If only Peru Perdu put as much effort into service as it does its Instagram feed.
As I sat in Peru Perdu – who have just kicked off their residency at The Cotton Factory – floating in that limbo that hovers between starters and mains, a server dropped beside me and asked:
“Would you like another drink?”
A perfectly reasonable question, you’re probably thinking. However, if I were now to tell you that I already had five drinks in front of me, could you see where I was coming from if I said the service at Peru Perdu – and experience on the whole – was somewhat frenzied?
Allow me to run the clock back: Peru Perdu is a Peruvian-inspired restaurant. Peruvian cuisine has seen real ignition in the South, with the likes of PISQU and Ceviche Soho offering buzzier, more quirky options to an eclectic, note-wafting crowd.
So, when I heard that Peru Perdu was going to be heir to El Camino’s spot in The Cotton Factory, I dreamt of plump ceviche humming with lime and the ripe, edge-to-edge pinkness of thick cut steak fresh off of the grill.
You’ve probably guessed what I’m building up to here. My dreams were, as they so often are, unrealistic. In fact, the dream where I was locked in Shrek’s outhouse and had to watch the film’s opening sequence through the crescent-moon shaped hole in the door was more aligned with reality.
Where to start? After we hang our coats in the cloakroom (ourselves) we sit and order cocktails. For me, the classic Peruvian Pisco sour. Pisco is a Peruvian brandy, and when used in a sour, you get a sort of grape-y sidecar that is hard to put down and, in this case, lulls you into a false sense of security.
However a pair of small plates, duck ‘Ropa Vieja’ (a Cuban stew) and tiger milk fried chicken shatter any misconceptions of safety.
The duck tastes like it was pulled out of a Tesco wrap and livened up in the pan. If the vegetables were stewed, they were stewed in the same way a sad person would stew in the bath – or maybe they actually did stew in the bath with that sad person. All of these sepia-toned flavours are kindly drizzled with what can only be described as unbearably sweet Subway barbecue sauce and piled miserably on what could have quite easily been soggy cardboard masquerading as a tostada.
Next up *cracks knuckles* is the fried chicken, which showcases the same colour palette as the inside of a baby’s nappy and – I can only presume – less flavour. The batter is disconcertingly moist and hasn’t even a whisper of crunch. The chicken tastes like it is on mute and yet more lifeless, limp vegetables seem to literally groan at me from the plate. However if you like coriander, you’re in luck, because this dish delivers unrelenting thwacks of it, and absolutely nothing else.
Despite this, we’re positive that ceviche and steak – the in-house specialties – will redress these issues, I mean it’s teething pains, right? They’ll bring this back? Right?
A chirpy sommelier appears like an excited, wine-wielding Pokémon and pours us a glass each of Torrontés Rosé, White Torrontés and a Riesling, to pair with our ceviche. The rosé, we are told, is to be paired with the salmon, the white for the sea-bass and the Riesling for the salt cod.
Great! What better way to relax with friends than sampling sweet lumps of ceviche and sipping authentic Argentinian wines? This’ll be lovely, and the wine is already here so y’know, the ceviche will be here in two shakes.
An episode or two of Game of Thrones go by and a glass windowsill of ceviche is delivered: three finger-and-thumb sized portions of fish decorated with myriad citrus and vegetable appendages. The sommelier makes a comeback to briskly inform us that what was salmon is now actually tuna and that the sea-bass is now crab. Despite these fish obviously not tasting alike, the wine pairings will remain the same, bye!
Perplexed, I take what I think is the Riesling in one hand and what I am (at least for now) positive is my fork in the other and go to tackle this ceviche-a-lá-identity-crisis when from behind me I hear:
“Okay so I’ve got three Bife de Ribeyes?”
Eh?! Cumbersome wooden boards land in front of us, and strange beef snakes – that look more like they’ve been pulled out of cows than chopped off of them – lie in their centres.
This is of course, bizarre – I resign to downing the three glasses of wine (now more coping mechanism than palette cleanser) and skip the ceviche for now so I can eat the steak while it’s still warm.
To look at these steaks, you’d think the aforementioned Game of Thrones episodes were used as grilling guidelines. I can imagine chefs calling to each other now:
“How long on these Bife de Ribeyes, chef?”
“Battle of Winterfell each side pal”
The crust is completely uneven: one area a pallid grey, the other charred beyond recognition. The menu states that diners can choose between a steak served with ‘La Brasa’ marinade *Alan Partridge shrug* or ‘straight up’. Clearly ‘straight up’ is taken quite literally, as the steak isn’t seasoned, like at all.
I know that probably comes across as hyperbole but really, it tastes like it’s been cooked over an open fire, in the forest, in a rush.
Beside the steak is a ‘straw potato garnish’. At least that actually sounds as bad as it is; it would be put to better use lining an outdoor play area or a country club car park. Sans seasoning yet again, as per house style.
Three sauces also arrive, thank god, I murmur, anything to rescue me from this jaw-achingly insipid despair. The Bearnaise is piquant with vinegar and carries an added haze of spice, elevating the steak to be somewhat enjoyable, which says a lot. Chimichurri is a tangy, oily mixture with dominant flavours of garlic and parsley – or at least that’s what Wikipedia says. At Peru Perdu, it tastes like defrosted veg that is just left swimming in the residual water.
Finally, the pepper sauce, which tastes like melted Sheba cat food. I know I shouldn’t know that, but I do.
Feeling like John Candy in The Great Outdoors (if you know, you know), I sluggishly spoon a pile of tuna ceviche into my fatigued jaw. Raw pepper, red onion and some sort of sour cream create an evilly incongruous trifecta that finally defeats me. I just give up.
We ask for the bill. We get the bill for the table next to us, who are still eating. By this point, I’m a shell of the man I once was. We pay. It’s a lot. We go and get our own coats out of the cloakroom (duh, what do you think this is, a restaurant?) and finally slouch out of the door, maracas playing behind us.
All Photos Are (unfortunately) My Own.
Yup, this one comes with an epilogue:
As we tumbled back out onto the pavement, our jaws dislodged and our current accounts maimed, we knew we couldn’t let the evening end on such a unconscionable note. We traipsed down a drizzly Oxford road, taking a left at the sight of a hulking jungle-gym of scaffolding and temporary wood flooring.
Our neglected palettes whimpering, in dire need of anything flavoursome.
And so, YES, a reliable haunt – boasting a fresh pizza stall and cocktail bar, amongst other things – just made sense.
A vast slice of shawarma-ladened pizza with fresh, melted mozzarella and a full-bodied tomato sauce – complex in it’s sweetness and acidity – is dressed with a loose-limbed autograph of creamy sumac lebneh, tempered by pomegranate vinaigrette with a crisp, foldable crust and a well-pocketed cornicione – £3.60.
An exactingly balanced Negroni to wash down the dough wields palette-rousing sweetness that collapses into intoxicating bitterness – £6.95.
An evening of unstructured insipidity and disappointment for three people at Peru Perdu – £175
You don’t even need to be on nodding terms with sanity to learn from this cautionary tale.