We both arrive for brunch at Pachamama with intentions for the afternoon. Leonie has a wedding to go to. I have less exciting enormous amounts of work to do, and holiday packing. Since these are things which have to happen regardless of how fit we are to do them, a lunchtime reservation at Pachamama isn’t without a side of danger. They’re famous for doing good things to Pisco, the Peruvian national spirit, and brunch comes with a two page menu of cocktails with seductive ingredients like rocoto chili and plum bitters, and ominous names like ‘Purifier’ and ‘Mama’s Killer’. None of these sound like gentle, pre-game warm-up drinks, and we just have to hope for the sake of those Intentions that the food’s as substantial as the Mezcaleria list is long.
Named in homage to an Inca goddess, housed in a Marylebone basement and self-described as Peruvian dishes, British ingredients and colonial-style décor, it all combines to give the restaurant a slightly trippy sense of Lost Weekend. It’s there before you even pick up a menu, in the pink neon, in the wall of mezcal glinting behind the bar, in the jet black, life-size statue of a horse casually poking out of the shadows in one corner.
‘Mama is excited to share with you the best Peruvian dishes!’ our waitress says sunnily, giving the impression that Mama might be here, now, hanging out in one of the shadowy corners like the ebony horse.
We repay Mama’s emotional investment by ordering the kind of brunch you have when your only obligation for the rest of that day’s a really intense siesta. The Chicama cocktails arrive, a powerful hit of Pisco and St. Germain with an illusion of delicacy thanks to the Earl Grey-infusion, lime and lavender bitters. The restaurant starts to fill up rapidly, and by the time we’re one Chicama down each there’s not a high wooden table or lamp-lit alcove free.
There’s no noticeable downscaling of sunniness from the waiters now that there’s a whole cavern of people wanting to share Mama’s best Peruvian dishes: if anything it gets ramped up, so that the whole place has an oddly energetic feel for a time of day when most Hackney brunch places feel fuelled more by morning-after defiance than chirpiness. Pachamama at high noon on Saturday has the kind of cheerful neon-lit buzz that I imagine is how those sober, pre-work morning raves feel. We order another Chicama, to kill off any sense of Temperance breakfast rave.
Is this what it’s always like in Marylebone, a permanent fiesta of good cheer and goodwill? When the crab and yuca churros arrive I’m pretty certain it’s just the natural byproduct of either having eaten these in the immediate past or knowing this dish is in your immediate future. They’re so strange: little crunchy doughnut sticks, with the chewy fibrousness of yuca, a very crabby seafood flavour and a light sugar dust. Sound unholy, but are lovely.
Other things which sound weird but prove – alright, weird, but lovely, include the side of aubergine, smoked yoghurt and pecan. Or the sweet potato waffles we order to share, one topped with Peruvian fried chicken, yacon and aji sauce, the other with salmon, avocado and poached egg. If this sounds like a lot of food, it is – the portions aren’t miserly, and you could share a lot less, though I wouldn’t want to be responsible for choosing which of these dishes to cull from your order. They all feel pretty important.
When we climb back up to street level, it’s reluctantly. Both of us are doing some shoddy, Pisco-hampered maths about how much of a nap we could really get away with. Learn from our errors, and clear your day in preparation for Pachamama. Show the churros and the Chicamas the respect they deserve.
Pachamama London is open for brunch from 12pm at weekends. Pachamama London, 18 Thayer Street, London W1U 3JY. Tel: 02079359393. Website