There’s a kind of unwritten rule these days that anyone who wants to open a restaurant in Neukölln has to do their time on the market and pop-up circuit first – a Street Food Thursday here, a Burgers and Hip Hop there. After almost a year in the trenches, Peruvian eatery Chicha is finally where it belongs: in a blindingly white, unfinished-looking space on Friedelstraße with uncomfortable chairs. So it goes.
But the food is better than its trappings. The creation of German manager Robert Peveling and Lima chef Ariel Peralta, Chicha serves the bold and refined, Japanese-influenced cuisine popular in the Peruvian capital. If you’re familiar with that style, you’ll find Peralta’s dishes don’t reinvent the wheel, but they’re almost perfectly on point.
The star of the menu is fish – always a tricky proposition in our landlocked city, but Chicha’s namesake ceviche (€10.50) more than passes the test. Cubes of raw corvina are tossed with leche de tigre, a marinade of lime juice, salt, Peruvian ají amarillo chilli, coriander and a few other less conventional ingredients like fish stock and ginger, and served almost immediately, before the acid has time to ‘cook’ the protein. Chunks of warmly spiced sweet potato, thin-sliced red onion and crunchy dried corn are perfect complements to the firm fresh fish. As for the tart, spicy “tiger’s milk”, we wouldn’t blame you if you guzzled it from the bowl on its own after the solid food was gone. Other fishy dishes on offer include a more expected salmon-avocado version, octopus causa, an elevated version of Peru’s layered potato salad, or tiradito (think sashimi on steroids).
Not a fan of sea critters? We suggest the anticuchos (€8.00), skewered slices of beef heart grilled on lava stone, served with potatoes and zesty green chimichurri sauce. Vegetarians are unfortunately confined to quinoa salad, a plantain dish or fried, cheese-filled yuca croquettes with the spicy cheese sauce known as huancaína. Not exactly a full meal, but a decent accompaniment to Chicha’s (and Peru’s) signature tipple, the pisco sour (€7.50). Is the grappa-like spirit set to become the new mescal? Time will tell.
The servings are all ‘small plates’, and no single dish here will fill you up – expect to spend at least €25 to sate your hunger. That and the somewhat-forced hipster vibe (check those custom-designed uniforms!) will prevent us from revisiting Chicha too often. But we will be back for that ceviche, which Peralta eventually plans to serve sushi-bar-style from the restaurant’s soon-to-be-built open kitchen. And maybe a shot of that leche de tigre, straight up – it’s supposed to be a great hangover cure.