Describing Uchu as a Peruvian Steakhouse might conjure up images of 16 ounce T-bones served on tin plates with hunting knives. The reality, however, is very different – Uchu is a professionally-run restaurant with friendly, English-speaking staff serving sophisticated Peruvian cuisine in comfortable and decidedly glamorous surroundings.
Uchu – named after the native Quechua word for chilli pepper – is the brainchild of the Cusco-Ohio partnership of chef Erick Paz Gallegos and Elizabeth Schumacher, and has been popular with locals, expats and visitors to Cusco since opening its doors early in 2013. Their Peruvian-American marriage has successfully translated into a wonderful fusion of traditional cuisine and international standards of service and presentation.
Historic Exterior, Contemporary Interior Design
Hidden behind bowing adobe and Inca stonework walls, Uchu is located on a narrow street just a five minute walk from Cusco’s Plaza de Armas and two minutes from the beautiful cobble-stoned Plaza Nazarenas, home to three of Cusco’s finest hotels – the Monasterio, InkaterraLa Casona and the Palacio Nazarenas. If you are lucky enough to be staying at one of these landmark establishments and can drag yourself away, then Uchu is a convenient and rewarding place to head for lunch or dinner. Even if you are staying further afield it is worth making the journey for a bit of culinary indulgence.
Crossing its uneven plant-filled paved courtyard – a great spot for a dry season lunch – stepping into Uchu is a bit like walking through the back of the wardrobe into Narnia. Velour banquettes line bold turquoise walls, broken up by feature panels of clay and straw adobe; futuristic silver-bauble lights hang from beamed and vaulted ceilings; Flickering candles illuminate shabby-chic chairs and shiny polished wooden floors. The overall effect is enchanting and welcoming, like Santa’s grotto meets Studio 54 and just the right side of that thin line between classy and kitsch.
Uchu’s interior: Santa’s Grotto meets Studio 54
Traditional Food with International Appeal
The menu consists of classic Peruvian dishes, complemented by a handful of more international offerings with a Peruvian twist, such as causas – mashed native potato stacks – with local sausage and curry, or bruschetta topped with shrimp, key lime and Andean herbs.
Stand-out starters include the Causa de Alpaca, a tasty tower of tender seared alpaca loin and amarillo potato; Tiradito de Uchus – strips of fresh fish “cooked” in a marinade of key lime juice, hot chillis and ginger; and Leche de Tigre de Maracuya – shrimp marinated in lime and passion fruit juice with chillis. For light meals there is also a selection of soups and salads as well as plenty of vegetarian options.
Terribly tempting: A tasty tower of tato and alpaca
Uchu’s main courses are where the aforementioned steak house theme finally of comes into its own. Spectacularly presented and generous of portion, you can enjoy Peruvian surf, turf or ‘surf and turf’ with any combination of Steak, chicken, lamb rib, alpaca loin, mahi-mahi fillet or shrimp. All are served on a sizzling hot volcanic stone – more for keeping your food warm than for cooking – which is in turn presented on top of a heavy wooden board.
Each main comes with four dipping sauces: yellow chilli, balsamic honey, hauacatay or Andean mint and herb butter. To accompany your feast there are five different types of potato – including crispy native fries, mashed sweet potato and mashed native potatoes with crushed peanuts and hot rocoto chillis – and a good-sized bowl of salad which includes sweet roasted peppers, roasted onion and silky soft Peruvian avocado.
Uchu’s starters look almost too good eat
Managing a starter and a main is quite a challenge, even when sharing starters as we often do. Still, if you do over-order, the staff are happy to package your leftovers in a discreet brown paper doggie bag for you. There is a dessert menu, but unsurprisingly I have never seen it, such is my lack of willpower when presented with savoury courses of such size and quality.
ENTERTAINMENT TIP: If looking for fun at night, or to watch sports during the day, or even a taste of home, visit the Wild Rover Hostel Cusco for great food, sports and beer! Entrance to their bar is free even for non-guests
The Bottom Line
Starters and snacks range from 20 to 24 Soles (About £4.25 to £5 or US$7 to US$8.50,) soups and salads are priced at 25 Soles (about £5.50 or US$9) and mains range from 38 Soles (around £8 or US$13.50) for chicken on a hot stone with all the trimmings to 59 Soles (£12.50 or US£21) for a three-way combo such as alpaca, mahi-mahi and lamb.
There is a decent sized South American wine list with whites starting at 62 Soles (£13.25 or US$22) for an Argentinian Chenin-Chardonnay blend and reds from 83 Soles (£18 or $30) for a very good Peruvian Malbec by Intipallka. Wines by the glass are also available from 19 Soles (£4 or US$6.75) and there are also some half bottles from 37 Soles (£8 or US$13.25). At the bar beers are priced from 8 Soles (about £1.75 or US$ 2.85) and cocktails start at 15 Soles (about £3.25 or US$5.25).
Given a choice I always try to get a table in the larger of the two dining rooms at the front of the restaurant. It is away from the open kitchen where it can get warm and the cooking smells are not to everyone’s liking. If you are looking for a quiet and intimate evening I would also recommend dining early or during the week when the restaurant may not be so busy. Some of the tables are quite close together and it can get a little noisy when full. Even if you can’t get your favourite table, Uchu is a great place for a good value, well-cooked lunch or dinner, served in slightly quirky surroundings with warmth, professionalism and Peruvian charm.