The evening we go to Señor Ceviche the weather’s about the closest it ever gets in London to a Latin American summer. Kingly Street is hot with actual heat from actual sunshine, also from all the body heat of everybody celebrating the summer by crowding very close together onto any patch of sun-touched pavement and drinking a lot.
Busiest of all in Kingly Court, where it takes ten minutes of dedicated hustle to duck and weave my way across the courtyard and up to Señor Ceviche. Tucked into the corner of the first floor, they’re a mass of bright paintwork, fading music posters, wooden floors, blue and white tiles, old photos – half Lima hotspot, half hacienda. We prop up the bar for a while with menus. And the Cusco Chela cocktail, which sounds suspiciously like somebody threw together everything glancingly summery from behind the bar – pear, sage-infused pisco, fruit slices, rosemary sprigs, lime juice, cold Asahi beer – but turns out to be lovely if dangerously strong, like a fresher, bitterer cider.
I’ve come with the right person. Caroline knows Peru well, has been steeped in its rhythms and mores. She speaks winningly on the beauty of ceviche, on how right it feels to eat fresh, zinging flavours in the summer weather. Is there anything nicer than raw seafood, slick with lime juice and chili, on a hot day?
I mean, I think yes. Barbecue is nicer. By a million miles. Fortunately this place caters for both of us with a big list of variations on ceviche and tiraditos, alongside a Peruvian BBQ section featuring flat iron steak with uchucuta salsa, beef-heart skewers, flamecooked chicken… Left to my own devices I’d likely hit the barbecue section harder, and Caroline seems to be alright with eating only ceviche from now till the end of time. That evens into something like a balance, and our ordering covers all sections, neglecting none, favouring none, spurning only things like the sweet potato fries which sound like a standard gastropub food that neither of us are prepared to sacrifice a meat dish for.
It’s the standard small-plate patter here of food turning up when it’s ready, so it’s simplest to just share or risk food envy and a stilted rhythm of one person’s order turning up way ahead of the rest of it. Sounds obvious, but at the table next to ours four loud guys who say Dude a lot are eating in a sort of weird shift pattern rather than just falling on whatever arrives as a group. Amateur hour. Their dinner progresses slowly like molasses. But basically, not a good place to come with people you aren’t willing to fight for the last beef-heart skewer or just, you know, share with amicably if you’re actually that grown-up.
Highlights are the Anticucho de Res – grilled beef heart skewers with chili, incredibly tender and totally deserving of a Señor-Captain Beefheart pun we’re both too full to triangulate on, and the frijoles – black beans, cooked into a dense beautiful mass with smoked bacon and aji panca chili. The ceviches themselves are also pretty impressive, and yes, sort of great for a summer’s day even if it doesn’t really win me over to Caroline’s stance re. superiority over the barbecue, not when the barbecue has dishes like the flat iron steak and uchucuta salsa in its corner.
Lowlights, though not dramatic ones, are the chicharonne sanguchitos – buns stuffed with pork belly, Peruvian hot sauce, and a jumble of sweet potato and salsa, which are nice but uneventful, like your standard we-heard-sliders-were-a-Thing-now barsnack. And the Dulche de Leche pudding – unless you’re a massive fan of caramel or eye-wateringly sweet desserts, that section of the menu’s a slightly underwhelming place. Hard to get too bothered about that though, when there are uncharted sections of the main menu still, and a whole host of things on skewers, things charred-up from the barbecue and things doused in tiger’s milk and chili to explore. Next time.
Señor Ceviche, Kingly Court, Kingly Street, London W1B 5PW. Website.