While travel seems tantalisingly close but far away, you can travel to Peru with a Peruvian cultural experience at Warike in Surry Hills. Guests have a set menu showing the best of Peruvian food with Peruvian entertainment. It is hosted every Sunday at Nikkei restaurant on Commonwealth Street in Surry Hills.
Originally the word Warike came from two Quechua words: "wa" meaning hidden or secret and "rike" which means stew so Warike literally means a tucked away place that serves stew. Nowadays it comes to describe an exclusive restaurant with a small amount of seats and high quality dishes.
The concept for Warike started with Luis Guzman and Valeriya Finogeeva. Luis explains, "We came up with Warike during lockdown. I always enjoyed cooking and eating Peruvian food but just for myself and close family. Valeriya loved the food and encouraged the idea of having other people try it as she believed people would pay to eat the food we cooked at home, which she was right about!".
Once COVID-19 restrictions eased, they started inviting people over to eat and they spread the word to others and so on until Luis and Valeriya were getting requests from strangers to come and eat at their house or to buy food for takeaway. The demand grew so big that it wasn't possible to have people at their home and the pop ups were born. They both still hold full times jobs during the week.
The Warike experience combines live Peruvian music from band Duo Jimenez with a 5 course set menu for $65 per person. Drinks are extra from the Nikkei bar menu and are paid separately.
I miss travel and visiting Peru and I'm guessing I'm not the only one as the majority of the diners this Sunday afternoon seem to be Peruvian. The Warike experience starts at 12pm and people are seated at separate tables although there is also one big share table for large groups. There is a Peruvian band at one end of the main room although if you want a bit more privacy and conversation there is a room a little further back from the band.
The band strikes up and plays a mixture of traditional Peruvian music starting with pan pipes or the sikuri or zampona. They also play the Peruvian flute with versions of songs like "El Cóndor Pasa (If I Could)" which is considered the Peruvian second national anthem. This song was made famous outside Peru when Simon and Garfunkel covered it.
They also play the charango, a small version of a guitar or lute which they tell us was designed because the Andean natives were forbidden to play their ancestral music by the Spaniards so they designed this smaller version of a lute that could be hidden under ponchos.
Choros a la Chalaca
I have found lot of the Peruvian food I've had here is nice but it doesn't reach the flavour heights of what I've had in Peru. However the food here is the closest I've tried. Take the Choros (mussels) a la Chalaca. These are steamed Spring Bay black mussels with a Chalaca salsa (similar to pico de gallo) made with tomato, red onion, lime and giant corn kernels and they're absolutely delightful. It's nice to get three mussels too and not just 1 or 2.
Papa a la Huancaina
Papa means potato in Spanish (Papá means father) and these are simple oven roasted potatoes in a Huancaina (spicy cheese) sauce with halved boiled quail eggs. Potatoes are one of the backbones of Peruvian cuisine and Peru has over 3,500 varieties of potatoes.
My favourite course is the classic ceviche. Here it is a Hiramasa kingfish with leche de tigre (tiger's milk made of lime, garlic and seasonings), chullpi (dried corn) and kernels of giant Peruvian corn or Choclo and steamed sweet potatoes. Sometimes leche de tigre is too acidic for me but this is perfectly balanced and given depth by a strong hit of garlic. It's so good that I drink all the marinade afterwards.
I ask Luis what the secret to their ceviche is and he says, "There is no secret! To be completely transparent I learned to do my ceviche watching many different videos on YouTube (no one ever believes that) and people ask me that every time! I made my own recipe out of different videos using a bit of each recipe. To this day our ceviche is made to taste, we don’t have specific measurements of each ingredient. I just mix enough of each ingredient until I feel it is in the right spot! I guess that is what makes it hard to replicate as each person has a different taste and luckily guests seem to enjoy the taste of our ceviche a lot."
It's been months since I last ordered octopus; after watching My Octopus Teacher I swore I wouldn't eat it again but it's the main course here. It's chargrilled Fremantle octopus in an Anticucho (ox heart) marinade made of garlic, oil, chilli and red wine vinegar with lightly crispy grilled halved potatoes and choclo corn kernels. The octopus is well cooked and the anticucho marinade is delicious and the octopus goes well with the potatoes and corn as well as the chalaca salsa.
Helado de Lúcuma
Lucuma is one of those native Andean Valley fruits that has no real comparison to other fruits. It's also delicious with its sweet and slightly grainy texture and if you ever get the chance to try it, you should. This is a homemade Lúcuma gelato that's like a fruity, creamy butterscotch gelato with small alfajore cookies sandwiched with dulce de leche. The cookies have a wonderfully buttery short biscuit.
As we leave on this cold Autumn Sunday one can't help think of the chilly Cusco weather.
So tell me Dear Reader, where do you miss travelling to? What will be your first trip when you can travel again?
This meal was independently paid for.
224 Commonwealth St, Surry Hills NSW 2010
Every Sunday from 12-5pm