Given the vagaries of clientele density and General Good-Time Probability Theory, do you stay at the place you’ve been enjoying for a third or fourth hour and risk getting jaded and stranded without options down the line, or do you strike out for the promise of novelty, a new bar where you could hit social gold, or equally be drowned in a four-deep line of deplorables at the bar? It’s the eternal London question, really.
In any case, it has to be the hallmark of a good restaurant when you try to leave twice and are still there at the end of the night, right?
I blame the Pisco Sours. Casita Andina is a lively little Peruvian joint in Soho and if there’s one thing I know from my very limited interactions with real life Peruvians, it’s that they’re madly proud of Pisco, essentially a type of brandy.
It’s one of the few things, outside of Paddington Bear, that I know comes from Peru (Chile also lay a claim) (to Pisco, not Paddington Bear) (as far as I know), and it’s the first thing we’re offered as myself and a couple of friends chum round a corner table in the cosy upstairs dining room. We agree to a round for research purposes, research that would enjoy an unfettered extended tenure as we hurtled into an increasingly blurry night.
The good news? There’s food as well, and it’s a welcome change for weary London palates. Coming into the restaurant, some braying oaf outside was describing it to his bored friends as “like Hispanic tapas, you guys”, which is really all tapas, but the reality of the menu is a small-plate adventure that doesn’t feel like it’s hooking onto this now omnipresent eating trend.
We share food in restaurants now, generally, as a people. It’s just what we all do. It’s 7pm on a Friday night and so the opening salvo of crunchy corn nuts, pork and liver croquettes and Chilaso (a kind of tempura) didn’t stand a chance, inhaled as they were through the early evening buzz of Londoners off work on a sunny evening and a well-timed second wave of pisco sours.
The mains are split in twain, heat-wise, with Hot Kitchen offering the cooked meats, and Ceviche & Raw Bar covering the uncooked, fishy side of things. I’d say three menu items between two people would be a satisfactory amount of food (they’re £6-$14 each) but with a bottle of wine chasing our pisco disco, we felt emboldened to hit the menu more thoroughly.
The tamal (pork dumpling), pork shambar (pork belly) (are you sensing a pattern?) and maca lamb sirloin (pattern broken!) were herbed and seasoned and cooked to fork-pleasing levels of delicacy AND were hearty enough to steer us through our booze-enhanced appetites.
We were really here for the ceviche, though. Not such a common dish in London. The menu is a non-cliché ceviche niche, if you will, though you probably won’t. Herby, citrus-y seabass comes out with the ‘Classic’ and ‘Casita’ plates, while the tuna rested confidently in tiger’s milk and quail eggs. There are veggie options, which we sadly glossed over for dessert pisco sours and a shared Peruvian chocolate ball.
As contented as we were, trying to leave suffered a slight setback as the downstairs bar had cleared out and gave us the London holy grail of a table and seats, and so (astonishingly) pisco sours were ordered while friends arrived.
Such was the success of this enterprise that more friends were invited – us providing them with a gamble-free jaunt across the West End – and more pisco sours and so and so forth until we were practically one-quarter Peruvian by genetic make-up and Paddington Bear had been adopted as our official mascot.
Casita Andina sure seems unassuming, but boy can it sneak up on you. Maybe I'll blame the crunchy corn nuts, but I doubt anyone would buy that.