Savouring the flavours of Peru in Cape Town
For Peruvian born owner German de la Melena it’s all about providing diners with an authentic experience. The name originates from the Peruvian staple food Quinoa, phonetically spelled Keenwa, to help educate non-Peruvians in the pronunciation.
Keenwa is situated in Cape Town CBD, accross the way from Hemelhuijs in Waterkant street. The appealing double storey Victorian building adds to the charm of the place. Downstairs caters for diners and upstairs you will find the Pisco Bar which is open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and also available for private functions. The decor is chic and sports the rich and colourful textiles of the Peruvian culture.
Peruvian food relies on a few staple crops, especially corn and potatoes, and is heavily influenced by Spanish cuisine, so most of the ingredients at Keenwa are familiar, but the dishes themselves tend toward strange combinations I haven’t encountered before. Peruvian home-style cooking dominates the bill of fare with ceviche being their signature dish under the starters. We opted for a bit of everything by ordering a platter for two which consisted out of ceviche, tiradito clasico, pulpo al olivo, Causa de Pollo and anticucho.
To shed some light on these names; the ceviche is a traditional Peruvian dish and features cubes of fish (angel fish in this instance) that is citrus-cooked by marinating it in Peruvian lime juice, raw onions, and chili. It’s usually accompanied by some corn (on or off the cob) but ours came with sweet potato whose sweet starch provides almost perfect balance to the acidity of the leche de tigre, the ceviche marinade. The Ceviche burst with bold flavours, not a timid dish at all, but one in which the lime, onion and chili each popped while never overwhelming the fresh taste of the fish.
The tiradito clasico, similar to ceviche, presents fish, thinly sliced in a spicy lime sauce while the pulpo al olivo offered octopus served on a tasty black olive sauce alongside drunken prawns. The true Peruvian potato salad is the Causa de Pollo, a dish layered with chicken, homemade mayo and avo served with mashed potatoes flavoured with lime and chilis.
The anticuchos was possible the weirdest out of the lot, as it is made out of beef heart, grilled and served on a skewer. It tasted just like beef, although I was expecting something closer to liver. German shared a personal story from his childhood when he presented this dish, telling us how he use to buy anticuchos from the street vendors outside Estadio Nacional, the football stadium in Lima.
Belly-filling mains are the order of the day. The rice and beans, called tacu tacu, could be a meal for two. It’s served with a choice of two toppings – beef ribs and anticuchos sauce or chicken with a spicy chimichurri sauce. My partner opted for the beef version and thoroughly enjoyed it. A serving of red onion provided the final touch; both tart and sweet, they lightened the heavier taste of the rice and bean combination.
The dish described as the oldest recipe in Peruvian cuisine was my choice as a main. The pork carapulcra is rustic yet refined, and explodes with very deep and bold flavours. The star ingredient of carapulcra is papa seca, which are tiny dried cubes of potatoes cooked in a peanut and chilli sauce and served with rice.
As if we could fit anything else into our over-eaten tummies, we forced ourselves and shared a marciana de maracuya dessert. The passion fruit and chili sorbet with caramelised chillies and cheese were pretty beyond words and the type of dessert that will go down as a real treat on a hot summer’s day.
Our dining experience really offered something out of the ordinary. This Peruvian gem might be situated in the heart of Cape Town but, the experience it offers makes you feel as if you are dining in Lima.
Starters range between R55 and R80, platters for two between R140 and R160 while mains offer exceptional value at R90 to R110. The winelist is solid and reasonably priced.
Monday to Friday from 10:30am to 4:00pm.
Tuesday to Saturday from 6:30pm to late.
Bookings: 021 419 2633 or email@example.com