I’ll preface this article by mentioning two caveats up front: 1) I’ve never been to Peru; and 2) I was invited to the restaurant in question as a journalist and didn’t pay for my meal. With both of these things being said, I was properly, mouth-tinglingly, giddily excited about what I ate at Peruvian restaurant NAZKA.
Let’s back up for a moment. While ceviche has been easy enough to come by in Amsterdam for a while now, I’d never really, truly, understood its beautiful simplicity until I went to Chile. There, the Chileans have embraced ceviche as their own, and serve it in generous, fresh, citrusy portions everywhere from shopping malls in Santiago to B&Bs in Patagonia. I couldn’t get enough of it. But when I came back to Amsterdam, I rediscovered the tiny, fiddly, dumbed-down versions of it that seem to dominate northern Europe.
So when I saw NAZKA’s menu, which featured three or four different types of ceviche, I was excited and prepared to be disappointed in equal measure. One version of it (the ceviche mixto – featuring seabass, octopus and prawn) was the opening act of NAZKA’s five-course chef’s menu. Well, it would’ve been rude not to…
Thankfully, excitement won out. While the portion wasn’t huge (we did have four courses still to come, so it was understandable), the leche de tigre danced a little Latino party on my tongue, with hits of spicy aji sauce adding to the festivities. There was sweet potato (in the form of a smear rather than chunks) and corn – both starchy choclo and crunchy cancha. In short, it transported me straight back to Santiago – which is weird, because it should’ve been Lima, but you know what I mean.
Things only got better from there. Iberico pork “fingers” were little chunks of porky goodness with zingy jalapeno puree and a sort of sweet-sour jelly. Mr Foodie had a religious experience. A smoky aubergine dish vied convincingly for the evening’s winner as well: American BBQ met Spanish padron peppers met Turkish yoghurt… NAZKA may be primarily a Peruvian restaurant, but its flavour profile veers into global territories – with staggeringly accomplished effect.
For the fourth dish, we had a choice of two – so we ordered one each for maximum taste-ability. The first was chicken thigh, marinated for 24 hours in rocoto peppers and served with a cooling yoghurt sauce and a shard of something crispy on top that tasted like cocoa. It didn’t look particularly photogenic (hence no photo) but it was a veritable flavour bomb. The second was an octopus tentacle, grilled and served with black quinoa (from the ink), chimichurri and spicy mayo. While excellent, we’d been so blown away by the chicken dish that the octopus slightly paled in comparison.
Dessert was a so-called “Peruvian Mess” featuring strawberries, ice cream made from quinoa, and granita made from huacatay (a South American breed of marigold, according to Google). A refreshing end to the meal, although less memorable to me than the rest. (Remember, however, that I am missing a sweet tooth.) The five-course menu cost €58 per person, but we went all out and got a pisco sour to start, plus the wine pairings with every course (which were absolutely on point, every time). All of which meant that dinner would’ve come to €115 each – although no mean sum, it’s an amount I would’ve very willingly paid for the experience we had, and will gladly pay in the future.
At the table next to ours were two couples who looked to be on a double date: I have never heard people laughing so much or having so much fun in a “fine dining” restaurant. I’m not sure whether it was the sexual chemistry, the pisco sours or all that aphrodisiac leche de tigre… Either way, you’ll want some of what they were having!