Peruvian cuisine needed a few attempts before Cape Town was ready to embrace it with gusto. Charango has scored the jackpot with the ideal venue in a busy part of Bree Street, killer design and an unfussy Peruvian-based menu of crowd-pleasers. Not to mention a vibrant bar with the apt signage “Pisco” in lights – the after-work crowd have been drawn to it like bees to the honey pot. You may be tempted to snack on a tub of sweet potato fries with burnt orange mayo while ordering. Rather opt for the flavourful and lighter dirt-rubbed tuna tacos and the spicy, zingy ceviche, made in the classic Peruvian style with a little sweet potato and corn on the side. Tiradito reflects the Japanese influence in Peru, with the raw fish cut Carpaccio-style, served in a spicy dressing. Charango does a pretty decent version.
The Churasco sirloin with chimichurri, the tender lamb loin with a red chilli pepper sauce, and the succulent brined and barbequed pork belly are all excellent choices for the main and perfect to share. Pair it with the refreshing courgette, cucumber ribbons and chilli. It’s slim pickings for vegetarians overall.
Keep room for the fairly authentic picarones – feather-light deep-fried doughnuts made from sweet potato.
Pisco, the Peruvian brandy made from grape wine, is the order of the day. Try the rose and cardamom pisco sours or the orange and buchu one. There’s even one with rooibos. A decent wine list, but availability can be erratic, as can the coffee machine.
Service is prompt and friendly but can lag at times.
Charango boasts the furnishings and artwork of a restaurant that can easily be placed amongst the trendiest in London. Burnished copper tones catch the light in a space that gets rowdy most nights.
The best seat for two is in the tiny booth at the window. There’s a small bar menu if you arrive between lunch and dinner service.
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The latest addition to Bree Street adds Peruvian flair to the already extensive range of options on the trendy Cape Town street.
Its namesake, Charango, is a small Peruvian stringed instrument (much like a ukulele) traditionally made from the shell of an armadillo.
The restaurant is fresh – just a few days old – and is already a much-talked-about and bustling hot spot.
The food is inspired by Peruvian cuisine. Our waiter explains that this isn’t steak-and-chips dining. Rather, the sharing of a variety of dishes is encouraged.
The smaller meals centre largely around fresh, raw fish dishes (ceviche and tiraditos) plus a few bar snacks and antichucho (kebabs), while the larger plates are barbeque grill-style dishes.
The rainbow sea bass (R80) is light, cured with remolacha leche de tigre (beetroot tiger’s milk) that imparts a wonderful hint of smoky jalapeño. The just-cooked beetroot adds earthy undertones and provides a good bite with the soft fish.
The dirt-rubbed tuna taco (R85) is a beautiful thing. The tuna is perfectly seared and lightly spiced, concealing a sweet, tangy, mustardy layer of guacamole and wasabi beneath it. A pretty slaw of ultra-fine carrot and red cabbage adds crunch.
The five-spiced sweet potato fries (R30) are good by themselves, and even better paired with the burnt onion and orange mayo. Despite their appeal, in hindsight they’d be better suited for a bar bite or ‘wait-for-the-rest-of-your-table-to-arrive’ snack.
The BBQ pork belly (R120) is exquisite. It has an ideal ratio of meat to fat and is unbelievably tender. The barbequed skin is lightly crackled, complementing the tenderstem broccoli and spicy pineapple salsa.
Another meaty option is the lamb loin (R165), a fat-free cut, served medium rare. Tender, with a salty, barbequed exterior, it’s slightly sweet, particularly when paired with the sweet corn and tart relish. The hints of mint sauce finish the dish off perfectly.
The desserts, however, are the highlight of the meal.
Initially, I’m mildly disappointed with my choice of toasted quinoa crème (R55), particularly after tasting the chocolate dessert, but the deeper I venture into the dish, the more magnificent it becomes. The creamy quinoa marries the sticky rum butterscotch sauce with the burnt banana in a sweet matrimony. I’d come here for this dish alone.
The blonde chocolate pave (R60) is beautiful, rich and decadent. Served atop a thin biscuit crust with a light dusting of cocoa, the seasonal berries balance the dish with their tart flavour.
It is worth noting that vegetarian options are extremely limited: you can order but one ceviche-style dish of courgettes and cucumber with shitake, mint, garlic, chilli and miso (R55) and two bar snacks, the sweet potato fries, and flamed edamame (R35).
Charango has an extensive list of Peruvian cocktails. Prices range from R45 for a traditional pisco sour to R65 for a Charango mojito. A pisco sour, for the uninitiated, combines pisco (traditional South American brandy) with lime juice, sweetener, egg white and bitters.
The strawberry and rooibos sours (R50) tastes like what can only be described as a mature daiquiri. It’s smooth and slightly tangy with sweet undertones. The Pisco El Poncho (R55) is an interesting combination of pineapple and lime with a lingering vanilla aftertaste.
The wine list is concise but broad. There are two to three bottles, and at least one glass, per varietal. Whites by the glass average at R45; reds at R50.
Excellent. After seating us, the waiter introduces the concept of the restaurant, and is knowledgeable and attentive throughout the night. The manager arrives shortly afterwards and welcomes us by name. (All Eat Out critics dine anonymously, so this was simply good hospitality.)
The staff appear to be legitimately passionate about the restaurant, and throughout the evening share anecdotes about the building and development of Charango, as well as what is still to come.
As the pisco haze washes over you, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that you’re dining under a highway bridge in an unknown Peruvian city – but with a classy edge.
Sit under the watchful eyes of Faith47 street art, surrounded by concrete pylons, exposed ventilation ducts, copper plumbing and bronzed, grungy mirrors.
The acoustics are excellent (despite the busy adjoining pisco bar) and the lighting is warm.
The only critique: some seats have a direct view of the television above the bar, which would create an unwelcome distraction in an otherwise cosy, contemporary environment.
An outside deck adjoining the bar is ideal for after-work drinks, and almost the entire restaurant front opens up onto Bree Street for warmer evenings.
Charango is not currently open on Sundays, but there are plans in the pipeline to offer Sunday breakfast and lunch. There’s also talk about developing a more extensive weekday lunch menu, based on the immediate success of the tuna tacos.
The tuna tataki was delicious - fresh, succulent slices of tuna, dressed with fresh, zingy flavours. Ditto the ceviche - really a fabulous dish. The pork belly was moreish - in the sense that I wanted more - it is rather a small portion, and doesn't come with any carbs - or many veggies for that matter. I've had the tuna taco before - and loved it - but tonight the tuna was ever-so-slightly overdone. (It should still be pink in the centre, in my book. In fact, it should be mostly pink...)
The decor of the space is beautiful - my only gripe is that some of the tables are pretty close together. That - and there are two sittings, so if you want to relax and enjoy the evening at a slower pace, I'd recommend going to the later one.
We popped in for an impromptu after-work drink (or two) and quick bite to eat. Knowing we wouldn't get a table on such short notice, we perched ourselves in the slick bar area. We could only order off the bar menu which wasn't a problem as there were ample options to choose from. Exquisite, fresh tuna tacos with a welcoming hit of wasabi, moreish edamame beans in a chilli and garlic salt, and five-spice sweet potato fries with the most satisfying orange and burnt onion mayo. The wine list has some nice, interesting choices and is reasonably priced. We'll be back!
After a first glance at Charango's menu, I realised I didn't really know what Peruvian cuisine was! How happily educated I was on Friday night when 3 of us popped in on the off-chance of a table at this new spot. The team accommodated us swiftly and happily at the shared table next to the kitchen, and we were left in the very capable hands of Albert. I spotted the table next door having edamame, so we ordered those along with Prawn Tostado (at Albert's suggestion) to nibble on while we look at the menu. Garlicky, lip-smacking edamame and crispy, salty prawn toasts set the tone for what was to be a delicious meal. While the ceviche may have been lacking the citrus kick we were expecting, both the Rainbow Seabass and Seared Tuna Tataki delivered on flavour and presentation, while the Dirt Rubbed Tuna Taco with it's wasabi kick and Black Kob on a langoustine-infused quinoa base were the stars of the show. We also opted for the Cubanos (a Cuban cheese & ham pressed sandwich), served with sweet potato string fries, which may have been a better option for lunch. The wine list is one of the most reasonably-priced I've seen, with a bottle of Rickety Bridge Rose priced at just R100. The service was fantastic - Albert had the right amount of attentiveness and was very knowledgeable of the menu, and both the manager and chef popped over to check in on our experience. I will definitely be back to try other dishes (and get the tuna tacos again!).