Nikkei refers to not only the Japanese population in Peru, but also the fusion cuisine that has resulted from the mixing of their cultures. Luis Arévalo (Nikkei 225 and 19 Sushi Bar) has brought Nikkei gastronomy to Spain, and it’s through Kena (c/Ferrer del Río, 7) that he shows his devotion to this cuisine. The restaurant is a reflection of Luis’ humble personality – “it had to be completely removed from luxury and pompousness,” he told us. “I knew that the place I wanted to build had to express my essence.” In Peru, Luis was a young apprentice, working in a Japanese restaurant without much responsibility when he got lucky. “One day we were missing a chef, the restaurant was full, I started making California rolls and I really liked it,” he explains. “So I spoke with the owner and told him I didn’t want to serve ‘Inka Kolas’ the rest of my life, I wanted to learn.”
The experience he’s gained since can be tasted in his food, which is not your typical Japanese cuisine. His intention is to put a little bit of Peru into each of his dishes, and the result is amazing. The “surprise factor” that comes from transforming the recipe is key: “I recently made squid spaghetti as if it were sautéed noodles. As soon as you tasted it you knew it was a Peruvian dish.”
Behind the bar you can see generous pieces of meticulously cut fish. One dish that you can’t miss, in addition to the “chupe” with Japanese curry, is the prawn tartar. Luis’ sashimis are another that can’t be ignored, and are included in around 40 dishes on the menu. But without a doubt, the star is the Omakase menu. With a light and a more extensive option (45€ and 60€ respectively), the Omakase philosophy is a true vote of confidence: “put yourself in the hands of the chef and leave it to them to decide what to make you.”
The menu is constantly evolving and improving. There are homages to the traditional Peruvian ceviche, one with wasabi and tiger’s milk along with a touch of puréed gourd, and another with shrimp, mango and pineapple sauce with hot peppers. Of course, not everything is citrusy and sweet; Luis loves to try different things – an example are his nigiris, made in a distinct way with strong flavours.
In Lima there are several nikkei restaurants, but they don’t all hit the bullseye like Luis.
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 1:30pm-4pm & 9pm-midnight. Sunday & Monday closed.
Price: 45-60 euros tasting menus.
Text: Brenda Castillo
Photos: Diego Etxeberría
Translation: Annie MacDonald