The menu at Nueva, a new Peruvian restaurant in south Delhi, promises a ‘journey of flavours’. There’s nothing nueva about the cuisine, though—not since the conquistadors landed in Peru in their discovery of the New World, and locals could mix quinoa with, among other things, olive oil. For Delhi-ites, however, the place is a fitting introduction. For me, it is also symbolic of a ‘new world’ of restaurants in the capital, which braves cuisines like, well, Peruvian.
There’s a cricket connect here: Vikas Kohli, who co-owns the place with Vikrant and Sharad Batra of Cafe Delhi Heights fame, is India captain Virat’s sibling. That’s enough glamour, but I was more concerned with the sweetness of the Pisco sour and the freshness of the ceviche. It meant Chef Ashish Singh was the one who had to prove his mettle.
The ground level has a sizeable lounge with splendid abstracts on the walls. But the bar holds the spotlight, with bright zigzag panels, and a ceviche-cum-sushi bar (Japanese cuisine has had its influence on Peruvian food) in its fold. The fine-dining area a floor above is an elegant chamber of beige and brown, with the open kitchen adjacent. Surrounded by the fragrance of mushrooms from the kitchen and the tiradito and sashimi from the sushi bar, the sizzle and crackle of food being cooked accompanies the growling in my tummy. It is time to eat.
As amusing as the amuse-bouche, the prawn causa (mashed potatoes with avocado sauce and a prawn-on-the-top) is, the ceviche proves baffling. Despite being a proud meat-eater served a ceviche de camarones (ceviche with prawn and asparagus) dining with a vegetarian friend served an escabeche (with button and shimeji mushrooms), which they described as the vegetarian version, I favour the latter. Accompanied with tiger’s milk (a citrus-based marinade that usually accompanies the dish) and the magic of mushroom, you still can’t call it a ceviche. Yet I revel in the blasphemy.
Then comes the quinoa garden flower salad—red and white quinoa telling a technicolour tale of a grain that originated in the Andes. Capsicum, a crunchy green peas tuile and a mint goat cheese ball—an explosion of flavour. Peruvian gastronomy had till now been a breath of ‘fresh’ air.
Parihuela, the seafood soup, takes me back to my meat-eating ways. The marinated artichoke hearts (with Peruvian bread, walnut sauce and pineapple salsa) and cider-glazed pork belly (apple cider and a tender-iffic belly) make for the antradas. The belly and artichoke hearts tease my senses, while the salsa and sauce give new definition to the mild artichoke flavour. Then the Brazilian braised fava beans come in the main course, their sweet-and-smoky flavour have me fringing along the vegetarian realm yet again.
The mammoth ‘Andean mountain dream’ for dessert is a showstopper: a dark chocolate mousse rainforest with panna cotta-tipped snowclad peaks on a colourful bed of quinoa and processed fruit. I eat my way to the summit. Just like that, the Nueva expedition ends in a high.