London is about juxtaposition, right? We all know the gentrified street by the 1970s estate, or the traffic-choked thoroughfare home to an unexpected small plates joint. Leyton (disclaimer: I live here) is a case in point; its treasures are often tucked away or scattered. Once-forlorn Overground station Leyton Midland Road now boasts a handful of said gems, from local coffee legends Perky Blenders to craft beer bar Gravity Well. Bamboo Mat, a new Peruvian-Japanese arrival, is directly opposite.
Occupying the site of a short-lived fish restaurant, the former’s aquamarine interior, with its tiled floor and seafood wall stencils, has been updated with mahogany tables and window-counter seating. But when my friend and I arrived on a Wednesday night the place was, as we feared, empty.
It’s a unique opening for this part of east London. Bamboo Mat’s Nikkei menu – the cuisine that fuses Japanese recipes with Peruvian ingredients – has been created by chefs Denis Gobjila and Victor Rosca, who met working at Soho’s acclaimed Nikkei restaurant Chotto Matte. There’s ceviche, tiradito (sashimi in a citrus sauce) and maki rolls (all at £10-£15 a plate), with mains including lamb chops, salmon teriyaki and grilled wagyu.
As we took our seats under the fronds of an oversized houseplant, house music gently throbbing in the background, we were served by a Moldovan waiter whose enthusiasm and self-confessed inexperience somehow merged into winning charisma. He explained how fascinated he was with the cooking here and was keen to guide us to the signature dishes, taking care to point out those with similar sauces, so we didn’t double up on flavours.
Meanwhile, a slate of seared salmon tataki melted addictively in the mouth
A classic Peruvian starter is, of course, a must. Sea bass ceviche was bathed in a vivid orange tiger’s milk, blending the sharp acidity of yuzu with the spicy-but-fruity aji amarillo chilli pepper. Its notes of passion fruit and mango paired well with cubes of sweet potato, and textural cancha corn that popped ‘in not out’, as our waiter put it.
Another key creation we had to taste, he said, was the hamachi hot maki – sushi rolls filled with sweet romano pepper and topped with yellowtail kingfish ceviche, a hit of truffle running through the yuzu soy. It was delicious, although the wasabi was a tad crumbly. Meanwhile, a slate of seared salmon tataki melted addictively in the mouth.
Unlike the elegant starters, our mains were more rustic, and distinctly hearty: sliced and grilled octopus anticucho was on point, its fiery smokiness driven by cumin and chilli, next to a puddle of green lentils that retained their bite. And a generous portion of chicken teriyaki used thigh meat for tenderness, its familiar sticky glaze pimped out with scattered spring onions and toasted sesame seeds.
The evening, understandably for somewhere that’s a month old, wasn’t without a hiccup. Pisco Sours were expertly balanced – despite the waiter admitting it was only the fourth time he’d made them – but didn’t arrive until after our starters. We asked for tap water but were charged £2.50 on the bill (it did come with lots of ice and lemon, but still…). And while deep-fried nobashi shrimp were fat and juicy, with an umami-flavour-bomb fish roe dip, the tempura wasn’t really as crisp as we would have liked.
These are all minor quibbles. As its confidence builds, and with support from locals (like me), Bamboo Mat deserves to be a success.
The vibe: Low-key neighbourhood hangout with an intriguing Peruvian-Japanese menu.
The food: Gorge on ceviche, maki rolls, teriyaki and wagyu – as much as your budget allows.
The drink: Pisco sour cocktails and wines start at £25 a bottle.
Time Out tip: Eat at lunchtime for cheaper bowls and bento boxes (around £11-£12).