A whirlwind of flavour and colour, Chotto Matte offers the best of Japanese-Peruvian cuisine, mixed with its own twist. Hannah Thompson reports
Sitting a Japanese-trained chef down and asking him his opinions on Peru might not seem the most logical first step for a London restaurateur looking to open a new restaurant.
From the colourful presentation of plates, to the variety of dishes - even the dark, graffiti-decorated, three-storey, 180-seat restaurant itself - Chotto Matte aims for a slightly mysterious, fiery fusion of influences: all intense flavours, contrasting textures and changing temperatures.
"We want to give people a taste journey," says Zdesar. "It's the best way to understand the place."
He and Sclare explain how each menu - from the set choices at the carefully considered price points of £40, £50 and £60; to the a la carte offer; to the recently launched lunchtime selection - seeks to ensure that the customer experiences something different with every course.
"The first dish should be light-flavoured and acidic, to cleanse the palate," Sclare explains. "But then you'd need something with a slight fattiness to it."
To get straight to the heart of Chotto Matte, however, he is emphatic: start with the Nikkei sashimi (£9.95).
"It's the bestseller," he says. "It combines all of our principles and philosophy. It's got the fruity elements, spice, savoury and sour."
Developed after numerous trips to Peru and Spain, the fish is marinated in a fruity, leche de tigre-style sauce, which is thick enough to coat each sliced-to-order sliver. And yet, this traditional Japanese dish with a Peruvian edge also adds extra colours, flavour and flair that aren't found in the original.
"It's taking something and changing how we want to execute it," says Sclare. "Making it more Peruvian than Japanese. We try to imagine what a third or fourth-generation Japanese person living in Peru would eat."
None shows this off more than the black cod (£15.95). A traditional staple on Japanese menus, the miso-flavoured fish has had the Chotto Matte treatment in the form of Peruvian chilli and extra spice. Similarly, the ceviche (£7.95), with its green coriander and orange sweet potato, is another example of ramping up the colourful Peruvian influence on a traditional plate.
"That could have been risky, to mess with recognised Japanese dishes," says Sclare, who has worked closely on the menu with his head chef Michael Paul. "But we wanted to change it up."
The donburi (£12.95) with coriander and garlic-marinated chicken, from the lunch menu, is another favourite, and showcases key Chotto Matte techniques, including marinating and barbecuing on the restaurant's Robata grill.
Marinated meat and fish is a recurring theme: the crispy pork belly with nashi pear (£11.95), for example, is marinated in soy, before being braised for three to four hours and compressed in the fridge, cooling in its own liquid. The two-step process ensures both seasoning and the introduction of more flavours: cinnamon, cloves and star anise - all served with a burnt tomato salsa and chilli sauce.
With such an array of flavours and styles, guests could be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed. But Sclare has a solution: the Nikkei sushi platter (£9.25). Eight pieces of sushi are painted with Peruvian-inspired gels and sauces. "It's like a tasting menu in itself," says Sclare. "Eight of our dishes in one."
And yet, as Zdesar says: "No-one would come here and order just one thing - even if they've had nine options on the menu, I'd still say they need to come back to try more."
Indeed, the name Chotto Matte might be an abrupt way of saying "wait a minute" in Japanese, but it seems the strength of Sclare's menus lies in their ability to linger - on the mind and the palate - long after the final bite.
Sample dishes from the menu
APPETISERS Scallop tiradito with coriander, jalapeno and yuzu soy £7.95
Warm venison tataki with smoked aji panca, pear and passion fruit salsa £14
TEMPURA, NIKKEI BARBECUE, PERUVIAN BARBECUE Soft shell crab with yellow chilli and yuzu £11.75
Beef short rib with asparagus, purple potato and teriyaki sauce £8.95
SUSHI AND SASHIMI California roll with snow crab and avocado £6.95
Sato maki with sea bass, salmon, romano pepper and lime £9.25
Miso mousse, white chocolate foam, lime and lemongrass sorbet £7
Poached nashi pear with dulce de leche ice-cream £6.50
11-13 Frith Street
London W1D 4RB
0207 042 7171