Coya. Peruvian/Japanese Roka-style mashup.
I’d tried to get into my standby, Roka Mayfair and the voice-without-warmth on their reception told that I might be able to get a walk-in, if I was lucky. It seems that even if you go somewhere at least once a week and you and your colleagues take clients all the time, well, they still won’t make any exceptions. I almost admire their insouciance, though the refusal ever to acknowledge one’s rather regular and loyal attendance does tend to disappoint.
So Coya came up on the Opentable scroll of fame. It’s in a slightly strange location, Coya, in the nowhere end of Piccadilly, a little too close to The Hard Rock Café for comfort. There is no proper frontage, just a few steps up to what looks like an office, so someone has to stand outside to greet potential punters. A few garish nick-nacks at the doorway don’t make it inviting.
I might have been less disappointed at the Roka-refusal had I not failed to clock that Coya is an Arjun Waney vehicle, thus comes from the same stable, though if I’d looked at the menu online I would probably have sussed that out quite quickly.
Apparently the upstairs is, or at least was a members’ bar but I am unaware of this and am seated there straight away. I’m glad, because walking out of the sunshine, I don’t necessarily want to have lunch in a basement.
I am early. In the ten or so minutes that I wait, I am visited by waiting staff on at least five occasions.
Yes, I do want some water, sparkling please (they bring still). No, thanks, I do not want a glass of champagne. No, thanks, I do not want some “nibbles” whilst I wait (I do actually, but I feel it is inappropriate to be stuffing my face as the client arrives). Yes, I do want to look at the menu but no, thanks, I don’t need somebody to explain it just now. Yes, I have seen the tasting menu, thank you.
I’m exhausted already. I have experienced more social interaction than an introvert is entirely comfortable with, before I have even ordered any food.
I look around. It takes a special kind of designer to make the interior of an elegant British stucco building look like one of those dilapidated faded-elegance places you see when people show you photographs of their trip to Havana. You can see the (mock) lath and plaster and the exposed brickwork but it is a pure rather silly fiction in a building of this grandeur in the heart of Mayfair. Yes I know Havana isn’t in Peru but I’m creating a mental lookbook here and Peru, well, it’s a minority interest and I don’t want you thinking Incas and those big hats, that wouldn’t cover it.
The menu is huge but I love them for their glossary on the back: Lima Floral, look and learn. The choice looks fairly overwhelming, but in reality it’s our old friend the sharing plate, broken down into sections. There are the expected ceviches (raw fish cured in citrus and spiced with aji peppers) and tiraditos (similar to above, different cut) from which we have the Atún Chifa, tuna with soy, sesame seeds and a shrimp cracker, good and fresh, a sharp kick to the marinating juices. Then there are the grilled items. (Robata and Josper, get them), fried dishes, iron pots and Nikkei offerings. There is also a gluten-free express menu. Don’t get me started on the whole gluten thing or (heaven forbid) clean eating.
We choose a rather conventional tuna tacos, with green beans and wasabi. Three cutesy little mini tacos come stuffed with chopped raw tuna. I’d have welcomed a touch more of the advertised wasabi, but it is good and I could happily have ordered another serving.
I had thought that I had cancelled the crispy tortillas with guacamole, but they brought them anyway. You really don’t need to order it. My own guacamole recipe is more exciting.
From the Nikkei section (look it up, I can’t keep spoon-feeding you) we choose a Yellowtail Maki roll, which is six large bites of sushi roll, topped with a jalapeno pepper and stuffed with avocado. It’s good. I’m happy. I forget about Roka.
I ask the waiter how to pronounce Chuletas de Borrego, at which I am pointing on the menu. I like to know these things. Lamb chops, he says. We look at each other and he realizes and we both crack up. Roasted on a Robata grill (a charcoal barbecue for slow cooking), these are wonderful; spicy, crusty, intense. As three small chops should be for £27, before service. Had I know they were just over ten quid a pop, I might have taken more care to chew them a bit longer. By way of consolation, braised tomatilloes are a revelation; sweet and salty against the fish lamb this is a combination of joy.
If I were you, I wouldn’t rush to try the Tiger prawn with chili and salsa, this time done in the Josper grill, which is a sort of combo oven/charcoal grill, at a cool £27 before service. It was fine but not something that would function as a main course dish, despite being priced at that level. Not with my appetite. Gone in a few bites, tasty ones, granted, but slightly dry.
Anticuchos are simply skewers upon which various things are grilled. Ours were spiked with deep, dark pieces of chicken and chili, char-grilled to a point of chewy perfection. Lots of umami stickiness making me happy.
We have dessert though I stick to the exotic fruit. P goes wild and orders a salted caramel ganache with raspberry sorbet. It is fine but I wouldn’t waste your calories on that, not when there is so much else going on. For some reason best known to themselves, they bring the coffee before the dessert.
The judgement: I am not sure about the décor, which has a touch of the trying too hard. Service is attentive if a little hit and miss, but the food is fresh, well presented and interesting. Not quite as polished on the food front as its stable mates Roka and Zuma, the formula is similar and, very much as in Roka, you could have a perfectly good meal for £50 a head if you stayed away from the luxury items. As it was, with a £40 bottle we ended up dropping £205.44, (service charge at 13.5% added) which felt toppy for the amount of food we consumed. I do plan to go back and try a few of the lower-priced options and to get to know the menu a little better, when I can’t get into Roka.
It does look rather lush, from the pics… and salted caramel with raspberry anything and, well, kryptonite!!!