Charango Peruvian Grill & Bar
When we found out that there is a Peruvian restaurant in Cape Town, we were instantly excited. We were blown away by the food on our trip to Peru, and so the thought of being able to relive the experience boosted our appetites. Charango Peruvian Grill & Bar is situated on the hip and restaurant-centric Bree Street, in the heart of Cape Town. The restaurant is in a great space, and the cobbled sidewalks even brought the sense of the streets of Cusco. The interior is fantastically designed, with the chic Charango logo plastered on everything, yet not too in your face (looking at you Beluga).
We came in an attempt to relive some of our favorite food from our Honeymoon, and I’ll say that we didn’t leave disappointed. Overall, Charango is a good take on Peruvian cuisine, and the Cape Town influences are obvious and welcome. We would recommend Charango to anyone, especially if you’re looking to get away from the ubiquitous pizza that seems to find its way on to every menu in Cape Town.
Peruvian Cuisine in Cape Town, South Africa
Although Cape Town is situated on two oceans, the availability of seafood is rather lacking (and always expensive). Quite a challenge for the seafood-centric cuisine of Lima, Peru, as the national dish is undoubtedly Ceviche, and using seafood in new and exciting ways is the way of the land in Peru. We even ate seafood in the Andes Mountains on our Inca Trail Trek.
Charango didn’t disappoint on the seafood front, as there are abundant fish options, though the Cape Town style of overreliance on Prawn shone through. The prices were honestly quite similar to that of Lima (specifically, La Mar), but this was deceiving as the portions were substantially smaller than their Peruvian counterparts. Cheap by American standards, but on the higher end by Cape Town standards, Charango could benefit from slightly larger portions (use more fish!).
Cape Town Meets Peru Tasting Menu
We started off by sharing the Muchos Gustos tasting menu, though don’t be deceived by the wording on the menu (“enjoy not one, but one of each and share”), a single tasting menu is not sufficient for a couple. Our drinks of choice were obviously Pisco Sours, and they did not disappoint, as well as the house sparkling water (this may sound strange to comment on water, but it was delicious. Maybe I was just dehydrated). Allow me to break down each of the dishes below:
The first dish was a trio of sautéed edamame with chili and garlic, a house made ponzu sauce, and prawn tostados. I could eat the little crispy sesame prawn tostados all day. They were like tortilla chips, but with shrimp. The ponzu sauce was the perfect complement of umami, and the Edamame were a nice finger food to begin the meal. More Japanese than Peruvian, though unsurprising, as Peruvian cuisine is heavily influenced by the Japanese.
The trio of ceviche brought us right back to La Mar, and we were quite excited to sample a Cape Town take on our favorite dish of Peru. We were honestly disappointed to see just how small the dish was upon delivery, as a similar dish in Lima would have cost the same but come with ten times as much seafood. One of the most enjoyable aspects of ceviche is the sheer quantity of seafood and Leche de Tigre you get, but here we would have to compromise. Despite the lack in size, the ceviche did deliver. A classic Peruvian (and I think I can say that it is authentic, having visited Peru), a unique and exciting Cape Malay spiced ceviche, and my personal favorite, the Nikkei style tuna Tiradito
Immediately following the Ceviche sliders was a full plate of the Nikkei Tuna Tiradito. I found it quite strange for there to be two of the same course in a tasting menu, but I was excited nonetheless as the Tiradito was my favorite of the ceviches. As this is Cape Town, Japanese style raw fish is not complete without the addition of Mayo (for which the reason still eludes me), but other than that, it can hold its own against any of the Nikkei we had in Peru.
For the main course in the tasting menu you are given the option of a Sirloin Saltado or Miso cured Kob. Since of the aforementioned lack of seafood in Cape Town, we opted for the Kob, and were not disappointed. My single favorite bite of the entire meal was the prawn infused quinoa, which immediately transported me back to the seafood tamale at La Mar. The rich, smokey combination of prawn and tomato combined with a perfectly soft quinoa made for a great bed to the sticky and sweet black Kob. I would have forgone any of the other dishes save for the Nikkei Tuna Tiradito for this dish.
To be honest, the dessert tacos are quite out of place on this menu, and undeniably lacking in refinement for such a fancy restaurant. Despite this, they were delicious nonetheless, and reminded me of a better tasting Chaco Taco from the ice cream truck.
As I mentioned before, the tasting menu was not sufficient for us to share, so we ordered two more dishes to fill in.
The first was the dirt rubbed tuna tacos, which while miniature, were delicious. I could eat these all day. Again with the mayo, which I could do without, but the combination of guacamole, wasabi, and red cabbage perfectly complemented the sticky and delicious tuna.
The final dish of the night was the pork belly chicha, and I wish we hadn’t. It was a poor ending to an otherwise fantastic meal. My complaints are many on this dish, but I’m also beginning to wonder if it’s a South African thing. I have yet to try good Pork Belly in Cape Town. When I think pork belly, I think ooey gooey, slow cooked, sticky, fall apart in your mouth, deep red and smoky pork. So far, all I’ve gotten in Cape Town is beyond overcooked, dry, white, and plane pig. The pork belly at Charango followed this trend. It was quite obviously cooked quickly, and cooked to a crisp. What’s more, the dish was completely inconsistent. One side of the plate featured biltong pork belly, while the other was approaching edible with melted fat and moisture. The only way to save this dish would have been five times more of the five-spiced corn puree, but there wasn’t even enough for one of the portions of pork belly.
Charango Cape Town: The Final Word
Overall, Charango was a great restaurant to sample some Peruvian food in Cape Town. I think that the restaurant could benefit from embracing its South African roots a bit more, as it’s not quite Peruvian, and not quite Cape Tonian fusion. Do one thing, and do it good. The pork belly should be left off the menu until slow cooking is embraced, otherwise cut the amount of time it’s on the grill in half. I’d like to see a different type of Ceviche on the menu, especially in the tasting menu so you aren’t given two of the same dish. Despite my grievances, and maybe I’m just spoiled from our fantastic culinary experiences in Lima, Charango satisfied my need for seafood, and the bright spots far outshone the bad ones throughout the meal. I recommend the Nikkei and the Kob above all else, and the Tuna tacos would make for a great meal any time.