Food of the Incas

Restaurant Village,
Four Seasons Resort Dubai,
Jumeirah Beach, Jumeirah 2
United Arab Emirates

1st May, 2017

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney

Sherlock Holmes, one of Britain’s finest, has solved some of the most heinous and complicated cases the country has ever had the misfortune of witnessing. But, nothing and no one could have prepared him for what was awaiting him at the Bakersfield mansion. As Mr. Holmes and his faithful companion, Dr. Watson, stepped into the foyer of the mansion, they were met by an onrushing and flustered Detective Inspector Lestrade. “Mr. Holmes! Dr. Watson! Pray goodness! Your timing cannot be more exact. Mr. Holmes, this murder is most unusual. I daresay that this is one problem that you will find most perplexing.” Mr. Holmes does not react. “Kindly show us to the body, Detective Inspector.” DI Lestrade ushers Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson into the dining room adjacent to the main foyer. There, lying beside the grand mahogany table was the body of the victim. “Great heavens! It’s a cat!” Dr. Watson exclaims. Mr. Holmes does not react. He simply stares at the body of the dead cat. “Well, Mr. Holmes, is this not most bizarre?” asked DI Lestrade. Mr. Holmes does not reply. Instead, he starts to chuckle slightly. “Holmes! This is most inappropriate! Never mind that the murder is of the feline kind, we must try and solve this.” Dr. Watson asserts. “Oh my dear Watson, this is indeed most appropriate. Is it not obvious to you what killed the poor creature?” Holmes responds, with an amusing look on his face. Dr. Watson looks at the cat once again, slightly perplexed. “No! There seems nothing obvious about this. We do not know who did this!” Holmes starts to laugh more loudly, much to the surprise of those around him. “It is elementary my dear Dr. Watson. The murderer is not a ‘who’ but a ‘what’. It was curiosity that killed the cat!”

Pardon me if my amateurish attempt at fan-fiction lacked a certain “literary panache”; it takes a special someone to be able to successfully emulate the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and I was never one for words – especially those relating to the Victorian era. Curiosity might have killed the cat, but it also gave it a reason to live. What’s life without a little bit of curiosity? Take the example of Walt Disney. If Mr. Disney (character idea) had never asked one of life’s most precious questions – “What would a talking mouse sound like?” – our beloved high-pitched, big-eared rodent would never have existed.  If Mr. Disney had never been curious about two-dimensional cartoons coming to life on the silver screen, childhood memories would never have been the same. Curiosity. What a funny concept! 

Personally, I’ve always been more cautious than curious. The only true exception being ‘food’. You can’t go around calling yourself a ‘foodie’ if you’re not courageous or adventurous enough to sample cuisines from all over the world. Now, I’m not encouraging everyone to adopt the Bear Grylls/Andrew Zimmern lifestyle. God knows, we could all do without experiments of the edible kind. However, there are other ways you can go about this food adventure. The longest (and most expensive) way to do so would be to travel around the world (in more than 80 days) and try out local cuisines from each city, each state, each country. If only…sigh! Hence, we rely on the shortest way possible, and that would be to drive into town and dine at an authentic restaurant serving that particular country’s cuisine (French, Greek, Vietnamese, etc.). Restaurants are proxies for the real deal, and we should be grateful for them. They surely save you a lot of travel time and money, though you wouldn’t earn as many air miles as you would have liked. And then there’s the third way – the cheapest option – and that would entail taking time out of your busy schedule to watch professional YouTube cooking videos and try to recreate the dish as best as possible. The last option might seem the most attractive to us all, but let’s face it not everyone can cook, and more importantly if everyone decided to adopt the third option, then blogs like ‘Bite Me’ would no longer exist.

Peru a.k.a. the land of the llamas and home of the Incas. Ever since I first laid eyes on a picture of Peru – the primary location in one of my favourite Tintin adventures – I was captivated by the colourful and picturesque scenery and intrigued by the country’s rich history and culture. However, back then, I had not yet gained an appreciation for Peruvian cuisine (probably because to me it was non-existent). It was time to put things right. With my palate ready for a new adventure, it was time for me to sample some of Peru’s delightful delicacies. There was just one problem. Peru was located half-way around the world, and there was no way I was going to get there any time soon, especially since I had just come back from a trip to South East Asia. I had but no other option but the second. Time to find Peru in Dubai.

Turns out, finding a Peruvian restaurant in Dubai wasn’t as tough a task as I made it out to be. There are only a handful of restaurants across the city that serve dishes from the Latin American country. So it was just a matter a choosing the best and most authentic of Peruvian restaurants. This so happened to be Coya. According to Peruvian nomenclature, Coya is the title given to the first wife of an Inca emperor, and is said to be quite the (political) influencer. Well it worked innit? Influenced my decision to dine at the restaurant.

Much like the Temple of the Sun (Inca headquarters), Coya is located on the outskirts of the city and well hidden away from civilization (well not really!). We arrived at the Four Seasons Resort at Jumeirah Beach only to find ourselves in the midst of royalty. The lavishness of the hotel was further accentuated by the luxury cars parked outside. A Ferrari here, a Lamborghini there, a Mercedes everywhere. Suddenly,  our wallets felt all the more lighter….and we hadn’t even had a bite to eat! Nestled away in the corner, secluded from the rest of the restaurants (one of which is the famous Nusr-Et) was Coya. The restaurant’s name shone bright as the sun, while the compass-like icon above the door was something resembling an entrance to a religious Peruvian sanctuary. 

As we stepped inside and made our way to the dining area (past the bar) with the help of one of Coya’s front of house staff, I noticed the interiors were neither religious nor sanctuary-resemblant. Instead, the interiors only exemplified the riches associated with the restaurant, which made the front door not an entrance to a sanctuary but the entrance to the temple’s treasury. We were seated at a table closer to the kitchen, which was visible through the transparent glass panes. As we made ourselves more comfortable, we were greeted by the Maitre D’Hotel who introduced us to our waiter for the evening. With a certain gusto and a smile on his face, our server handed us the menu cards and left us to make our decision. As I surveyed the dining area, I noticed a seat of chairs placed by the kitchen window, similar to the seating arrangement at a bar table or at a restaurant serving sushi via a carousel. It was quite the anomaly, making those who were seated (which weren’t many) feel like a shunned member of society.

 ( From left to right ): Churros de Papa, Remolacha y Queso de Cabra, Aguacate Tacos, Cazuela Vegetariana, Costillas de Cordero, Lubina Chileana, Praline Mousse, Sundae de Maiz
(From left to right): Churros de Papa, Remolacha y Queso de Cabra, Aguacate Tacos, Cazuela Vegetariana, Costillas de Cordero, Lubina Chileana, Praline Mousse, Sundae de Maiz

The menu wasn’t extensive, and it didn’t have to be. Even with limited choices, firm decisions are hard to come by. When our server made his fourth round past our table, we duly obliged him with our order. The drinks were the first to arrive: a glass of white Torrontes (Argentinian), a glass of red Lapostolle Carmenere (Chilean), and two mocktails – the B.RB. and the Purple Rain – both of which were berry-based. While I can’t vouch for the others, the Purple Rain was quite the tantalizing drink, possessing just the right amount of sweetness to combat the sourness from the berries. The only problem was the copious amount of ice in my glass, which meant that most of the time I was preoccupied trying to shuck through the ice to get to my drink.

The first dish of the evening to arrive was the Churros de Papa. Five golden brown, deep fried, pastry dough sticks lay flat on a small grease-proof sheet topped with truffle shavings and served with a side of manchego cheese. Churros – a popular Latin American dish – is traditionally coated with sugar and cinnamon and served with a side of chocolate sauce. So, it seemed a gamble to replace the sweetness of the dish with something more savoury. Well, it was a gamble that clearly paid off. The slight sweetness from the fried pastry dough was well balanced with the richness and creaminess of the manchego cheese and the bitterness of the truffle. Unfortunately, we were four of us at the table, which meant that there was only one (and a quarter) stick for each of us. We weren’t kept hungry for too long though, as the next dish arrived. The Remolacha y Queso de Cabra. Served on a black slab were four blood red beetroot dumplings topped with a dollop of goat cheese, a hint of Ají Amarillo and hazelnuts. A truly Peruvian amuse-bouche. From the moment I held the dumpling to the moment I popped the entire thing in my mouth, I knew I was in for a soft, creamy, buttery, delicious delight. The beetroot dumpling was soft and smooth, and the hazelnuts added a much needed crunchy texture to the dish. There was, however, no hint of the Ají Amarillo, which could have been a blessing in disguise as my stomach was not ready to handle such a strong pepper.

For our main course, we had ordered the Aguacate Tacos, Cazuela Vegetariana, Costillas de Cordero, and the Lubina Chileana. They all arrived at the same time. The Tacos were served on a grey slate, the Cazuela was served in a well…cazuela (cooking pot), while the Cordero (lamb) and the Lubina (sea bass) were served on rustic maroon plate. The tacos of quail egg and avocado were certainly petite in size, explaining its surprisingly low price. With two great swoops of her fork, my sister had gobbled up her tacos. She loved it so much that she ordered another portion of the tacos, along with a plate of Pollo Anticuchos. The three grilled chops of lamb – served with a topping of crushed cooked aubergines – did not seem to be adequate enough to satisfy my appetite, but it certainly was. The lamb was cooked to perfection; the meat being soft and succulent without being too chewy, and the aubergines on top provided a smoky and crunchy texture and flavour to the overall dish. If there was one complaint to be made, it was that certain parts of the lamb chops were charred to a crisp, almost to the point of being burnt. While this certainly added a smoky texture, it also threw the flavours off slightly. After all, who here has a taste for charcoal?

With our stomachs filled up to just the right amount, we were ready to order our desserts. When our server arrived with the dessert menu, we found the choices to be aplenty. Rather than further delay our ordering, we requested the server to recommend desserts based on their popularity amongst diners. He duly obliged. And we went ahead with his suggestions. It wasn’t too long before they arrived – the Praline Mousse and the Sundae de Maiz. Let us start with the latter shall we? The Sundae de Maiz (corn sundae) was presented on a black slab in a small sundae glass. The glass was filled to the brim with a mixture of sweet corn ice-cream and corn sundae. Beside the glass, sat a decorative piece of caramelized popcorn. Even to me, this was as corny as a dish could get. I had never had sweet corn ice-cream before; it’s not really a flavour I would have normally associated with ice-cream, but I was altogether surprised by the flavour combination because it really did work. The nuttiness of the corn sundae and the creaminess of the ice-cream complemented each other well. The side of caramel popcorn was just an added bonus. The Praline Mousse was served in a small whisky glass, covered with a Coya-printed sheet. The server arrived at our table with a bowl of chocolate sauce, which he poured on to the sheet. The moment the chocolate touched the sheet, it began to disintegrate (open sesame?!) and paved the way for our second dessert – passion fruit with white chocolate. Similar to the Sundae, passion fruit and white chocolate would not normally be associated with each other. However, once again, the chefs at Coya made the seemingly impossible be so delightfully delicious. While the popcorn was the added bonus to the sundae, it was the pops that made this dish truly (pop?). Hidden inside the white chocolate were pop rocks – carbonated hard candy. So not only was the dish a visual treat but there was certainly an element of vibrance (and vibration) in the mouth. 

We requested our server to bring us the bill, and upon seeing the total amount, I could see how the Incas gained their massive fortune. Perhaps it was time to reconsider my options once again. We made our way outside and felt our pockets (rather wallets) to be significantly and literally lighter and our stomachs to be significantly heavier than when we first arrived. As we awaited our taxi, we watched as crowds gathered by the restaurant, each one eagerly awaiting their chance to dine in the lap of luxury. If the Coya (Peruvian Princess) had cooked food similar to this, it was no wonder she had so much of power. I, for one, would certainly do anything for her if I had access to this quality of food on a regular basis. 

Coya - Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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