Her Royal Highness
It was our last day in Dubai and I wanted to end on a high note. Staying at the Four Seasons on Jumeirah meant that we were within walking distance of several of the city’s best restaurants. Having already been to Nus-rt and had the magic of the ‘Salt Bae’ experience thoroughly worn off, we settled for Coya. The appeal of trying Peruvian Cuisine was just too strong to resist.
Coya, as I have it from our server, loosely translates to “Her Royal Highness”. It’s a title reserved for only the most regal of queens and princesses. I didn’t realise just how fittingly named this restaurant was. Not fully until the weeks after I sit here writing this, salivating at the sight of the pictures of them meal I took.
I shouldn’t keep you much longer. The following is a dish-by-dish account of one of the best meals of my life. A meal surpassed only by one.
Guacamole with Chips
There really isn’t much need to explain this. Nor did Coya have much to play around with here either. Having it made table-side though, does set the precedent for dishes to come though. A heavy stone mortar is laid in front of you. All necessary ingredients prepped and brought to the table. The ripe avocado ceremoniously turned out of its skin. The flavourings added, to your taste mind you. The lime forced to yield all its juices over the waiting concoction, before, with a fork and spoon, the dip is sprung to life.
In the front: chicken tacos. Little bites of pure bliss. Don’t let their small stature fool you. These are some of the best tacos you’ll ever eat. Not owing to their outstanding flavour alone. They are an explosion of textures as well. Succulent chicken, crunchy red peppers and the delicate release of corn, all encased a crisp tortilla shell. Simple, agreed but why complicate a good thing?
Causa de Bertarraga
In the back: Causa de Betarraga. Beetroot Causa, goat’s cheese, walnuts, apple, radish. The most complex bite I’ve ever started a meal with. Now we’re finally in unmapped territory. Tacos and guac are thoroughfare in most “Mexican” restaurants, the world over, thus providing familial bouts of sustenance. Causa though, is a dish as Peruvian as the potato.
From what I gather, Causa is a kind of dumpling made with a particular kind of potato. Here, it has been prepared with the addition of beetroot, giving it the striking plum colour. It also boasts a kind of earthiness I was previously oblivious too. Almost like the nuttiness of wheat but altogether more ancient. the walnuts heighten that very nuttiness, similar to how the fresh herb calls out to the dry. The radish adds crunch and a mellow bitterness to balance the richness while the sweet and tang from both the apple and goat’s cheese both cut through the richness and round of the flavour.
I did say it was complex, let’s also add utterly delicious to that.
Churros de Papa
Savoury churros made with a potato based batter topped with Manchego cheese and truffle. In other words, gratifying carbohydrates topped with a blanket of pure umami. Essentially truffle fries on steroids
Churros: fried choux pastry, served either in long strips or knots. Here, it was made with the addition of potato. The result is a more dense churro but with an almost disintegrating, soft interior to balance the craggily crisp outer layer. Thus once you bite into it, you are guaranteed instant gratification.
Manchego: Aged Spanish sheep’s milk cheese. Creamy, full-bodied but not too strong, slightly piquant. The best way I can describe it is as a headier goat’s cheese with none of the grassy flavour one usually is treated to by that kind of cheese. Manchego also leaves a very pleasant creaminess once consumed, making it pair well with the gratifying choux.
Truffle: the fruiting body of the Ascomycete fungus. Prized for its intense earthy flavour and aroma. Essentially a flavour bomb. Truffles are at once, spicy, umami, earthy, sweet and slightly bitter. It plays off the piquancy of the cheese and the richness of the churros well, bringing both at once, together.
Together you get magic.
Baos con Res Wagyu
Wagyu Short-rib, mantou baos, aji amarillo
Wagyu: Wagyu is any of the four breeds of Japanese beef cattle, Black, Brown, Polled and Shorthorn. The meat is characterised as having a much higher concentration of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The fat marbling is also superb, leading it to be the most tender and delicious type of beef.
Mantou Baos: Mantou is a steamed bun from northern China where it’s a staple food. The texture is usually incredibly soft and fluffy, thanks to it being leavened with yeast. Bao or Baozi is often considered the modern name for them. The filling can literally be anything.
Aji Amarillo: a type of chilli that peaks at 50,000 Scoville Units (for comparison a Jalapeño lands at a maximum of 8,000). In Peruvian cuisine, the condiment made with it is a common addition.
In short the result is textural heaven with rich flavours to match. Each component complementing the other, the moreish bun, the rich Wagyu, the heat from the sauce. They were gone as soon as I took the picture.
Pollo a la Parrilla
The first of the two mains ordered. Corn-fed baby chicken, aji panca, coriander.
Corn-fed Chicken: a chicken that has been fed a diet consisting of upwards of 50% corn. I don’t know if it’s said before enough but what we feed the livestock we consume is incredibly important. It effects the final product in such a way that the taste is worlds apart. With corn-fed you generally get a richer flavour (even though chicken itself isn’t that rich to begin with) owning to the higher fat content resulting from the diet which also gives the skin a yellow tinge.
Aji Panca: yet another type of pepper commonly used in Peruvian cuisine. This one was much milder than the previously mentioned Aji Amarillo, at only 100 Scoville units. Thus the flavour is more rich and fruity than spicy while it also gives off a deep burgundy colour when added to food.
You don’t need me to talk about coriander do you? In any case, this chicken was served up after having been completely deboned before cooking, grilled with the skin on leading to incredibly juicy meat and a rich warm flavour seeping all the way through. If anything, you taste the difference brought on by it having been corn-fed in the skin the most. That’s where the most flavour lies and it was nothing short of an explosion.
Costillas de Cordero
Lamb ribs, tamarind glaze and cashew nuts. This is the dish that surprised me the most. I normally don’t like lamb. To me, the meat’s inherent earthiness can be incredibly overpowering. I guess I just hadn’t come across a combination with lamb that I would like. Let alone love.
The ingredients aren’t new to a desi palate but I don’t think we’d have thought to ever put them together. The tamarind provides a sweet sharpness that cuts through the earthy fatty lamb like a hot knife does butter. The overwhelming, overpowering earthiness is thus done away, allowing for the sweetness of the meat to shine. The fat and the glaze give the crust a slight crispness, which is amplified by the slaw and the fried cashew nuts on top. Ribs like you’ve never had them before. And yes, you’d want to use your hands.
Churros de Naranja
Orange and lime churros, milk chocolate and dulce de leche sauce.
From savoury churros to sweet, and back to the familiar once again. If you are suddenly reminded of your youth, learning what an orange was called in Urdu, you aren’t alone. Naranj is a word that transcends several languages, owing to their shared histories, to mean the same in all, orange.
The one thing I was somewhat unfamiliar with was dolce de leche. It translates to candy or caramel made with milk. In flavour, it’s most similar to butterscotch However, the slow heating process by which it’s made, adds a depth and purpose to the sweetness.
The milk chocolate draws the two together. Bridging the gap between the delicate, aromatic sharpness of the citrus and the honey-ombre depth of the dolce. The churros in this meal have been pure gratification and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Illanka Chocolate Fondant, Praline, Banana Ice Cream.
Illanka (derived from the Quechua words for light and condor) is the name given by famed chocolate producer, Valrhona to the chocolate it sources from Peru. The beans this chocolate is made from are from an incredibly rare and unique species. Native to Peru, these beans are distinct both in their aroma and appearance, being pure white rather than lavender.
The chocolate produced thus is able to be both intense and fruity and incredibly creamy. Making it ideal for desserts. And what better dessert to showcase it with than a fondant. A delicate cake with a molten centre that cascades out once the outer layers are breached. Combine that with crisp, nutty praline and the cool creamy ice cream, and you have a fitting serenade to end the grand concerto that has been this meal. Even if the ice cream was banana.
At the end of such a meal, my only thought is; when can I have it all again?