Restaurant review: Chicha
Jason Y Ng
The Latin fever in Hong Kong’s restaurant scene is showing no sign of abating. While tapas places are springing up like champiñóns, the trend has now spread to less familiar cuisines. Take Chicha for example. The city's first Peruvian restaurant moved into Chez Patrick’s old home on Peel Street last summer and it has been turning down paying customers ever since. The talk-of-the-town is so popular that even an Inca god would have to wait a month before getting a table.
Chicha only takes reservations by text messages. By a stroke of luck, I received an SMS on my iPhone this past weekend: “We have space for two tonight for a quick dinner from 9.15pm until 10.30pm. Want it?” It was like winning the lottery, at least that’s the way they made me feel. After a couple of pre-dinner mojitos at a nearby bar, my guest and I showed up at the restaurant and were ushered to our seats facing the kitchen.
Chicha has good vibes. Latin music is on full blast and the crowd seems young and restless. The service is unintrusive and helpful. All the food is served – surprise, surprise – tapas style. That means they come in small packages and can add up to a hefty price. At around HK$800 per person, a meal there can break anyone's piggy bank. But judging from the restaurant’s mile-long wait list, it appears that there is no shortage of novelty seekers willing to drop four figures on a casual meal.
The food at Chicha is easy on the palate, though it is nowhere near the level of refinement one would get at a fine restaurant on the same budget. The best dishes are the glazed cod anticuchos (grilled skewers) and king fish tiradito (carpaccio). The suckling pig is generously portioned and complemented well by red onions and papas rellenas (fried potato balls). Avoid the hard shell tacos and picarones (fried dough), they are disappointing and will fill you up too quickly.
I read up on Peruvian food before going to Chicha. I learned that it is heavily influenced by Spanish, Italian, Japanese and Chinese cuisines. Combining local and immigrant traditions, Peruvian recipes take indigenous grains, potatoes and spices and turn them into unique, hearty treats. I looked around Chicha and felt that, despite Peruvian head chef Arturo Melendez's attempt to incorporate local ingredients into the menu, there is nothing particularly Peruvian about the place: not the food, not the décor and certainly not the staff. It is nonetheless a good weekend hangout, a trendsetter and a new kid on the block enjoying its 15 minutes of fame.