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It’s cold and you’re done with being meat-free for the month. You want meat. Red meat. Five Guys, Dominos, McDonald’s, they’re all there. But you’re so close to the end, and we have something that might help. 

When is Veganuary not Veganuary?

There’s a long discussion to be had about veganism, vegetarianism, plant-based diets saving the planet, etc., and this is not the place. I’ll happily rant about it over a pint though should you be interested but here’s the abridged version: it WON’T save the planet unless we change mass agriculture and the mass import of non-seasonal things. Still, any movement/fad that makes people stop and think about what they’re eating, even if only for a while, well, that’s a pretty good thing.

Buy me a second pint and I’ll also rattle on about my bafflement why so much vegetarian food is made to look like meat, mashed into burger shapes or described in carnivorous terms: last year, Leon were proudly suggesting we all check out their “vegetarian meatballs” which, frankly, made my head explode.

There’s no such cranial threat at COYA, however, who celebrate delicious vegetables as noting other than delicious vegetables. South America is the source of much of what we grow and eat today, of course, so it’s perhaps no great surprise that a Peruvian restaurant is doing creative, exciting things with such produce. Best of all, while they’ve launched a new menu that’s currently tied to Veganuary – because, you know, marketing and hashtags – the dishes in question will roll onto the regular menu in due course.

COYA’s executive chef Sanjay Dwivedi admits that, over the last few years, he’s upped the plant-based content of his own diet (and the COYA menu). Meat still plays a major part but it has to be the good stuff. More importantly, as a chef, he wants his veg dishes to taste wonderful and is treating them as seriously as others treat protein.

He’s thus applied his knowledge and experience – and the full Peruvian spice cupboard – on his creations, as well as sourcing the best possible vegan alternatives to things such as cheese and egg whites. For the former, he’s found a surprisingly good cashew nut substitute from Scotland which feels and tastes like goats cheese. For the latter, creative use of aquafaba means vegan customers can now enjoy meringues, a silky chocolate mousse and, best of all, a very decent, pleasingly frothy Pisco Sour.

Ceviche de Remolacha –  rainbow beets, aji rocoto, chia seeds – is fresh, crisp, delicious but quickly left standing by Ceviche de Alcachofa, a very satisfying, combination of Spanish artichokes, red peppers, lemon balm and crispy seaweed, and Tataki de Apionabo, a pleasingly warming combination of celeriac, ceps and hazelnuts with aji limo bringing the heat. From the new main dishes, Papa Fresca con Calabaza (Butternut squash, purple potatoes, aji mirasol, that aged vegan cheese) is big and rich and comforting (and, I’m told, makes an excellent if ironic side dish for lamb).

Although it’s easy to see why Papa Seca con Setas y Trufa – Peruvian potatoes and wild mushrooms, topped with truffles – has been a big seller at COYA for years. It’s great. The whole approach is definitely not bandwagon-jumping. This is just good food.

COYA

118 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London W1J 7NW

Tel: 020 7042 7118

31-33 Throgmorton St, London EC2N 2AT

Tel: 020 3907 0000

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