Charango on Bree reviewed

Food24 checks out the hottest new Peruvian restaurant in town.

07 Sep 2015

Charango is the latest stylish addition to the 'Bree Street Boom'.  Set in an spacious and trendy location it's likely to become the ‘place to be’ this summer.

Beautifully decorated, the restaurant boasts a wall mural that will blow your mind for starters. Industrial chic compliments edgy, solid furniture to make the interior compelling and robust.  There is nothing flimsy or dainty about this restaurant, and you could see yourself settling in for a while.

The restaurant flows onto a buzzing outdoor section, literally on the pavement, that will lure any passer-by in for a table, if there is one available. The much-talked-about swan mural was created by Faith47, the Cape Town street artist fast gaining worldwide recognition. If you haven’t seen her work before, I suggest you check it out. 

The beautiful Pisco Bar, named after the famous Pisco Sours cocktails, is set slightly apart from the restaurant with a fantastic cocktail menu (including flavored Pisco Sours) and a superb craft beer selection.  If you haven’t had a Pisco Sours cocktail yet, then you need to remedy that too. I guarantee that this bar will be heaving most nights this Summer season.

The chef at Charango is Kieran Whyte who used to work under Peter Tempelhoff at The Greenhouse - I don't think you could ask for a better mentor than that! We did not get to meet him this time around - but hopefully on the next visit we will get a chance. The service was friendly, if a little bit flaky – but as with most new restaurants, even the waiters have to get used to everything.

We ordered a cocktail each – I had the original Pisco Sours which was so refreshing and tasty I will have trouble ordering anything else in the future, which is a shame as they really do have an awesome list, including my all time favourite Tommy Gun Margarita. The cocktails range from R50 to R65 a drink. There is also a very pleasing winelist with good choices of some SA greats and wines by the glass rang from R35 to R50 a glass.

The food The food at Charango is a style of cuisine known as Nikkei - a combination of Peruvian ingredients with Japanese recipes and traditions – so you can sound awfully clever and 'foodie' to your friends when you tell them about Charango. 

The Para Picar menu is your first introduction to the food with flamed edamame (R45), prawn toast (R65), dirt-rubbed tuna tacos (R85) and for me, the stand-out prawn taco (R90). You get 4 smallish tacos per portion – so these are pretty good value as a starter for the hungry, or as part of a tapas selection.

Then the starter menu, known as Ceviche & Tiraditos, delivers the Charango house ceviche (R65),  Seared tuna tataki (R80) and the ‘Rainbow’ seabass tiradito. Tiradito is a Peruvian dish of raw fish cut in the shape of sashimi or carpaccio in a spicy sauce. If you are not that big into fish then the 'House Ceviche' (R65) includes butternut and corn, and the  ‘New Style’  ceviche (R70) has grapes and crispy rice in it. There are also nice vegetarian options in the button mushroom ceviche (R55) and the courgettes and cucumber starter with shiitake, mint, garlic, chilli and miso (R60).  

On we go to the Antichucho part of the menu which boasts the Peruvian style beef which is a very popular dish of beef cubes on skewers with a spicy pepper sauce.  There is also a chicken alternative to this dish.    Of the mains we tried the black cob (R145) served on a bed of quinoa – the fish was a great texture and the quinoa well cooked with intense umami flavours. Outstanding. The pork belly, served on a bed of small chopped pineapple, was also delicious, but definitely not the best pork belly I have had recently, and did not come with too many side options.  I would suggest maybe ordering the very tasty sweet potato fries as a side to this dish. The sweet potato fries come standard with the Wagyu burger (R130) – which was absolutely divine.

The other main dishes on the menu include Churasso sirloin (R150), Lamb loin (R165) and Quinoto (R85) the vegetarian option of quinoa, courgettes,  tomato and asparagus.

There are only 3 desserts so we tried them all. Well that was our excuse. The names are a bit confusing as a description so listen up. The blonde chocolate pave (R60) is more like a creamy chocolate torte with a nice mousse consistency – very yum indeed with seasonal berries. It is also a nice sized portion. The toasted quinoa crème (R55) is served with sliced bruleed (just perfect) banana with a rum butterscotch sauce – it comes with a banana flavoured creamy sauce with the consistency of a not-quite-set panna cotta or crème brulee. It was way more delicious than it sounds.

My favourite of the desserts were the sweet potato doughnuts called picarones. They were served with dulce de leche – if you have ever had the pleasure of dulce de leche you will know to order these.  They go very well with a nice coffee to finish off your meal.

The food is modern, fresh, eye-catching and beautifully presented. The tacos and starters were definitely my favourite – with ridiculously tasty flavour combinations. The mains felt more like an after-thought  but I rather think that this is the point. The menu is designed around sharing and based around piqueos – best described as Peruvian tapas. I haven’t tried all of the mains – so my mind could yet be changed with a few more visits.

I can imagine the bill escalating quite quickly as it often does with tapas-style ordering so just be aware of ordering too much food. But saying that, it is the type of place and setting where life should be enjoyed and embraced. Order the delicious cocktails, try the ceviche, tuna tataki or prawn taco and definitely, definitely the Wagyu burger with sweet potato fries. And at least one dessert!  And revel in it.

Some helpful lingo to get you through the menu like a pro:

Ceviche - Made of various types of seafood, ceviche is the perfect way to start your meal. Seafood cubes and marinated in fresh citrus juice and topped with an aji chile lime juice.

Charango - Traditionally  made  from  the  shell  of  an  armadillo, the  small  but powerful  Charango  is  a  stringed  instrument  from  South  America.  Best  enjoyed with  a  glass  of  pisco  sours  and  surrounded  by  your loved  ones,  let  it  transport you all the way to the Andes.

Leche de Tigre - Leche  de  Tigre  is  the  Peruvian  term  for  the  citrus based marinade that cures the seafood in a Ceviche. In Peru the invigorating potion is believed to be both a hangover cure as well as a aphrodisiac.

Pisco - Originally  created  in  1641  to  dodge  the  king  of  Spain’s  tax  on  wine, Peruvians call Pisco their native spirit. Meaning  bird in the indigenous Quechua language, its the perfect companion when indulging in Peruvian food, at any time
of day, even breakfast.

Tiradito -  A fresh catch of fish  that  is  topped  with  various  spices  that  is  similar  to  sashimi  but  with  a Peruvian twist.

The Food24 team were invited as guests of Charango Restaurant for lunch.

- Cathrine Shone


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