It seems like it was just yesterday when the news broke that elEfante was closing. Fulu Group reimagined the space rapidly into Peruvian eatery helmed by former elEfante chef, Carlos Sotomayor.
Named after the Peruvian god of fortune, Ekeko presents a highly conceptualized dining experience that is fun and fresh yet rooted in centuries of tradition. For RMB488, you sample eight courses. The inaugural menu focuses heavily on Peruvian and Nikkei influenced dishes. Each course has an accompanying card which expands upon the dish. Through personal and cultural details, a story of Sotomayor’s Peru emerges.
The meal begins with one of Peru’s most famous dishes, ceviche. This version includes shrimp and Japanese sea bream ‘cooked’ in a punchy tiger’s milk aka citrus marinade punched up with onion, chili, cilantro and diced sweet potato. The big flavors whet the appetite nicely.
Causa, a cold mashed potato dish that originated during war times when women used it to support the cause, comes next. Sotomayor uses purple potato mash, which is coated in crispy quinoa, dotted in salty black olive puree, and accompanied by some tender octopus. Prawns replace beef heart in the Afro-Peruvian inspired anticucho with corn relish. Now is not the time to be squeamish – slurp all the concentrated flavor out of the prawn head. Trust.
Another dish with the same background is the pork belly chicarron with butter beans and panca chili gastrique. It is impossible to find fault with this one.
Served in dramatic fashion comes a dish that is a favorite of the chef’s father, sudado. Piping hot soup bowls are put in front of us, along with steaming plastic bags that are cut open to reveal red snapper in a spicy fish broth.
The penultimate savory course is solterito, named for the salad eating single men and women looking for love. It is a nice use of in season fava beans (along with tomatoes, olives and queso fresco). Flip this course’s menu card to reveal a cheeky photo of the chef cradling his belly that says, “look at my sexy body,” in Chinese.
We’re pretty full at this point, but the beef cheek saltado is a dish definitely worth a bite or three. While the classic version is typically stir-fried, we are given a gorgeous hunk of cheek sitting on a mound of risotto-like porco mushroom rice. A fluffy cloud of cotton candy disintegrates when they pour a soy and vinegar-based sauce on it, seasoning it with a balance of sweet, savory and sour flavors.
Dessert is suspiro, a traditional Peruvian milk custard named by a poet after his wife prepared it for him because it is “soft and sweet as a women’s sigh.” The chef shows off his presentation skills with squares of custard, paper-thin slices of apple, scoops of green apple sorbet, cinnamon sprinkled meringue shards and liquid nitrogen frozen caramel corn. It’s crazy, but it works.
Food Verdict: 2.5/3
The environment has traces of the elEfante whimsy (and perhaps the same furniture?), with a personal touch. If it seems like they threw a decorating party, that’s because they did. The staff took orange paint and sponges to the walls and patched together the awesome squid tentacle and shark ceiling installations, and that same genial team spirit comes through in the evening’s dinner service, loud and clear.
Vibe Verdict: 1.5/2
Total Verdict: 4/5
Price: RMB500-700 per person
Who’s going: mixed crowd, couples, groups
Good for: dates, Pisco sours, special occasions