Tacos & Tiraditos
Latin American flavours are finally getting their due recognition. Dorothy So checks out two new restaurants that are paving the way. Photography by Calvin Sit
It’s no understatement to call Peruvian cuisine the trailblazer of today’s culinary scene. It’s big in New York, it’s huge in London and, now, Hong Kong is also getting in on this gastronomic phenomenon. Opening on June 8, Chicha is the latest project by Concept Creations (Frites, Tapeo). Through the help of the Peruvian Consulate General in Hong Kong, co-owner Viviano Romito travelled to Lima with executive chef Michael van Warmelo for a two-week eating tour in preparation of the opening.
Everything here is designed to share. Dishes are crafted with regional ingredients, including choclo (a large variety of corn) and huacatay (black mint). Of course, there’s the all-importing aji, or chillies, which make up the backbone of most marinades, cremas and sauces. The space is also equipped with a bar area offering cocktails based on pisco brandy – the national alcohol of Peru.
One of the most famous dishes of Peru. This consists of seafood in leche de tigre (or ‘tiger’s milk’) – a citrus-based marinade. Chicha offers two versions with raw fish cooked by the citrus juice.
One is the traditional corvina with sea bass, sweet potato and choclo, while the other has tuna with watermelon and herbs. There’s also the mixto, which has seared seafood in tomato and ginger leche de tigre.
These grilled skewers are found all along the streets of Lima. The most traditional is the corazon (beef hearts with aji sauce) but we highly recommend Chicha’s Japanese-inspired grilled cod with ponzu miso and rocoto chilli aioli, as well as the chicken with aji panca.
This is arguably Peru’s most popular chifa (Chinese-inspired) dish. It’s very similar to a stir-fry with chunks of beef tenderloin tossed in a wok with scallions, potatoes, soy sauce, rice and a hint of aji amarillo.
Seasoned whipped potatoes decorated with various toppings. “Causas are almost always topped with a layer of avocado. [After that], pretty much anything goes,” Romito explains. Try these topped with diced tuna, tomato and nori, crab meat, Amarillo yoghurt and fish roe and finally – calamari (dusted in addictive Tajin spices), aji panca crema and quail egg.
Spanish influences are also common in Peruvian cooking, as shown by this paella-esque preparation, which has plump pearls of rice cooked in seafood broth. At Chicha, they take it a step further by lacing the dish with an insanely delicious uni and yuzu lime reduction.
An absolute must-try dessert. These are made with sweet potatoes or pumpkin pieces which have been folded into batter, shaped and deep-fried like a doughnut. Douse in orange-spiced syrup and enjoy.
Chicha 26 Peel St, Central, 2561 3336.
Brickhouse is located at the end of a narrow alley at the base of LKF. It’s deliberately tucked-away, boasting exposed ceilings and walls with graffiti art. “Nothing here is too serious,” explains Malcolm Wood of Maximal Concepts (responsible for Play and Blue Butcher). “Everything is down-to-earth.”
The menu culls from various Latin American cultures but the main focus is on Mexico City, where chef Austin Fry developed a passion for the local cuisine. The spotlight is on fresh ingredients and honest, back-to-basics techniques. Brickhouse will also serve food later than other restaurants in the area. Of course, as a late-night haunt, it’ll also have awesome drinks, like the Cubana, with tobacco-infused tequila and grilled pineapple. If cocktails don’t float your boat, the bar stocks microbrewery beers from the USA, as well as tequila flights.
It seems painstakingly simple but grilled corn on the cob is one of the most popular street snacks in Mexico. At Brickhouse, it’s rubbed down with chilli, mayo, lime and queso (cheese).
Chips and salsas
Fry admits that the masses would probably get angry if chips and salsa weren’t on the menu. To set Brickhouse apart, Fry serves stone-ground chips alongside chicharrón (pork cracklings), which he explains is common practice in Mexico. These crispy dippers arrive at the table with guacamole, four daily salsas and pickled vegetables.
Ceviches come in many different forms all across Latin America. For the most part, Mexican styles are saucier than other varieties, as demonstrated by Brickhouse’s Witches Brew ceviche made from market-fresh fish immersed in a thick and tangy mash-up of salsa bruja, avocado, citrus and tomato. Fry also does a lighter Peruvian version with yellowtail, apple, daikon, orange and yuzu-lime dressing.
These are toasted corn tortillas heaped with any variety of toppings. There are two types at Brickhouse. One is smeared with saffron aioli, salsa veracruz, arugula and hunks of tender, braised octopus. The other has chipotle mayo, habanero mustard, lemon and cucumbers topped with Fiji albacore tuna and crispy shallots. Go for both.
This vegetarian option is made from fire-roasted poblano peppers which are plumped up with quinoa then coated in beer batter. A stewed tomato broth on the base provides sweetness and zing, while manchego cheese and pumpkin seed ‘salsa’ add heartiness to the whole affair.
All of Brickhouse’s tacos are served in homemade tortillas. They’re offered as off-menu blackboard specials with a selection that changes regularly. Some of the hardest hitters include the rib eye served with manchego cheese, tomato salsa and cilantro. Fry also offers venison tacos with spicy chipotle harissa, pickled cucumber and fennel yoghurt.
Brickhouse 20A D’Aguilar St, Central; www.brickhouse.com.hk. Open Mon to Wed, 6pm to 2am, Thu to Sat, 6pm to 4am.
Other Latin American treats
Alfredo Sánchez (bartender at Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita) may wrap up his guest barista stint at Blue Bar on June 10 but his tequila-based drinks will continue to be served until the end of August. Try the Margarita Huichol made from tequila reposado, cointreau, chilli Serrano, lime and sugar. There’s also the Rosa Maria, which is shaken with Mezcal, rosemary, organic pineapple and lime. They’re the perfect drinks for the summertime heat. L/F, Four Seasons Hotel, 8 Finance St, Central, 3196 8830.
One of the best places to go for greasy Tex-Mex fare. Shoot for the carnitas taco, which has tender pulled pork wrapped with cilantro and pico de gallo. They also offer delicious refried beans as a hearty side. Don’t forget to wash everything down with a Corona. 1 Second St, Sai Ying Pun, 2525 2066; www.tacochaca.com.
Mr Taco Truck
Mr Taco serves its namesake tortilla wraps on the cheap. The stall also does burritos filled with carnitas, carne asada or pollo. And while it may not be the most authentic, we still love the Swiss enchilada with chicken, mozza, sour cream and salsa tucked into a soft flour tortilla. 22 Finnie St, Quarry Bay, 2590 6911; 15 Wo On Lane, Central, 2810 0888; www.mrtacotruck.com.
Come here for the juicy, Argentinean steaks which are seared over a wood-fuelled fire. All the prime cuts are served with a selection of salsas and can also be ordered ‘a caballo’ with a sunny-side-up egg on top. Tango also does traditional sausages, empanadas (stuffed savoury pastries) and a small selection of ceviches. 1/F, 77 Wyndham St, Central, 2525 5808.
Yes, it’s out of the way and, yes, the opening hours are erratic (don’t be surprised if no-one picks up the phone when you call), but this is perhaps the only restaurant in town that does authentic Brazilian cuisine. Order the feijoada – a dish of stewed black beans and pork with rice. Shop A, G/F, Silver Centre Bldg, 10 Mui Wo Ferry Pier Rd, Mui Wo, Lantau, 2984 7471.