Keji: Japanese Techniques, Peruvian Ingredients, Phenomenal Nikkei Dishes
Sunset Boat, 139 Nile Street
14:00 - 02:00
It was on a breezy, sparkly night that we found ourselves at Keji, looking out on the soft sway of the Nile. That’s just the kind of place this Japanese-Peruvian restaurant is. It’s sleek and mostly demure, letting various statement features do the wowing, particularly the chains that hang from the ceiling, cascading around the simple ceiling lights.
In terms of the space, it’s an apt size for the sophisticated, modern atmosphere it holds; it’s not so big that it could ever be intrudingly noisy, nor is it small enough that you’ll be privy to your neighbour’s conversations and vice versa. An attractively arranged and equally sleek bar takes up much of the space, but there’s a staircase toward the back that winds up to a balcony or gallery-like upstairs area that looks down onto the centre of the first floor.
As lovely as it all was to the eyes, the bigger promise of Keji is its unique menu; one that takes on the global Japanese-Peruvian trend – referred to as Nikkei cuisine, which uses Japanese techniques on Peruvian ingredients – with a big menu of lively-sounding dishes. Everything’s got that extra ingredient or touch that makes you go, ‘huh – that sounds interesting,” whether it’s crowd-pleasing items like Tuna Tacos (95LE) and Roasted Chicken Empenadas (65LE), or the range of ceviches (95LE-150LE), tiraditos (125LE-150LE), salads, noodles and even sushi.
While the tuna tacos did sound mighty tempting, we opted for a braised beef (85LE) version instead. The beef itself was cooked to an almost melt-in-your-mouth texture, while smoked chilli played perfectly into a rich flavour that was cut by the sharper, lighter and fresher flavours of mint, cucumber and radish.
From the Fun Bites/Picadillos section to the appetiser section, we also tried the Causachi San (85LE) – three balls of a mashed, rolled and fried mixture of beetroot, potato, goat cheese, hazelnut and julienned green apple. While it might not be as delicate a dish as much of Keji’s menu – in fact, it was rather heavy – the goat cheese, potato and beetroot made for a rich combination, though it lacked the necessary kick from the apple and the missing nuttiness of the hazelnut.
At his point in our meal, we made a rather drastic decision. Instead of going onto the mains, we realised that there were too many non-mains dishes that begged to be tried – none less than the Salmon Tiraditos (140LE), which shows how the very different cuisines of Japan and Peru come together and actually make sense. Tiradito is a dish of raw fish that’s is cut almost sashimi-style, served in a spicy sauce and garnished with number of ingredients. In this case, the salmon was garnished with delightfully crunchy grilled asparagus, Aji Amarillo – a type of chilli – and fried garlic. While the Japanese like to keep their raw fish basic, this Peruvian adaptation was bursting full of flavours and it was actually the combination of the garnishes and spicy sauce that made this one of the outstanding dishes of the evening.
Other explicit cross-cuisine combinations include the Makki Nikkei Ceviche (120LE) from the sushi section. Once again, it was the unlikely element that made this dish so good – yes, the panko shrimp, avocado and white fish were excellent, but it was the sharp, refreshing ceviche sauce that made this so good. While we were in that neck of the woods, we decided to dip further into the sushi with some of the more traditional options. The salmon sashimi (80LE for four pieces) was flawless, while the more westernised spicy salmon tempura maki (95LE for five pieces) was ideal for casual sushi eaters.
Though the main courses offer some fine-sounding dishes, we at no point had any regrets about our off-the-cuff snubbing of them. What we found in the starters, ‘fun bites’, sushi and other small dishes were intricate and interesting flavour pairings that suggested that this whole Japanese-Peruvian trend might be much more than a flash-in-a-pan. There are just so many techniques and ingredients that can be combined from both cuisines, that you’d like to believe that a restaurant like Keji can go on to develop more of their own dishes. Will it go on to become the landmark restaurant it postures so convincingly to be? All signs point to yes, even in the face of high prices.