In opening Casita Andina, founder, Martin Morales aimed to recreate the vibe and flavours experienced in family-run restaurants in the heart of Peru; and, as I stood outside the front of a quaint old house in the very heart of Soho with a discreet frontage, I marvelled that he could not have picked a more perfect location in which to do so. Inside, the atmosphere is bustling, and the small tables, warmly painted walls and vibrant art help make you really feel at home. But away from the inviting decor, he’s placed equal gravitas on the flavours and ingredients incorporated in the food – and this is obvious from the first glance at the menu.
A variety of fresh and nutritious ingredients are creatively brought together in dishes that are a true feast for the senses – and, even better for us coeliacs, there’s plenty of options to choose from that are all clearly marked on the menu. Dishes are made for sharing, and it’s recommended that each person has three or four; myself and my boyfriend chose six between us – some dishes are priced at around £14 each, so we went for an even balance of three higher-end ones and three cheaper plates to avoid too much of a shock when the bill arrived.
First to arrive and whet our appetites were the cheaper, smaller dishes. The Crunchy Corn is salty and insanely moreish; the little pot held a deceptively good amount, but we still inhaled our way through it in no time. Say the words ‘gluten free batter’ to me and I’m sold, so we also tucked into Aubergine Jalea – lightly battered aubergine fries that had a good, earthy bite which was wonderfully contrasted with a sweet touch from a topping of drizzled honey and pomegranate seeds. The Chilaso balls, meanwhile, were a definite highlight. Light, golden tempura batter encased a cheese-filled chilli (but not too spicy for sensitive tums) – one bite and the hot cheese began dripping out… I was in love.
Not long after I’d devoured everything crispy, the mains arrived and I was ravenous to try more. I’m generally not a huge meat eater and often choose veggies and fish instead, but my boyfriend wanted to try the Maca Lamb Loin – and I am ridiculously glad he did, because it was hands-down (and we both agreed this) the best lamb we have ever tasted. Rich with flavour, the cuts were juicy and melt in the mouth, and despite the plate only offering three slices, it was worth every penny of its £14 price tag.
After this plate, our other two choices had a lot to live up to and, while the lamb has nothing to worry about in the competition stakes, they were no less delicious in their own right. The Hake Libertat comprised a fresh and beautifully flaky piece of fish which fell apart smoothly as I cut into it; and the accompanying soft spongy corn cake topped with black tobiko offered contrasting but complementary textures. The visually captivating Puka Picante meanwhile, sees small Peruvian potatoes doused in a vibrant and delicious purple beetroot sauce and topped with little whips of smoked fresco cheese.
We’ve visited a couple of times now, and my boyfriend and I both agree that Casita Andina is one of the best restaurants that we’ve been to – not just in London, but full stop. While gluten free dishes can sometimes be inferior in comparison to their ‘normal’ counterparts, that’s far from the case here; coeliac or not, everyone will enjoy the same innovative flavour and ingredient combinations. It’s not the cheapest dinner out, as you can expect to spend £30+ a head here (not including drinks, tip or dessert, if you have room), but I can assure you – this divine little eatery is most definitely worth splashing the cash for.