Saturday, 11 January 2014

Chotto Matte, a fascinating fusion

Life gets busy and complicated without you even knowing it. Before you know it, it has been months since you saw your best friend. A whole ruddy term has gone by in a whirl of seminars, lectures, marking, and learning objectives. You feel terrible; guilty and fearful that your friend will be distant, cold and unforgiving. Should you make that call, should you try to arrange a get together? 

Of course you should! What a silly set of thoughts! 

After a busy and stressful first term, I realised that I hadn't seen my best friend Chris since the Summer. Thankfully, he is a forgiving and faithful soul who didn't rebuff my request to get together. Proof to everyone, that whoever it is you've been out of the loop with, get it sorted out! Make the call! Get a date in the diary. And don't let it happen again.

So, we met up, for a long and leisurely lunch. Where would we go? After a little bit of aimless wandering, we decided to visit Chotto Matte. Situated in Frith Street, Soho, it's right in the heart of the West End. It describes itself as serving food which is a fusion of Peruvian and Japanese cuisines, based on a cultural tradition over a century old.

The ground floor of the restaurant is dimly lit, with a lovely wrap-around graffiti mural, protected from grubby hands by a perspex screen. The comic book art, stylish and beautifully rendered.

The menu is not simple, as the dishes are categorised not as "starters" and "mains", but according to the type, eg "sushi", "chicharronia", and "anticucheria". The idea being you go from small cold dishes to the hot, more spicy dishes and that you round off with sushi.

So whilst we perused the menu, we had a bowl of the Padron peppers. At £4.50 they were pricey for the portion size, but the combination of sea salt and miso made them moreish with a little moist sweetness.

We studied the menu whilst watching the staff prepare sushi in the open kitchen....

Seafood ceviche (£7.50)
Prawn, scallop, sea bass, sweet potato, Peruvian corn, coriander, chive oil, citrus sauce

Wonderfully balanced with sharp citrus and a counterbalancing sweetness, this was a taste explosion. Somewhat small portion, but lovingly presented. The chive oil, whilst being a very small part of the dish made itself known without being a big bully. What is the difference between regular sweetcorn and Peruvian? The Peruvian is much lighter in colour, super crunchy and humungous! I've never seen kernels as huge!

Calabacín a la parrilla (a vegetarian dish) (£4.95) 
Courgette, pickled shallots, beetroot crisps, chilli bean sauce

Our next dish was one of delicately grilled courgettes with a mass of slightly crispy but not dry beetroot shavings. A very pleasant dish to pick at, with the sauce and pickle providing effective accent flavours.

Whitebait, mussels, squid, prawn, corn sand, jalapeño sauce

"Seafood tempura with a Peruvian twist" is what this dish said to me. By and large this was fluffy batter, crispy on the outside with yielding and tasty seafood morsels on the inside. The squid, whitebait, and prawns were a hit with us. However, the mussels were dry and a little chewy. The sauce was well judged, complementing the seafood and not spicy for the sake of it. It was quite mild, given that it was made from jalapeños. My other issue with this dish is the corn sand. It added no flavour and ended up clinging to the pieces of seafood, ultimately ending up in the sauce. Hence getting towards the end of our dish, the sauce was growing thick and claggy. Please ditch the corn sand. Or serve with a larger, deeper bowl with more sauce in it. 

Camarón de tigre (£11.95) 
Prawn, semi-dry orange, Peruvian chilli

Chargrilled prawns with tangy orange and chilli. We tried to suck as much prawn meat as we could from the tails of the little blighters! Tasty little morsels, which get a big thumbs up from us.

Conchas aji Salsa11.95) 
Scallops, quinoa and blackberry chilli salsa 

The scallops were just cooked, exactly how I like them. There was a gravy in which the small, but effective amount of quinoa was thoroughly coated. Overall the flavours and textures came together in an unexpected, original and highly tasty manner. It was a shame to have only 3 scallops between two of us, but we managed to share out the dish equitably.

Chicha Morada Crumble (£7.00)

This was a sort of "deconstructed" crumble. What I mean is that it wasn't baked as a proper crumble, with fruity base and topping. The biscuity crunchy "crumble" was lightly baked before being liberally sprinkled over the stewed fruit, which was sweet with slight sour tang. Pleasant and comforting, if nothing special. It was good, but lacked "wow" factor. 

Salted caramel chocolate fondant (£7.50)
Orange compote, vanilla ice cream

As soon as Chris' dessert arrived, I felt the pang of Pudding Envy. Chris had definitely made the better choice, lovely as my dessert was. The fondant was just spongy on the outside, and when he cut it with his spoon, all the glorious chocolately goo came out in a leisurely ooze. It tasted rich, indulgent and wonderful...

The ladies lunching on the table watched the oozy splendour and both immediately pointed to their waitress, declaring "We'll have what he's having!".

This is a restaurant which treads the line of being trendy, a little different, but with low key and polite service very well. We had a great lunch, and were not remotely rushed. We were allowed to natter, and given our space. Very nice indeed.

Snigdha and Chris paid for their lunch with their trusty debit cards.

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