Warike isn’t just a dining experience, it’s a cultural one. I can hear the soft chatter of Spanish speakers when I enter. It’s an excellent sign when a restaurant is embraced by its own community. This one is filled with South Americans proudly tasting their heritage.
Peru is expressed in every detail. Adorning the walls are traditional Quechuan woven textiles. Peruvian music pulses the room with a melodic, rhythmic beat. A colourful mural on the wall pays tribute to Inca warriors and ceviche, the country’s national dish.
There’s a sense you’ve stumbled upon a best-kept secret at Warike. The word “warike” means a secret place to eat food in Quechua, the language spoken by ancient Incans and eight million people throughout the Andes today. It’s the only contemporary Peruvian restaurant in Sydney, with a different offering to Japanese-Peruvian restaurant Nikkei (and Warike's sister venue, Lima) or the more traditional La Hacienda in the CBD.
We are greeted with warm smiles and a palpable excitement from wait staff and Peruvian owner Luis Guzmán, as if we are entering their very home. This may be owed to Warike’s beginnings as a supper club in Guzmán’s home at the end of lockdown in 2020. He first relocated to Sydney from Lima in 2010 and longed to eat Peruvian food again. When he couldn’t find it in Sydney, he recreated it himself.
Now Peruvian Hector Chunga leads the kitchen. He brings influences from his time cooking at the Peruvian Embassy in Japan, and you can feel Peruvian pride in every dish. His food tells the story of Peru’s culinary history, from ancient Incan ingredients to the influence that Spanish colonisation and the immigration of Japanese and Chinese communities have had on Peruvian cuisine.
The drinks menu is a bar crawl through South America, with Argentinian beer Quilmes, Inca Cola, and Peruvian lagers, Pilsen Callao and Cusqueña. The wine list boasts the best of South American wines. All cocktails come with a South American liquor base, using Amazonian gin, Peruvian black whiskey, and Pisco, a complex and smooth Peruvian brandy.
We begin our evening with their signature cocktail, a Pisco Sour Clásico. Traditionally the drink is made with bitters, lime juice, sugar and egg whites. Warike’s version uses aquafaba, a vegan alternative to egg whites. It's made with whipped chickpea water, making this cocktail accessible for all.
My Pisco Sour is perfectly balanced and layered with notes of grape, earth and herbs. It gives mouth-watering oomph. A nearby table sips Chicha Morada, a glorious purple juice made from Peruvian corn. Our next cocktail round is a Colorado Spritz, made with Cava, pisco and rhubarb bitters, and a Passion Fruit Pisco Sour. While refreshing, they border on overly sweet.
Our Peruvian food journey begins far from Peru in northern Italy, with a beetroot tonnato. A classic, creamy tonnato sauce made from tuna, anchovies, lemon and mayonnaise drapes over soft slices of red beetroot. Wedges of crunchy golden beets are scattered on top beside crisp leaves of kale. Each bite brings exciting texture and flavour, and is gobsmackingly delicious.
Quinoa plays an important role in Incan food history, but the quinoa pesto bites miss the mark. It gives me bacon and parmesan lunch salad vibes, rather than memorable canape. The nigiri acevichado arrives next. Fresh kingfish nigiri is topped with caviar and the fishy mayonnaise, but it was too subtle, and I am underwhelmed.
Big flavours triumphantly return with our oyster al aji amarillo entrée. The oysters are delicate, fresh and creamy, topped with an exquisite aji amarillo sauce. The sauce combines yellow Peruvian chilli with shallots, mayonnaise, feta and yoghurt. The addition of dill oil and tiger’s milk, made from lime juice and aromatic fish stock, adds tang and depth.
The amazónico ceviche is a dish of brightness and layers. Fried slices of crunchy plantain dusted with togarashi are artfully served over the ceviche, and are the perfect vessels for scooping. Green-tinted tiger’s milk is heavenly, curing delicate cubes of snapper and tender palm hearts. An outstanding ceviche.
My favourite dish of the night is pulpo anticuchero, a charcoal-cooked octopus. It's marinated in an acidic anticuchera sauce made from red wine vinegar, cumin, chillies and garlic. My knife cuts through the tender octopus like butter. Tangy dots of violet cassava mayonnaise dance on the plate beside giant kernels of soft, smoky Peruvian corn the size of garlic cloves.
Our final main dish is the costilla nikkei, a 40-hour slow-cooked beef short rib that is meltingly tender. Its gravy is made from the fat of the short rib, both rich and well-balanced. The acidity of pickled radish cuts through the fattiness, but the bean puree falls short, and we're missing a little freshness.
We order a lucuma fondant to finish, a magnificent end to our meal. Lucuma is a Peruvian fruit with flesh as gold as sunlight, tasting of butterscotch and sweet potato. Our spoons dig in, inviting rivers of lucuma sauce to spill everywhere. A scoop of chocolate ice-cream is served with it, but it’s too rich and we're craving acidity for balance.
I ask for a latte to finish my meal, but they don’t have a coffee machine. Looks like another Pisco Sour is beckoning me instead. With a meal this good, I don’t need any convincing.