Named after the unfathomably deep Colca Canyon in his native Peru, at 3,270 meters twice the depth of the Grand Canyon, chef and restaurateur Eduardo Vargas dives in for a deeper cut of his nation’s complex food culture at this colorful, sprawling spot on Hengshan Lu.
In Colca’s kitchen is Spanish executive chef and partner Oscar Beltran, who counts experience working in the three-Michelin-star El Celler de Can Roca in Barcelona.
Colca is titled as a mixed bag between Peruvian and Spanish food, perhaps an issue of nomenclature since a sizeable lump of Spanish staples have been part of Peruvian cooking since the conquistadors came a-knockin’ in the 16th century. We guess the Spanish part of Colca manifests as croquetas and expensive 42-month Iberico ham (RMB338), and the Peruvian element comes in the forms of ceviches and pisco sours, which are delicious and start from RMB68.
Scallop-chia tiradito (RMB98) is an excellent start to the proceedings, coming in hard with a crispy garlic kick, avocado, and red chilies. The chia seeds themselves don’t taste of a whole lot, but they do help to amalgamate the sauce together and have a crunchy texture and nutty flavor.
Chili prawns (RMB128) are the standout of the evening, and come with an irresistible shellfish sauce, ostensibly the product of spicy sriracha and ‘homemade cheese.’ The bowl is completely devoured by the time our waiter pries it from our hands.
Exotic-sounding clam 'quinotto' (RMB98), a Peruvian riff on risotto served with a ‘crispy cookie’ and ‘lime air,’ doesn’t have the same impact, but the tricolored quinoa (green pea, shellfish sauce and squid ink) show a more flavorsome side to the Peruvian staple, so often abused in bland health food salads and their ilk.
Mains come in big portions, so much so that we struggle to make a dent in the restaurant’s signature ‘Peruvian rice’ (RMB298), topped with a whole lobster, mussels and shrimp. To the layman’s palate, we struggle to differentiate it from a standard Spanish paella, but its smoky and subtle flavor delivers. Again, good with the pisco sours.
Cod with baby squid (RMB128) was the only bum note of the evening; a busy collection of under-seasoned fish filets buried under heaps of red onion, tomatoes, fried plantain slivers and cilantro.
Food Verdict: 2/3
There’s nothing sadder than an empty South American restaurant, and fortunately for Colca, that’s not the case here. If anything, business on our Thursday night visit was lively enough to make us shout to be heard over the squawks of our fellow guests. Luckily, a round of gin and tonics from the gin menu (we recommend the grape-infused Nordes, RMB98, from Galicia) helped us get on their level.
Overall, Colca isn’t as deep a cut of Peruvian culture as it could be, but the vibe of the restaurant and bright flavors of Chef Beltran’s cooking make it a fun choice for casual dinners with groups of friends.
Vibe Verdict: 2/2
Total Verdict: 4/5
Price: RMB200-400 per person
Who’s going: fun-loving locals
Good for: South American food and cocktails, lively dinners, al fresco dining
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