Peruvian food in London prepares for the big time
Martin Morales is a man on a mission: to bring Peruvian cuisine to London.
The 38-year-old one-time record-label man, ex-Disney exec and former DJ is now focusing his energy on establishing the capital’s first authentic Peruvian restaurant. “Peruvian cuisine is the gourmet food of the Americas,” he told me over the phone.
And that’s not just Martin’s opinion. The executive chef at Waitrose, Neil Nugent, recently tipped Peruvian cuisine to make an impact on the UK. “Peru is one to watch. Considered the gastronomic equivalent of France in South America. The cooking techniques over there have a long and established history,” he said.
“Peruvian cuisine is very rich in variety,” Martin added. “The influence is strong from Italy, from Spain, from Africa, and also from China and Japan, so we have a ton to choose from.”
At the heart of that cuisine is ceviche, a dish comprising raw fish marinated in citrus juices – and it will make several appearances on Martin’s menu. “We’re going to have our own secret recipe – house ceviche,” Martin said. “There’s also a classic ceviche, and a Japanese-style ceviche, which is like sashimi.”
Another staple on the menu will be anticuchos, barbecue-style meat. “Again that’s marinated in a variety of ingredients: cumin, red wine vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper.” Martin also promises the menu will feature chicken, salmon and octopus anticuchos.
“Apart from that, there’ll be an array of the finest Peruvian main courses, and side dishes and desserts. It’s about, we think, 30-40 dishes,” he said. “At the heart of it really is a cuisine that is fresh, and quite unique and healthy.”
“At the heart of it really is a cuisine that is fresh, and quite unique and healthy”
Naturally enough, ingredients will be sourced locally, where possible. “Most of our recipes are based on ingredients that we have here,” Martin said.
The restaurant will be located in the West End, although the finer details are still TBC. “We’re not going to launch it in a really big way, we’re going to launch a place that’s a little bit hidden away, close to the central things, close to where people congregate, but maybe in some kind of interesting area,” Martin said.
So why does London need a Peruvian restaurant? Martin contends that quality, authentic Peruvian food simply isn’t available in the capital. “You really can’t find it. You have to go to Madrid or New York or San Francisco or Lima,” he said.
“Lima has got an exceptional restaurant scene. Lima has been voted the ‘culinary capital of the Americas’… it has more chef schools than any other city in the world. People are doing stopovers in Lima just for the restaurants,” Martin said, citing a study in 2010 that found 42% of tourists visiting Peru said they went for the food. Like Machu Picchu, “the cuisine is becoming part of our heritage”.
“Lima has more chef schools than any other city in the world”
Martin was born in Lima and lived there until he was 12, when his British father – who had been threatened by a terrorist group in Peru – decided to move him to the UK. Martin’s subsequent career saw him helping to launch iTunes in Europe, before becoming general manager at Disney Media Group, where he worked with the likes of the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus and the High School Musical gang.
Martin returns to Peru every year to visit family, and last year, the dream of bringing Peruvian cuisine to London became too much. “It’s been with me for 10 or more years, the idea of actually having a restaurant. It couldn’t go on any longer, I had to put a stop to what I was doing beforehand,” he said.
Martin and his two partners know they’ve taken on a big challenge. “We’re investing our own money as well as looking to other investors,” he said. All being well, the restaurant should be open by the end of 2011. Martin will be announcing pop-ups for the restaurant via @martinceviche.
“It’s a really exciting and adventurous time but I’m fully committed and confident about this particular cuisine,” he said.
For recipes and insights about Peru, Peruvian food and Martin’s project, check out his blog, Martin Ceviche.