RIYADH: Saudi gourmands and travelers may already be aware of the international acclaim and popularity enjoyed by COYA restaurant. Its primary location in Mayfair was named London Restaurant of the Year at the London Lifestyle Awards in 2014, just two years after its launch. Since then, COYA has become synonymous with contemporary and fusion Latin American cuisine in premium destinations around the world — Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Miami, Monaco — and, now, Riyadh.
COYA made its debut on the Saudi fine-dining scene with a pop-up restaurant that runs until April in Oud Square, Diplomatic Quarters.
The restaurant is housed in a standalone hacienda-style structure with large windows that allow for ample sunshine on a winter afternoon and a lush, outdoor terrace. In the spirit of bringing a touch of Peru to its international destinations, COYA has an Incan-inspired aesthetic. The upholstery comes in rich tones of emerald, azure, and deep yellows with Peruvian textile cushions dotting the chairs. The work of acclaimed Peruvian photographer Martin Chambi — documenting the indigenous people and culture of Latin America — is on display.
Intricate wooden frames, doorways, and arches, along with terracotta pots, lend an ‘earthy’ element. Mother Earth, as a divine feminine being and the provider of all sustenance, is revered in Andean culture. COYA’s brown-and-gold logo, however, depicts the Moon Goddess of the Mayan calendar — the matriarch of the house who looks after her guests and takes care of everything. And that is exactly what you can expect at COYA Riyadh — the hospitality is excellent.
As for the cuisine, the à-la-carte menu uses seasonal and fresh produce. Seafood, chili peppers (more than 300 varieties are used in Peruvian cuisine), and corn make a frequent appearance and are prepared using the Japanese, Chinese, and Spanish cooking styles that have all influenced Peru’s food.
Our first dish — guacamole — is prepared fresh at the table in a stone mortar and pestle. It is smooth and creamy, complementing the corn tortillas and shrimp crackers.
Next up is the Papa y Pollo. The three bite-sized chicken tacos may seem like a miniscule portion, but, honestly, that is all you need. Just one bite has all the flavors of creamed chicken, potatoes, Peruvian pepper, and shaved cheese, along with a welcome crunch from fried black quinoa. The Trio de Maiz salad dresses josper corn, crispy corn and jumbo corn in cherry balsamic vinegar, lime, olive oil, and chillies.
Of course, you cannot come to a Peruvian restaurant and not try the ceviche. And the Pargo a la Trufa is sure to be the star of your epicurean experience. Simone Sabbatini Peverieri — host and restaurant manager — gives us a lesson on savoring raw fish. He assembles a morsel of red snapper fillet cured in lime and salt, layers it with what is known as ‘tiger milk’ — a milk-based broth of ponzu sauce, celery, and chives — and tops it off with truffle slices. A simple spoonful is enough to experience the explosion of flavors — the soft, fatty fillet, the sharp tang of the sauce, and the musky crunch of the truffle.
Antichuchos are Peruvian-style grilled meat on skewers and we tried both the tiger prawns with aji panca (Peruvian red pepper) and the chicken with garlic and aji Amarillo (yellow chilli pepper). The succulent prawns had a tomato-based flavor to them, while the chicken had a sweet and sticky tamarind flavor.
From the cazuelas (Spanish for iron pot) menu, we tried the Arroz Nikei — Chilean sea bass marinated with miso and chillies and served on a bed of risotto-style rice, cooked in butter, vegetable stock, and its own starches. Peverieri serves straight from the iron pot, making sure the flavors of the flaky fish and rice come together to create the ultimate comfort dish.
From the mains, we also tried a generous portion of spicy Wagyu beef fillet made with an aji limo (hot, citrus-flavored pepper) and star anise marinade.
From the dessert menu, we the Chicha Morada was a standout. It uses an infusion of purple maize corn, pineapple, cinnamon, star anise, and apple juice. This concoction is crystalized and served with a sorbet, wild berries, passion fruit, and shortbread. The orange and lime churros that come with a delectable milk chocolate and Dulce de leche sauce are also highly recommended.
COYA Riyadh is a unique blend of culture, art, and cuisine — one that appeals not just to your taste buds, but to all five senses.