Lucy Tomlinson goes on a sunlit adventure
Peru Perdu is the latest venture to take up residence at the Cotton Factory, which in itself sits in an aparthotel known as Whitworth Locke. That seems like an unnecessary layering of names but is perhaps best explained that the restaurant is always the Cotton Factory but that it hosts a resident for around six months.
The previous tenant was El Camino, where my esteemed colleague Mr Schofield found himself having the most ecstatic encounter with a pork product since David Cameron joined the Bullingdon Club. This time around the theme is Peruvian, which is less given to porcine raptures, but still has plenty to offer.
The temptation might have been to go for a full pan pipes and stuffed llamas, but in fact the interior is much more sunlit bossa nova and tasteful scatter cushions
Peru Perdu literally means 'Lost Peru’, which puts me in mind of Paddington Bear and 'Darkest Peru', far from civilisation. However, the restaurant is the exact opposite, with a bright yet cosy atmosphere that is as far from uncivilised as can be (what could say ‘refined’ more than a ceviche-and-Chandon bar, after all?) I can imagine the temptation might have been to go for a full pan pipes and stuffed llamas theme, but in fact the interior is much more sunlit bossa nova and tasteful scatter cushions - the perfect escape from a wet Manchester afternoon.
There is a nod to everyone’s favourite duffel coat-wearer in the impressive cocktail list, which specialises in pisco sours. The ‘Deepest, Darkest’ is flavoured with marmalade and is apparently delicious, as is the watermelon variety. Personally I think they should invent the ‘Hard Stare’, which is just any cocktail on the list but double the strength, named after the glassy look you get after downing a few. In any event, I decided to bypass the intriguing cocktail menu (this time) and sipped on rather nice a glass of Urugyan Tannat, where it is the national grape (£8.50).
As for the food, I was faced with a tough choice. Peru Perdu specialises in Uruguay wet aged steaks (from £14 for a picanha to £120 for a sharing platter) which I have been assured are excellent by trusted associates. However I wanted to explore the flavours of the small plates menu. A true lush would do both but I have a waistline (just about) and a budget to respect so small plates it was.
To start with the positive - I loved the tiger milk fried chicken (£9). Tiger’s milk is a Peruvian marinade based on lime juice and onion with kick of chilli and works perfectly here. It doesn’t look so beautiful, as everything is smothered in the fiery green paste, but it really livened up the chicken. It paired excellently with green papaya salad, with mango, chilli and mint, which was a blast of sunshine, with the fruit at the perfect point of ripeness for flavour but not too mushy.
Tiger’s milk is also the curative ingredient in ceviche, probably Peru’s most famous culinary export. The acids in the milk ‘cook’ the raw ingredient (usually some form of seafood) by denaturing the proteins, much like real cooking does. This particular example (we'd ordered the crab, £8.50) arrived liberally scattered with straw-like rice noodles, which put me in mind of the hairstyle of a certain Mr B Johnson. The crab itself was flavoured with chilli and coriander but I didn’t pick up much of the promised pomelo (a type of grapefruit) so the essential citrus element was not as pronounced as it perhaps could have been.
Another intriguing dish was the picanha and turtle bean rolls (£6.50). Picanha is a Brazilian cut of steak and here it is served very rare indeed. Wrapped in the kind of translucent rice paper you find in Vietnamese summer rolls, the dish had a bit of an intestinal look. Thankfully it tasted nothing like that but for this rare meat fan it was surprisingly unmoving. The duck ‘ropa vieja’ tostada (£7) was a bit more lively thanks to a layer of BBQ sauce. This is based on a Cuban stew but for me the nearest point of reference is a duck version of pulled pork.
Finally we had crispy coconut shrimp (£8) which in truth was not as crisp as it could have been. The tamarind flavouring was also very toned down. Perhaps the kitchen is feeling cautious about the more unusual flavours on the menu, in which case I say let them sing out.
We moved onto desserts and the dulce de leche cheesecake (£7) arrived looking like a wet pork pie but luckily it tasted divine. A pat of creamy pudding redolent of nursery food, I thought it was exquisite, though I have to note that my lunch companion was not as keen. He had ordered the roasted pineapple (£6.75) which came topped with a coconut cream and a muesli-esque sprinkle. It feels like a metaphor to say I eat stuff like that for breakfast, but I really mean it – If I have pineapple in that dish would be a great breakfast. I’ll keep my dulce de leche for pudding though.
Even though I didn't love every dish I was still pleased I had chosen to explore the small plates over the steaks, which were no doubt excellent but would have been the safe choice. When I mentioned to my dear old dad I'd been to a Peruvian restaurant, he immediately started waxing lyrical about sampling cuy (guinea pigs) on the streets of Lima. While I can't match that level of thrill-seeking, it did remind me that food can, and should, still be an adventure, even on the corner of Princess Street.
Peru Perdu at the Cotton Factory, 74 Princess Street, Manchester, M1 6JD 0161 989 0845
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
ceviche 6, picanha 5, tiger milk chicken 8, green papaya salad 7, duck 6, coconut shrimp 4, dulce de leche cheesecake 7, roasted pineapple 6
Sunshine on blast