Casita Andina: My kind of house (August 2016)

I first visited Peru 16 years’ ago and fell in love with the country, the culture, the food and the people then. Back in London everything seemed so grey in contrast to the visual hues of the Andes. Even the now-shut Fina Estampa on Tooley Street was scant compensation for the culinary delights that Peru had to offer. Since then, both Peru and the London dining scene have both moved on quite a bit. Latin American food in general has become notably trendier with the likes of Coya and Ceviche gaining much praise. However, Casita (‘small house’) Andina is a wonderful complement to this movement and, in many ways, provides a better sense than its bigger and probably trendier peers of what the Peruvian dining experience is all about. On entering this small building in Soho (which is almost opposite the also excellent Blacklock), one is assailed almost immediately by colour and sound before being able even to contemplate food and drink. This is how it should be. The place feels bright, warm and welcoming, not dissimilar to the experiences I recall from Peru. My comrade and I chose to be seated downstairs in the more informal bar area, but diners can also select an upstairs room with more emphasis on formality. On offer at lunch is a simple but successful formula: for the amazingly good value price of £10 for 2 main dishes, diners can select from around half a dozen cold items and a similar number of warm options. These are complemented on the menu by nibbles and desserts. We kicked off with some croquetas, which undoubtedly hit the spot. Round-shaped, the meat (pork and liver) was rich and the accompanying chilli jam packed a punch. Moving onto the other dishes, and I was delighted to see many old favourites that might appear as staples in any Andean restaurant: think, succulent ceviche (raw sea bass) blended expertly with sweet potato, a beautifully presented tamal (pork in a corn dumpling) and a well-executed aji de gallina (chicken with eggs, olives and chilli). We concluded with a strawberry and avocado pot, a wonderfully inventive idea, even if it scored more in terms of appearance than taste. Service was, however, something of a let-down; not enough to prevent me from coming back, but still a clear area for improvement. Our server initially forgot our drinks order and seemed generally very confused about which dishes we had ordered and when to bring them. Nonetheless, at around £30/head, drinks, coffee and service included, it is hard to complain. Anyone seeking a small slice of Peru is recommended to visit.