Keenwa, Cape Town’s first Peruvian restaurant
SA's first Peruvian restaurant seduces both men and women, says Shona Bagley
Iwas relieved to hear that one of Peru's infamous delicacies - battered guinea pig - was not on the menu at Keenwä restaurant in Cape Town, since I would have felt the reproachful eyes of my niece's hamster, Muffin, on me, but I was eager to try other Peruvian national dishes. My taste buds had been titillated by Keenwä's scrumptious bread sauce at a Cape Town food festival, and I was delighted that we were served a portion on arrival, and another when our waiter saw how fast the first disappeared.
Ceviche - or citrus-cured fish - is a famous Peruvian delicacy, so I ordered the ceviche Keenwä - angelfish and hot prawn ceviche, which comes with a passion fruit and chilli sorbet and red onions. I also had a forkful of Steven's ensalada andina - green salad with quinoa, feta, onions, red peppers and the chef's secret dressing, which had zest and zing.
Peruvian owner German de la Melena says, "On the coast of Peru, our food is very hot, with lots of chillies and spices. In the mountains and jungles it is not so spicy, but it is amazing. Quinoa (a Peruvian staple) is the food of the moment for its nutritious content. We use it instead of rice, and it inspired the name of the restaurant, which we spell phonetically to help educate non-Peruvians in the pronunciation."
Charming Colombian waiter Christian - "call me Chris" - looked like a dusky cherub with his toffee-coloured eyes and angelic curls, but his accent made it a little difficult to understand his descriptions of the dishes.
We asked about the papa a la huancaina con anticuchos, described as new-season potatoes with a feta and chilli sauce and anticuchos. What is anticuchos, we asked?
"Hard beef sauce," he answered, with a cherubic smile.
Hard beef? Like biltong?
Chris cupped both hands over the left side of his chest and said, "hard, hard".
We realised what he meant: anticuchos are beef hearts, marinated in chilli. Steven blanched and said he'd settle for more visible parts of the beast.
Keenwä only started to come alive from 8pm. Glamorous girls in super-short shorts and vertiginous wedge heels and trendy, delicious-smelling boys with not a hair out of place began to fill the restaurant. One table featured men only with ripped torsos and arms stuffed with melons.
Chris said regular patrons include Chileans, Peruvians and Colombians homesick for the food of their childhood.
"All the Peruvians living here love Keenwä's food," says de la Melena. "So we must be doing something right. For Valentine's day we are planning a set menu that will make everyone fall in love with our food."
Chef Fabricio Durand, from Cuzco near Machu Picchu, is 25 but looks as if he's barely said adiosto childhood. He worked at restaurants in Peru, including a French establishment, then came here for, he says, "another experience".
De la Melena opened Keenwä in December 2010 in a part of the Cape Town CBD that is rapidly becoming hip and happening. The building is an appealing double-storey Victorian that has been renovated in a manner that has wiped clean its previous incarnation as a motorbike accessory shop.
The restaurant interior incorporates a number of cultural nuances. Persian rugs on the floor, Peruvian ponchos on the walls, and in the bathrooms, a dazzle of different-sized mirrors, a wooden trough for a basin and multi-hued hand towels. Upstairs is the Pisco Bar, which was in the birthing process the night we visited.
Back at our table, Chris suggested we try a Pisco sour, Peru's national drink. It's made from 40-something percent fermented grapes, topped with egg white froth and droplets of Angostura bitters. Delicious, but I felt the wrath of grapes when I got the bill - the potent drinks cost a not-so-piddling R50 each.
Dessert for Steven was alfajores - shortbread biscuits sandwiched with manjar blanco or sweetened milk sauce. He felt the proportions were Lilliputian - two smallish biscuits for R30. I had marciano de maracuya - passion fruit and chilli sorbet with caramelised chillies, cheese and honey. Spicy and tasty, but I couldn't find any caramelised chillies.
The glossy posse inside and outside were posing and preening, as young Capetonians do so well, and I thought it was time to leave before the Piscos made me sour. Chris gallantly escorted us out the door as the Keenwä crowd kicked it up a notch.
Hours: Lunch: Monday to Friday from 10.30am to 4pm. Dinner: Tuesday to Saturday from 6.30pm to late
Cost: Bill was R618 for two, including drinks
Vibe: Trendy and glossy
Parking: Limited parking in front of the restaurant, but 40 paces from Bree Street, where there is plenty of parking at night
What to wear: On trend
Regulars: Young, hot Capetonians, Peruvians, Colombians and Chileans
Need to know: Go after eight and stay lateif you want to preen and be seen.