It's ironic that Kurt Zdesar's new London venture opened on the last day of London Fashion Week last week. Food – as fashion – is always searching for the next big thing; the new sushi, the next cupcake, wondering if the dining public can handle yet another new twist on the burger (the answer to that is no)…
London's certainly has its fill of disparate dining options at the moment, but restaurateur Zdesar is hoping there's still a bit more room on the block for his new food baby, Chotto Matte, which promises something entirely different.
Under the guidance of the chef Peter Gordon (a judge on the New Zealand version of MasterChef), Chotto Matte – which translated means "please wait a minute" – will specialise in Nikkei cuisine; a fusion of Peruvian and Japanese food, which originated in Peru. After more than a century of immigration, the country now has the second largest Japanese population in South America, so Nikkei is not a new thing. Indeed, Lima is bustling with Nikkei restaurants, specialising in fresh fish combined with corn, aji peppers, yucca, potatoes and the like.
"My interest in Nikkei food, or Japanese food with a South American twist, goes back to my first involvement with Nobu in 1996," says Zdesar. "We always said the food we created there was inspired by Nobu's travels, so there were several different influences. Then when I left Nobu in 2004, I travelled a lot and came across Peruvian restaurants in Shanghai and America.
"Eating my way around, I recognised some familiar tastes… I started planning Chotto Matte in 2008, but had to stop due to bad economic conditions. Plans began again in 2011 and I spent a month in Peru tasting everything. There, they bring lots of foods out of the Amazon – fruits and fish no one's ever really seen before. Restaurants such as Central in the Miraflores area of Lima are just producing wonderful food, which is now making its way around the world. We hope we can bring something more to that."
Diners should expect lots of raw onion, lime juice and coriander, says Zdesar, but with a milder flavour than the Nikkei food you may eat in Peru. "When we initially arrived, we found the tastes quite harsh and acidic," he tells me. "But after a month, we were drinking all of the lime, chilli, onion and fish juices left on the plate from shot glasses – sounds unbelievable, but it's a traditional thing out there.
"We've changed the palate slightly here in London and toned things down a bit while retaining the flavours. The aim is a delicate balance of sweet and sour that's potent but not overpowering. We're using a lot of yuzu, coriander, garlic and chilli. Dishes will also include quinoa, cassava and potato. The food is so colourful, it's like an explosion on your plate."