Ailsa Whyatt discovers the wonders of Nikkei food, experiencing Japanese and Peruvian fusion at its absolute best.

Have you ever been to Japan and Peru in the same night? Not to brag, but I have. St Regis Marsa Arabia Island, The Pearl plays host to Chotto Matte; famed for its Nikkei food, where the worlds of Peru and Japan collide in an explosion of flavour.

From the moment we step out of our vehicle we have people politely and unobtrusively assisting us. The service in both hotel and restaurant are top notch, and we are immediately drawn in to the ‘urban jungle’, where greenery is nestled amongst lava stone features, shou sugi ban wood, Japanese-inspired art walls and neon lights, not to mention the live sushi counter and flaming robata grill stations.

An extraordinarily talented DJ serves us a mixture of commercial and Latino music to accompany our evening, whilst Riza our server talks us through the history of Chotto Matte, Japanese for ‘wait a moment’. Luckily for us, there is little waiting. Executive Chef Juan David Ocampo, a Colombian who has studied under many of the greats, is the steady hand who guides his chefs through the fusion of flavours.

We have Shishito Peppers to start – think padron peppers, glazed with ‘old school’ Japanese den miso (ground fermented soya beans, for a touch of glorious sweetness) and two ceviches; the Chotto Ceviche and the Lychee Ceviche (a vegan version, where fish is replaced by lychees). The sea bass sashimi in the Chotto is chunky and meaty, and both ceviches have leche de tigre made using yellow chilli and yellow tomatoes, rather than the more traditional fish juices, then served with nutty, crunchy Peruvian corn, sweet potatoes, chive oil and coriander. Fancy something with decadence? Go for Yellowtail Nikkei Sashimi. I rather eloquently wrote ‘OMG’ in my notes, but fully stand by this. The yellowtail comes with juliennes of cherry tomatoes, jalapeños and onions, and is then drizzled in yuzu and black truffle soy (which is where my initial articulate comment originates from). If that wasn’t enough, there are shavings of crunchy purple potatoes scattered on top. The whole thing is divine and I’d frankly like to eat it every day for the rest of my life, please.

We have a selection of nigiri and sashimi. Each nigiri is served with its own burst of flavour on top – do try the Hotategai; scallop on rice crowned with sweet and rich nori jam. A little bite of heaven. O-Toro is also stunning and packed full of flavour; decadent fatty tuna upon which kizami wasabi salsa sits alongside an edible flower. From sushi rolls we have the superb Prawn Tempura. Perfectly balanced crispy prawn, snuggled against some al dente asparagus and Peruvian chilli. All come with Chotto Matte’s signature soy sauce, which is infused with bonito flakes – delicious, absent in cloying salt that is so often the mainstay of soy sauce and ever-so-slightly sweet.

Next is the Robata Grill. I could mention the gentle fruitiness of the apricot on the Nasu Miso, the perfectly chargrilled flavour and beautiful contrast of green with red in the BBQ Huacatay Broccolini, the succulent chicken thighs set upon dairy-free soy and coconut yoghurt in the Pollo Den Miso, but I really want to talk about the King Oyster Mushroom Tostadas. If you are a fan of pulled ribs, or indeed anything pulled, then order the Toastadas. I know, it’s a vegetarian dish. Try it and then let’s talk… A gentle, smoky heat curls around the mushrooms, cooled by guacamole and lime and just a hint of coriander. I can’t even. Also perfection was the Asado De Tira – beef braised for three hours, shrouded in a rich, teriyaki jus and resting on a purple potato purée, into which hickory-smoked cream has been infused. It is hearty, warming and thoroughly scrumptious.

Before we move to desserts, I must tell you about the sips. Bar and Lounge leader Roman Tanasiev is a creator and mixologist extraordinaire. Try something from the Tokyo to Lima list: my personal favourite is La Chakana – an outstanding smoky, smooth and earthy creation, served with a lava stone containing wood chips on the top, and then blow-torched in front of you. From the Marsa Arabia list, I loved the Fuji – light and full of apple and cucumber freshness, served with a bubble of smoke, which pops a few seconds later. These drinks are balanced, delicious and unique. I love the creativity and imagination that has gone into them, and I shall certainly be back to sample more!

Now desserts – Passion Fruit Crème Brûlée, Hazelnut Yuzu Bun and Magic Chocolate Ball. The crème brûlée is served with chunks of pineapple soaked in non-alcoholic sake, complementing the all-important crunchiness of the passion fruit brûlée. Edible flowers and touches of mint lift this dish to a perfect blend of sweetness and tart. The Yuzu Bun is a lemony crema, sitting inside a choux bun, with matcha cream and tiny shards of matcha biscuit sprinkled on the top. It is a delightful way to round off any meal. If you fancy a bit of flare, go for Magic Chocolate Ball – on arrival, molten chocolate is poured over the ball to reveal a warm treacle cake and dulce de leche ice cream. Pure indulgence!

Chotto Matte is a sensory experience like no other. A successful restaurant is so much more than the food it serves although, naturally, this has to be excellent as well. It is a place where taste, touch, smell, visuals and ambience must come together, facilitating our desire for a shared experience. There are many reasons to visit Chotto Matte, not least of which because the food is wonderful, the drinks are delicious and the vibe is awesome. Chotto Matte, you have nailed it. ✤