: “if it were any hotter… then it would be uncomfortable”. But it isn’t, so that’s OK.
The little yellow and black bits are little bits of roasted corn. They are some of my favourite food discoveries of the year. You are served a tiny quantity – so each one makes an impact on your mouth. A wonderful…crunchy, malty and corny impact. They are also quite impossible to skewer on your fork.
I will later develop an extra special food fetish for these but forget to email TP for the recipe.
Seco de Cordero/ lamb smothered in coriander and dark beer
The lamb is characteristically delicious, demolished almost instantly and leaves a wonderfully ‘lamby’ residue on the sauce below it. Said sauce is some seriously intense white bean thing that Garrad straight up is unable to eat (so I eat it for him, or try to).
Aji de Gallina / chicken in walnut and yellow chilli
Permeated with a maddeningly recognisable taste that I STILL haven’t worked out. Quite a taste too. I think it’s the walnuts. Entirely morish and thus eaten in entirety.
Carapulcra / Andean sundried potatoes with dry chillies pork and chicken
Slightly warming. In terms of appearance, it looks a bit like a korma and is incredibly generous in terms of how much meat it contains.
We also spent ages trying to work out whether it was pork or chicken and then we are told it’s actually both. Good to know that my tongue still works! The Carapulcra is a strong contender for most favouritest dish on menu. Scratch that – this was the best.
Chicharrones De Cerdo – ‘Deep Fried Pork’
The pork is served with a ceviche-esque raw onion salsa – lots of tangy citrus flavours scything through the dense richness of the pork belly. The pork fat has blackened edges. It is so bad for you, but so good. The sweet potato is cooked so that it falls apart when you breathe on it. These attributes combined are rather pleasing.
What sauce? FKN GARLICKY SAUCE. Said sauce is so potent that the taste borders on raw garlic. Garrad gets into it so much that the waitress delivers another one without him asking, which is kinda sweet.
The fritter basically tastes like fried starch. Which I suppose is what it is.
Quinottto / quinoa and grilled cheese
OK, so this is quite unlike anything I’ve tried in a long time. You may know quinoa as that health food that was super popular in the mid 2000s. Well, the people of Peru have been eating it for a LOT longer than that.
This one appears to be baked into some kind of cheesy reduction and is on a cheesy parallel to cheese on toast. AIs that even a description? I dunno. Not really. My tasting notes read ‘obscene’ and ‘insane’. It is indeed the most hedonistic quinoa in the known universe and much as I enjoy it, it’s just too rich for me. We start using it as a dip for various other stuff on the platter.
After I run out of asparagus and mangled rice fragments this dish is regretfully left unfinished. I just can’t.
Aromatic white rice
Once you’ve eaten the meaty toppings, you end up depositing the rice into ALL the remaining sauces. I’m not sure if this is how you’re meant to eat it but this seems to work for us. As far as rice goes, it is not remarkable, merely a vehicle for the array of sauces now awaiting you.
Chicharrones De Cerdo – ‘Deep Fried Pork’ (we end up with another one of these, served separately)
This dish is also on the regular menu and so (for some reason I can’t really remember) we get another, larger portion separately. Which means more of those incredible little corn husks :v
I lose my shit when I notice that the dessert menu has lots of things made with the coca leaf. I was under the impression that it’s a regulated substance in the UK, but no…apparently not! They also sell Pisco by the bottle, just in case you want to get TOTAL REKT M3 (though I would not recommend this in such a small space)
Torta Tres Leches De Lucuma – ‘3 Milk Cake’
Garrad orders this and eats it with gusto. After some prompting he describes it as “nice”. Based on my taste of it, I’d call it a stollen without the marzipan, plus the added milk trio. The thick topping I think is condensed milk, can’t say I know all that much more about the others.
Not one for me (lactose intolerence and all!)
(they sometimes do) Live Music
Come 08:20 the live stuff begins. A barefoot Peruvian woman begins to dance to South American sounding music. Said music is fkn LOUD. Uncomfortably so.
Live music returns yet again in various increments, still loud, still unexpected. The second time, Garrad almost jumps out of his skin. Really not a good thing. Third time is a charm with some ludicrous synth bass line and what sounds like a woman shouting “peo, peo, peo!” At this point she’s changed her costume and now looks very Native American.
Considering the volume, the music could at least do with a fade in and out. We kinda forget about our plate once the music has kicked in. It’s all a bit awkward.
Smells like rhubarb – and tastes what I would imagine rhubarb tea would be like. I ask the waitress where it comes from, and where I can get it (idle curiosity) – she claims to have no idea herself . I like the taste and I do not notice any sedative effects. I would like to try more varieties (I assume there are more)
Garrad opts for this one. It really concentrates the apple/rhubarb taste of the coca. You also get the condensed milk – and a little whiff of brandy, sans harshness. An absurd take on tea that tastes awesome.
Probably not the best thing to end a meal on every day but goddamn, sometime you just want brandy and the primary consistutent of cocaine in your tea at the same time.
Hearty and exciting cuisine that is simultaneously delicious, exciting and quite unlike what you might be expected to recognise.
A warm welcome from a smaller, more intimate, probably family owned operation that seems authentically Peruvian. Tierra Peru knows exactly what it is.
Tiny space that seems to get overstretched in terms of staff response at times
Looks like the live events need a bit better planning and/or a dedicated space to carry them out in.
164 Essex Rd, London N1 8LY
020 7354 5586