Barbara Adam and Peter Cornish take a quick trip to Peru… without leaving Ho Chi Minh City. Photos by Romain Garrigue.
At La Chola de Lima, the long-awaited newcomer to the food-centric courtyard at 74 Hai Ba Trung, the diversity of Peruvian cuisine is celebrated with a fusion menu showcasing Creole, Japanese and Chinese flavours.
It’s is a friendly and relaxed venue with edgy industrial decor and a heavy focus on shared plates of delicious food, and fun.
A colourful street art mural, by bar manager Jeremy Poilpre and his friend, French graffiti artist Suby One, overlooks the small downstairs dining area, which seats only 30 people.
Past the open kitchen where Chef Phan Cong Hien works his magic and up the stairs is the indoor-outdoor bar area, where a DJ performs a few nights a week.
A visit to La Chola should begin with a pisco sour, the iconic and refreshing Peruvian cocktail made with a spirit that’s more than two centuries old.
Chef Hien likes things spicy, and that’s reflected in the menu. So it’s important to let the kitchen know if you’re a chilli-wuss.
If you are in Chef Hien’s corner, don’t miss the green chilli tempura with queso freso (VND95,000).
The freshness of the chilli really comes through the creaminess of the filling. And then comes the afterburn. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
The landmine maki (VND175,00), from the Nikkei section of the menu, is more evidence of Chef Hien’s chilli obsession.
The Japanese-style rice rolls contain crunchy tempura chilli and are topped with fish roe, salmon and tuna to create an interesting blend of textures.
But not all dishes are spicy. A case in point is the crispy slow-braised pork belly with miso sauce (VND170,000), a melt-in-the-mouth symphony of tender meat and a tangy umami sauce.
From the Criollo section of the menu, which blends Spanish and West African influences with indigenous ingredients, we sampled La Chola tiradito with creamy jalepeno (VND90,000), thin slices of mild-tasting raw fish with a sweet and spicy sauce.
Two other light and refreshing dishes were the ceviche limeno with corn (VND110,000), with snow pea shoots, red onion and a bright yellow sauce made from Peruvian hot pepper paste, and the young coconut, pumpkin and nori ceviche (VND90,000), an interesting mix of crunchy coconut flesh and radish and creamy roasted pumpkin.
From the same section comes Martin’s chicken with patatas bravas (VND150,000), a tender portion of roasted chicken with soft crispy potatoes. Comfort food at its finest.
The small selection of desserts will satisfy the sweet tooths.
The passionfruit pot de creme with chocolate crunch crumble (VND80,000) is highly recommended.
La Chola is open for dinner only at this stage, after the construction work next door is finished for the day.
General Manager Ben Lopez said once the neighbouring building is complete, La Chola will open for lunch.