Chakana, 140 Alcester Road, Moseley, Birmingham B13 8HT (0121 448 9880). Appetizers £ 8-£ 10, main courses £ 14-£ 22, desserts £ 8, wines from £ 24
Something strange is happening. It’s a very good kind of weird, but weird all the same. It’s as if my brain, the reflecting and processing part of me, is far behind my tongue, the loud, sensitive part of me. I am bowled over by the daring hit of citrus and chili; by flavors with maximum radiance, alongside the surge of seaweed and the sweetness of sesame. And then there are the dizzying visuals. The plate in front of me is a lovely explosion of purple and green. There are lozenges of the deepest purple covered with lace fronds of micro-herbs. There’s so much going on in this Nikkei Tuna Ceviche Plate, and it’s all kinds of fabulous.
It was served to me at Chakana, a Peruvian restaurant in Moseley, Birmingham, which opened two years ago. I’m quietly ashamed of myself for having taken so long to get here. Chef Robert Ortiz has serious credentials. He grew up in the Amazon hinterland of Peru, near the Marañón River, cooking with the family matriarchs before starting to cook professionally. He moved to London where he trained in some of the city’s biggest hotels. After returning to Peru, he became chef of the Peruvian restaurant Lima at Fitzrovia in London, where he won a Michelin star.
I have to be careful here to avoid sounding like the grotesque snob that I obviously am. Moseley is a lively and dynamic place. On the way from the city center, I pass some intriguing Yemeni and Syrian grills. There are other ambitious restaurants in these regions, notably Housings. Nonetheless, finding Ortiz in this part of Birmingham doing his job at a converted bank – the private dining room is located inside the old safe, with a reinforced door – is like finding a magnificent tropical flower at the base of a mighty glowing oak tree. The conversion is smart, a soft take on whitewashed adobe, with vivid art tiles on the walls.
But the real art, the most shameless gashes of color, are obviously here on the table in front of us. It starts with a bowl of toasted and toasted corn kernels mixed with the thinnest, crispest slices of dried Jerusalem artichoke. Our waiter jokes that this is the kind of salty snack designed to get you to order more drinks. I think it’s the kind of bar snack designed to make you order more bar snack. There’s a small pie made with the butteriest of pastries – perhaps a testament to that whole London hotel experience – filled with minced chicken, yellow chili and ground nuts. There’s a hot potato and beef croquette, which gives us bursts of spicy meat with every bite. There may well have been a few pisco sours to send them all on their way. We just wanted our server to feel justified.
And then there is this Nikkei tuna ceviche which, as our waiter tells us, with an enthusiasm born from having spent a lot of time in Peru, draws on the culinary and cultural influences of the country. This concerns in particular the Japanese immigration to Peru at the beginning of the 20th century. They brought with them the titular Nikkei style of cooking, hence the raw tuna. But here, too, there’s tiger milk, that hot sauce and cooking liquor of lime juice and chili, ginger, garlic and various other things besides, depending on who makes it.
Another equally lively plate brings thinly sliced raw scallops, sweet and sticky in a tiger’s milk with ricotta, made the brightest of the yolks thanks to the application of annatto oil. It is punctuated with dots of chia seeds, like determined dots, alongside brilliant amaranth jewels, resembling the most brilliant of caviar. For the amount of work that went into these dishes, the price of a tenner each is excellent value for money.
For the main course we have a piece of pearly hake seasoned by being steamed in a very thin piece of dried seaweed which has rehydrated as the fish has cooked. Underneath, there is the sweet and sour of a cherry tomato and sweet onion escabeche. This in turn hides over piles of hazelnut black quinoa, reminiscent of the mustard and watercress seeds we all used to sprinkle on damp tissue paper when we were kids in the hope that they can grow. And all in a clear broth that must be removed with a spoon. A main course of slowly roasted suckling pig, impatiently turning to shreds under my fork, is the encouraging darkness in the light of hake. It is based on a jumble of roasted yuca root and is accompanied by a meat juice flavored deep in Peruvian chocolates.
But it’s an Andean potato stew that rocks me in my seat. It’s another beauty that turns heads: a bunch of yellow buttercup potatoes, dried and smoked, are dotted with cubes of purple potatoes and topped with green leaves, dark red flowers and grapes. black. I expect this to be one of those extremely heart-warming, high-carb adventures, but there’s so much more going on here. It is a journey into the salty. It is as if each potato cube has been cooked separately until the bite persists, it tastes intensely. It is the potato as a love interest; it is the potato as a brand name. Since the potato is at the heart of Peru’s agricultural and botanical heritage, it is as it should be.
It’s over, but we still have to finish. There’s a dollop of intense Andean chocolate mousse, topped with purple potato wafers and sprinkled with bee pollen, which somehow manages not to be cloying and overwhelming. Then there is a cup of white chocolate, filled with a custard mousse on a little dulce de leche. Above that sits a fragile tile sprinkled with pink sugar, as if it was time for a children’s party.
Struck by my brilliant positivity, a reader recently suggested that I had become prone to hyperbole. Absurdity. Whatever the caricature, I am just a naturally sunny individual who seeks only the good. Certainly, if I feel the good, I say it well. And Chakana is really very good. It’s a rare thing: a truly exciting restaurant. Don’t miss the ride.
Chef Stuart Gillies, former Managing Director of Gordon Ramsay Holdings, will be opening a second restaurant after the success of Bank House’s first wine bar and kitchen in Chislehurst. The new outpost, located on London Road in Sevenoaks, Kent, will be called Number Eight. As in the first, the menu should revolve around small plates: beet hummus and toasted flatbread, wild mushroom pappardelle with crispy onions and baked pie to finish.
Fife-born sommelier Matilda Ruffle, who ran dinner clubs with her chef husband Tom Tsappis in London, has returned to Scotland to take over the Killiecrankie House Hotel in Pitlochry. The couple are now offering a tasting menu at £ 85 very inspired by the locality. One sample includes dishes titled “Roe Deer, Peat and Brambles”, “Fried Porridge and Drops” and “Scotland Flower”. Quite cheerfully, it ends with Sweeties. TO killiecrankiehouse.com.
Analysis by CGA and AlixPartners, the data analytics company for the hospitality industry, found that the industry lost around 1,000 sites between July and the end of September. This averages out to 16 closings per day, with the majority of those closings hitting independent pubs, restaurants and bars rather than chains.