It’s no secret that Peruvian is the hottest thing to hit the European dining scene since sushi. It’s just taken Barcelona a little while to catch up. And catching up it is, thanks no doubt, to the extreme success of Albert Adrià’s Pakta, a Nikkei joint that fuses Peruvian and Japanese—and my favourite meal of 2013—and Gastón Acurio, the Limeño chef who put Peruvian on the international stage, and who owns Tanta in the Eixample. But those without this kind of rocket-fueled PR machine behind them have taken rather longer to gain a foothold.
Enter The Market, a smart, but cute little Peruvian place just above the Diagonal, with its ethno-chic interior of brick walls dotted with cool Aztec paintings and portraits of Frida Kahlo, underscored by filament bulbs glittering above the bar, that give just the right amount of pizzazz. It’s run by Patrick Weber and his right hand man, chef Nicky Ramos, who wanted to take Peruvian into something more regionally biased. “There are so many influences in Peruvian cuisine,” Nicky tells me one lunchtime when I happen to pass by and am suddenly overcome by the need for a bowl of ceviche and a Pisco Sour. “Chinese, Japanese, Italian and African, not to mention the Incas, pre-Incas and Nazcas (the guys who did those crazy giant line drawings in the Southern desert). You’re looking at 500 years of fusion that’s evolved through social integration, so yeah, we have a pretty amazing cuisine.
”No kidding. Peru has 4000 different types of potato, at least 300 ‘known’ types of chilli pepper (it’s where the fruit is believed to have originated). Nicky says there are so many rare and wonderful species of fruit and vegetables that every day he goes to the market over there he’ll discover at least five new things. Ferran Adrià calls it one of his favourite places on earth to eat, and the words ensured its fate the second they were uttered. Peruvian, my friends, is huge and it’s about to explode.
I have a general rule that, when in Rome make like a Roman. So when dining Peruvian, a Pisco Sour is the only way to go and to my mind it’s actually a much better fit to the food, especially ceviche, than wine. The lively acidity of the drink softened by the soft, creamy foam of the top is the perfect foil to raw fish that’s been ‘cooked’ in lime juice—it enhances it—and to sturdy skewers of ox heart, on which more later. I was in the mood for classics so ordered up the simple corvina (a type of bass) tossed about in lime juice with aji amarillo, the gently earthy, soulful yellow chilli pepper native to Peru, and plump kernels of corn. It comes together in caressing, buttery mouthfuls made exciting by the crunch of toasted corn that has been scattered on top. Think salt, spice and acidity and I promise you, it’s the best summer food in the world. Afterwards, because Nicky talks me into it, I have seco de cordero—a hearty dish from the North, that honestly is not quite the right thing to be eating in high summer, but wow, will I be back for it the minute the leaves start to fall. Cooked down very slowly in a complex sauce of dark beer, pisco and cilantro, the meat is spoon-tender, almost chocolately and comes on a pile of refried beans with rice and a zingy fresh onion relish.
When I return for dinner a few weeks later I continue on the Pisco Sours, but add a quinoa salad enlivened with cubes of Andean cheese, pea sprouts, dainty nuggets of mango, cherry tomatoes and black sesame seeds; slivers of raw tuna with lime, soy and seaweed, and the anticuchos that I mentioned earlier. I’m all for a slab of beef heart me, and if you like your meat lean it’s the least gristly and fatty part of the beast, but these were just a tiny bit too rustic for me. They had that unmistakable squidge of offalness about them, which I’m sure many will adore, but I’ve never really got my head round.
Still, all the more reason for just one more of the Market’s divine Pisco Sours I’d say. No dessert necessary.
Gran de Gràcia 7 (Gràcia)Tel. 93 186 4200 www.themarketbarcelona.com Open: Sun-Wed 1pm-4.30pm, 8pm-midnight, Thu-Sat 1pm-4.30pm, 8pm-1am. €35 for two courses plus drinks