“What is Peruvian food like? Is it like nachos and burritos and stuff? Or is it more like tapas?”
Yeah so we Aussies don’t really have much experience with Latin American food. I mean, we’ve only JUST gotten into Mexican food so we’ve got a long way to go. I didn’t know anything about Peruvian food either, so I was really surprised by how much I fell in love with it when I spent a couple of months in Peru some years ago.
A good friend of mine is travelling to Peru soon to do some volunteer work and trek the Inca Trail, so we thought it’d be appropriate for us to catch up at one of the very few Peruvian restaurants in Sydney and acclimatise her taste buds. We found one called Pachamama House in Surry Hills, and the menu looked pretty legit so we made a booking.
On Googling “Pachamama House” now, it seems that in the time it has taken me to actually blog about it, it has undergone a significant re-brand and is now “Pisco Pisco“, a ‘cantina’ offering Peruvian/Japanese/Modern Australian fusion cuisine. I think the owners are still the same, because some of the menu items are identical… so I guess this review isn’t COMPLETELY redundant. I guess that teaches me not to procrastinate for too long before I post up a restaurant.
With the Surry Hills address, I expected the place to be a funky hole in the wall, but it’s actually a massive space under an apartment block where you’d normally see a Gloria Jeans. The re-branding makes sense… ‘Pachamama House’ conjures up images of a plump, Incan goddess of nature inviting you over for a home cooked meal. ‘Pisco Pisco’ is much snappier, sounds more like a bar and rhymes with ‘disco disco’.
There’s bar and table seating, and a short list of house cocktails – all variations of Peru’s national drink, the Pisco Sour which is made of Pisco (grape brandy) , lime juice, sugar syrup, egg white and bitters.
I chose the Pisquito (Pisco, mint, lime and soda) – looked delicious but tasted a bit too much like tangy soda water.
The menu was really interesting, with modern takes on Peruvian classics like Ceviche, Lomo Saltado, Tamales and Quinoa. Sadly, it looks like most of this authentic Peruvian feel has been stripped out of the new menu – which now includes pizza (?!) I guess there wasn’t much of an appetite in Sydney for Peruvian food, probably caused by a lack of awareness, and the menu needed a bit of a shake up to cater to the masses. But judging from the photos that splash across the new website, the chef’s heart is still very much in Peru. Hopefully over time, he can work in more of a Peruvian flavour back into the menu – maybe we’ll even see some deep fried Cuy on offer some day!
I was most excited about this dish – the Classic Cebiche (snapper, lime, green chilli, coriander and sweet potato chips). Ceviche is probably the dish I miss most from Peru – superfresh raw fish, marinated in citrus juices and seasoned with some chilli. I was initially a bit disappointed by the appetiser sized portion, but this little stack of tightly packed, thinly sliced snapper actually went a long way. The flavour was like a zesty punch in the mouth. It took me right back to when I was sitting in a riverside restaurant, eating the same dish in balmy jungle city Iquitos… though the ceviche they served looked more like this:
Not posh at all, but so generous (no slices here – just chunks). It goes without saying that nothing can beat the original, but Head Chef’s Danny Parreno’s reimagining was quite lovely and appropriate for the modern, bacterial parasite-conscious Sydneysider.
Side note: Because I loved it so much, after I came back from Peru I made ceviche for my family but my parents REFUSED to eat it because I didn’t use sashimi-grade fish. I tried to convince them it was fine since the acidic lime juice ‘cooks’ the raw fish, but they still wouldn’t go near it. I didn’t want to waste perfectly good food, so I had to chuck my beautiful ceviche into a frying pan and served it as a dodgy fish stir fry. It’s a sad memory for me.
This is the Lomo Saltado (Grilled black Angus fillet, roasted tomato, potato chips and Marisol sauce). Another creative modernisation of a Peruvian favourite. I remember my ‘language exchange’ partner telling me that this was his favourite food, and when I asked him to describe it he told me it was “beef and chips” which sounded so weird but SO AWESOME. Traditional lomo saltado is a Peruvian/Chinese fusion dish of beef strips stir fried with french fries and served with rice. This is still on the menu, but disguised under the name ‘Beef Fillet’ (Geez, are Aussies so xenophobic that we’re still scared off by foreign languages on menus?)
Sticky Duck: Coconut braised duck, crispy rice & chilli jam. I’m not sure how this dish is Peruvian at all (sounds more like a deconstructed Thai curry), but I loved this take on ‘crispy rice’ – a cube of rice fried and crispy on the outside.
This was the Empanada of the day – I don’t remember what was in it but I do remember it being very good, with crispy pastry and a spicy tomato salsa that I liked so much I kept eating it after the Empanada was finished.
We were still a bit peckish so we ordered the ‘Crispy Roll’ – Smoked eel, green apple and wasabi mayonnaise. We had no idea what a ‘Crispy Roll’ was – it just sounded delicious. We definitely didn’t expect…
… spring rolls. Spring rolls must be the daggiest thing to have on your menu because this is the second time I’ve been tricked into ordering them by some ambigious menu description. The other time was at Chinta Ria – “Lip Stick: crunchy vegetables tossed in subtle seasonings, wrapped in a fine pastry and snap fried” – in other words, veggie spring roll. Must be the first lesson of Chef’s School 101: If you must put a spring roll on your menu, NEVER call it a ‘spring roll’. ‘Spring rolls’ belong in greasy takeaways and the freezer aisle at the supermarket, NOT on the menu of your hip and trendy restaurant.
We really enjoyed ourselves at Pachamama House so I hope that this new iteration, Pisco Pisco, does well. Peruvian food is so unique and fun, I think it deserves some more attention. The new food trend for 2014? Make it happen!
Pisco Pisco (formerly Pachamama House)
200 Goulburn Street
Surry Hills 2010