Despite having tasted an extensive list of restaurants in West End and surrounding suburbs, there was one that always eluded me. Red and White had been on my radar since around high school days, and trust me, I have been out of high school for a long, long time. It's one of those restaurants that looks unique and inviting but is very low key. It's located on the busy Melbourne Street so I drive past it frequently. Usually, by the time I notice it, I've already had dinner elsewhere.
The perfect occasion for trialling the restaurant came up last Wednesday. I had arranged to catch up with my friend JT over dinner. We were discussing venues when I remembered Red and White. It so happened that JT had travelled to Peru recently and loved it there. He had heard of this restaurant before and was dying to see if the food was authentic. I figured what better chance was there to try Peruvian food than with someone who would know if it was any good.
We got there lateish on the Wednesday night and besides us, there was one big group of Spanish-speaking locals. JT had a ball practicing his Spanish, which sounded perfectly fluent to me (as a non-Spanish speaker).
Pisco sour - Peruvian pisco, lime juice, gum syrup and egg white with a dash of angostura bitters
By the time I arrived, JT had already started with a cocktail. It looked fantastic and he assured me it was a go-to alcoholic drink in Peru so I ordered the same. The pisco sour is a cocktail shaken with Peruvian pisco, lime juice and eggwhite, dotted with angostura. As promised, it was delicious. I can easily down a dozen of these babies.
When it came to ordering, I took the easy/lazy/safe way out and let JT pick everything. We decided to get a couple of entrees and mains to share so that we could try more things. That sounded fine by me!
Chicha morada and emoliente
Because we were both driving, we diverted from the cocktails to a couple of imported Peruvian drinks. I had one called chicha morada, which is a drink made from purple corn juice and pineapple. It was unique and had a distinct corn flavour but was also very sweet. JT ordered the emoliente which was more refreshing with a barley flavour.
Ceviche de pescado - boneless and skinless diced raw fish, uniquely cooked in lime juice, coriander and spices, served with sweet potato, salad, onions and leg
To start with, we had the ceviche and chicken causa limena. The ceviche de pescado was comprised of raw fish cured in lime juice, coriander and spices. This was the dish I was most looking forward to and it ended up being my favourite of the entire meal. The fish was so fresh and the zestiness of the lime made each bite pop in the mouth. It was truly delicious.
Chicken causa limena - mashed potato with a hint of Peruvian yellow chili and spices, served with a touch of mayonnaise, boiled egg and olives
The chicken causa limena was described to me as a 'kind of chicken terrine, but not'. It was a tower of mashed potato layered with cooked chicken and topped with something that tasted remarkably like Japanese Kewpie mayo. Chicken, potato and mayonnaise just works. Needless to say, this was a tasty dish but it was very heavy too. I tried not to eat too much of it (and failed) because I didn't want to fill up before the mains. The pickled veggies on the side helped to cut the richness.
Aji de gallina - thinly shredded chicken with Peruvian yellow chili, served on boiled potatoes, with black olive, boiled egg and rice
For our mains, we tried the Peruvian creamy chicken and stir-fried beef tenderloin. The chicken was really homely and delicious. It made me think of a curry but without any curry spices. I realize that might not make sense but just picture the warmth and comfort of a big bowl of butter chicken and subtract the curry powder. It was mildly flavoured and whilst not being uniquely Peruvian, I honestly can't imagine anyone not liking this dish.
Lomo saltado - beef tenderloin slices sauteed with onion, tomatoes, red wine and Peruvian-style soy sauce, served with rice, chips and a fried egg
The beef tenderloin had more of a distinct flavour to it, thanks to the sauce. It vaguely reminded me of a Mexican beef fajita dish because of the large wedges of onion and capsicum. Instead of wraps, this was served with rice, chips and a large fried egg.
We couldn't resist some dessert to finish off the wonderful meal. JT talked longingly of a special milky ice-cream he had in Peru. I love milk-flavoured things, in particular, the leche gelato in Italy and besides, I've been known to eat condensed milk out of the tin. This ice-cream sounded magnificent. When we saw it on the menu, we were in easy agreement over what to order.
Queso helado - traditional Peruvian three leches ice-cream served with shaved chocolate, wafer sticks and frozen raspberries (extra)
The three milk ice-cream came in a cocktail glass, served with raspberries, chocolate sauce and wafers. The flavour is strongly milky, which in my books makes it irresistable. The texture is granulated but as JT emphasized, this is the way it's supposed to be served. I liked the ice crystals and thought it added texture. We both felt that the ice-cream would have been better on its own. It is so good it doesn't need the berries or chocolate sauce! Give me a litre tub of this stuff, please, and I'll be a happy girl.
Red and White is a small restaurant that isn't fancy or spectacularly decorated. The feel of the place is however, very homely and authentic. It probably helps that I had my own 'Peruvian guide' explaining the menu to me. The fact that he was ordering everything purely in Spanish added to the feel that I was actually in an overseas restaurant. The food was tasty and plentiful. I would love to go back and try some of the other dishes, plus more of that delicious ice-cream.