East London is a weird but wonderful place, and each corner exposes a different element of its personality.
Some streets are disappointingly predictable; identikit start-ups align with the same Pret a Mangers, Itsus, and Benugos. But a tiny door in amidst Shoreditch’s own Silicon Valley is a hidden burst of life: Pachamama East.
Pachamama means Mother Earth in Quechua, the ancient indigenous language of those who live in the Andean mountains. As the Goddess of nature, she is respected and revered by the Incas in Peru. Legend goes, she (Pachamama) will connect the people to the land. And, if the land is respected, it will provide for you.
I can’t speak for those in Peru, but if my lunch at Pachamama East was anything to go by, I may just become a religious convert.
Fairy lights are hung artfully low and compliment the exposed light bulbs placed slightly higher. Natural sunlight streams through the beautiful big bay windows and tasteful lampshades in the corner ensure there is always a bright atmosphere in place. Alongside the exposed brick walls and homely display of plants there is a genuinely naturally beautiful homely feeling; one that is so hard to achieve in an erstwhile soulless corner of the City.
As I wait for B, I leisurely drink in my surroundings, and admire the small little detailed touches that allow the electicism to work so well. B is rather late on this occasion, and I find myself in conversation with a couple on my left who are just finishing off their meal. By chance, they run a coffee shop which we frequented often in our university days and remember me.
They are quick to shower praise on their food and suggest that we too opt for the tasting menu. After perusing the menu, it seems like all I want is everything.
From my hazy recollection of my two week trip to Peru many moons ago, I remember too that food is best shared, and from the organisation of the menu – split handily into soil, land and sea, it seems that is the Pachamama way, too.
At this stage, B decides to arrive, apparently starving and is quick to agree with whatever suggestions they have, salivating at the morsels that remain on their plate: tasting menu it is. As he is still a carnivore, the waiter kindly agrees to adjust the menu so he can have his fix of meat.
First up were two green dishes which had a very healthy aesthetic.
Padron peppers are a fairly common starter and when I first saw them on the menu I wasn’t enthused; but when they arrived they were so delightful, aesthetically presented on a white china plate with a green adornment, seasoned well with chilli and salt, that I literally ate my words.
Similarly, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the cucumber salad, because really how much can one do with chopped cucumber? A lot, apparently.
One thing that distinguishes this Shoreditch venue from its Marylebone sister site is its focus on Chinese ingredients, an already inherent part of Peruvian cuisine. This means that a ‘bashed cucumber salad’ is cucumber in a tangy marinade and artistically placed sesame seeds, refreshingly tasty for one lone green vegetable.
Pickled potato salad, sesame, and chilli oil was definitely the highlight of the lunch. A week on, I am still in awe of just how tasty it was; I’m aware potato is incredibly versatile but, on this occasion, it reached new levels, and had a unique flair. They looked like noodles and were infused with a sharp flavour that accentuated its crunchiness and, similar to the cucumber, had its own refreshing taste.
Perhaps I was blinded by the aesthetics, but the food tasted healthy and delicious which is a combo that I am always dubious about. When the aubergine arrived, I pushed it towards my companion.
“It’s meat,” I asserted confidently. But it was just beautifully caramelised aubergine which, B admitted, “could make him give up meat.”
He tried the chicken noodles but afterwards admitted that “while still amazing” the veggie dishes were twice as good. “How they do make vegetables so good?” he asked.
I found it particularly interesting as both Peruvian and Chinese food are known for their meat-heavy cuisine.
We watched the open kitchen diligently cook and serve food, but alas no secrets were revealed.
Peruvian food in fairness is famed for its ceviche but we didn’t even have the fish version, rather, the sweet potato which was still superb. In a time where vegetarian and vegan cuisine is often misconceived for its monotony and unhealthiness, this truly was something different.
B even said he thought the vegetarian dishes outdid his chicken noodles and still ponders over how they made the caramelised aubergine which seemed effortlessly tasty, topped with peanuts and coriander oil; countless attempts to replicate it later have come to no avail.
We were waiting in eager anticipation of the dessert, which our neighbours had raved about and we were not disappointed. Light and creamy in its appearance, the coconut ice cream tempered the chocolate well, and felt a not too indulgent way to indulge a three-course meal on a Friday afternoon.
I insisted to B that in order to truly sample Peruvian cuisine one must try its local delicacy: Pisco. As per usual, he refused to listen and ordered a rum cocktail, but upon sampling mine agreed that the combination of coconut, pineapple, and pisco was quite agreeable.
As, I might add, was our lunch at Pachamama East.
Pachamama East, 73 Great Eastern Street, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3HR, England.
Tel: +44 (0)207 846 9595
Pachamama is located in Shoreditch, a short 5-minute walk from Old Street Station on the Northern Line. The restaurant is open Monday to Thursday from midday to 3:00pm and from 5:30pm for 10:00pm; Friday from midday to 3:00pm and from 6:0pm to 11:00pm. Saturday from 11:00am to 4:00pm and from 5:30pm to 11:00pm and Sunday from 11:00 to 4:00pm.
Type of Restaurant: Peruvian Fusion Restaurant
Price Band: Medium to high
Insider Tip: Do try the potato salad!
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10
Maighna Nanu is a London based freelance journalist.
Photographs courtesy of Pachamama