Sunday, September 13, 2015

Restaurant Opening - El Mercado

To be honest, I have never heard of the term "Nikkei Cuisine" until an invitation arrived in my inbox for a dinner tasting at El Mercado, a new restaurant in town serving this unique culinary specialty, a crossover between Japanese and Peruvian cuisines. My knowledge of Peruvian cooking was limited to ceviche and perhaps some fusion dishes created by Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, probably the most famous Nikkei chef gaining worldwide fame with the chain of his namesake restaurants, before the proliferation of the term "Nikkei Cuisine".

El Mercado, which just means "market" in Spanish, was located on the high level of a commercial building in Wanchai. The open area in the restaurant was compact and cozy, with one-third of the area dedicated to an open bar near the entrance, and a long counter facing an open kitchen at the back, reminiscent of a Japanese sushi bar. The rest were the dining area, with most tables facing the floor-to-ceiling window. And I love the lively but relaxed atmosphere of the restaurant - dim lighting, light music and the room packed with people enjoying their food and drink.

Ostra Acevinchada
We were served a special "tasting menu" featuring some of the restaurant's signature dishes, and I like their punchy and exotic flavors and excellent ingredients. We began with a small plate of beef heart anticucho served on a bed of corn puree. The beef heart was marinated and seared on the grill, and I love that contrast of its rich, gamey flavor to that of the light, sweet puree. "Ostra Acevichada" was another wonderful starter dish, with the creamy Japanese oyster slightly broiled and topped with lime juice and a squid ink foam, creating this interesting combination of tastes.

Ika Ceviche
Cochinillo con Tacu Tacu
I personally thought the portion of the main courses - said to be good for sharing - were a bit small for that purpose especially if you have a big group, but both we tried were good. The "Ika Ceviche" - strips of ohnibe fish and onions cured with the tart and sharp Leche de Tigre marinate and paired with rings of crispy calamari - was balanced with sweet potatoes. This would be a perfect summer dish both as a starter, or if you are looking for a less-substantial main course. The "Cochinillo con Tacu Tacu" - Roasted suckling pig with a Peruvian "rice dumpling" of lentils, rice and edamame - was easily a crowd-pleaser with a complex array of flavors packed into one dish. And I loved that small fried quail egg put on top of the roasted suckling pig too - good for both the presentation and taste.

Jardin de Rosa
The dessert - called Jardin de Rosa - was another beauty, with thin slices of the super creamy Tres Leche cake topped with generous scoops of homemade rose icecream, bits of strawberries, raspberries and basil. I love everything sweet and creamy so I was in heaven with this.

Overall I liked the exotic flavors and the combinations, and there's enough interesting things going on in the meal, which made this a good venue for a casual date or a carefree gathering with friends. Thank you El Mercado for bringing the fantastic Nikkei cuisine concept to town and for the dinner you arranged for us.

When? September 1 2015
Where? El Mercado, 21st Floor, 239 Hennessey Rd, Wan Chai
Menu Highlights? Ostra Acevichada and Jardin de Rosa
Drinks? Bodegas Paco Garcia Seis Rioja 2013

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