(photo credit: PR)
The cuisine known as Nikkei took a circuitous route on its way to this country. Its origins are in Japan, the native land of many immigrants to Peru in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In Peru, these immigrants retained many elements of their native cuisine, while adapting it to the local ingredients available to them.
This fusion became known as Nikkei; and thanks to a number of talented chefs, it developed a reputation beyond the borders of Peru and even South America. London, in fact, has become a particular hot spot for Nikkei cuisine, thanks in part to international chef Nobu Matsuhisa; and it was via Nobu’s London restaurant that former manager Yoram Peretz imported the cuisine to Israel, bringing along British chef Chris Golding to oversee the kitchen.
The name Lima-Nippo symbolizes both origins: Lima as the capital of Peru, and Nippo(n) as the Japanese name for Japan. It is an ambitious enterprise to open a new restaurant featuring an unfamiliar cuisine, and Lima-Nippo’s impressive decor reflects this kind of bold undertaking.
The stated mission of the kitchen appears no less challenging: to rotate menu items every two weeks to ensure maximum freshness based on seasonal ingredients. The Nobu pedigree is evident from Lima- Nippo’s excellent service as well. The use of exotic ingredients came to the fore from the outset as we perused the list of house cocktails. For example, the Yuzu-Ginger Martini used the juice of a Japanese lemon known as yuzu, along with Belvedere Lemon Tea vodka and Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, with a garnish of fresh ginger. This unusual martini was smooth and dry, with a finish of pleasant heat.
As fans of ginger, we also ordered the Pepino Mule: rum, cucumber, coriander, coconut, lime and ginger beer – a creative cocktail that was both refreshing and bracing.
With the drinks, we were served an appetizer consisting of another ingredient that is not found anywhere else: Padron peppers, dressed with orange miso and sprinkled with sesame seeds. The small peppers, each the size of about two bites, had a subtle spiciness to them, good for stimulating the taste buds for the meal to come.
The first of our starter courses was tiradito, a classic of Nikkei cuisine that is a cross between Japanese sashim and Peruvian ceviche, both of which are made with raw fish. Our tiradito was hamachi (Japanese tuna) cured with beetroot, marinated in yuzu juice and soy sauce and garnished with chips of black garlic. The exceedingly fresh fish was drenched in complex layers of flavor dominated by citrus and soy, an acquired taste, in my opinion. The same might also be said for our second starter: beef tartare seasoned with truffled miso, topped with crispy shallots and spiked with crispy, delicate rice crackers. A quite remarkable interplay of flavors, for the adventurous only.
For our first main course, we were treated to the sea bass tempura – an entire skinned and filleted fish prepared in the manner in which Japanese restaurants commonly coat and fry shrimp and/or vegetables. The result was extraordinary: moist and flavorful fish encased in perfectly fried light and crispy batter. Not only was this dish the highlight of our evening, but it was one of the best fish entrées I have had all year. Our next main course was spicy miso lamb cutlets: thick-cut lamb chops grilled just right, covered in a copious amount of a piquant sauce. For the most part, the sauce enhanced the tender and juicy meat, although at times it was overpowering. Desserts here were just as inventive as the rest of the courses. The sweet potato crème brûlée with chunks of mandarin orange was exceedingly sweet, yet thoroughly enjoyable. The absence of the one item listed on the menu that was missing from the actual dessert – raspberry – was not really felt. The pistachio, polenta and olive oil cake with strawberries and white chocolate sauce poured at the table was outstanding. The only puzzling element was that the berries were served frozen, while fresh strawberries were still in season. The ice crystals rendered the berry portion of this otherwise innovative dessert tasteless.
There is no doubt that opening a restaurant promoting a cuisine that evolved on the basis of ingredients indigenous to a country half a world away is an interesting undertaking. It begs the question why not a less complicated Japanese-Israeli fusion experiment. Still, Lima-Nippo produces some memorable moments. And the tasting menu – seven courses for NIS 195 per person (two person minimum) – is well worth a try.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.Lima-Nippo Not kosher 6 Rabbi Tanhum Street, Jaffa Tel: (03) 573-4404