Harry Edmeades trained as a chef at Westminster Kingsway College before starting a run of pop-up restaurants under the Señor Ceviche name at bars, art galleries, pubs and festivals across London. Inspired by numerous research trips to Peru, and stints working at some of the best restaurants in Lima, in Señor Ceviche he wanted to showcase the diversity and vibrancy of Peruvian cuisine, at a time when it was little known in the UK. His first permanent restaurant opened in Carnaby’s Kingly Court in 2014 and a second opened in Charlotte Street in June.
You’ve just opened your second Señor Ceviche restaurant, how is it going?
Really well. It was a little bit smoother than the Carnaby site opening three years’ ago. Obviously we’ve learnt a lot and got better at a few things. Charlotte Street, as a location, is slightly different than Carnaby Street, but it’s getting busier week-on-week which is the aim of the game. The format is the same, we’ve just added in a few different dishes on the menu to keep it fresh for our regulars. We’re just about good quality Peruvian food at an accessible price point.
What was the most important thing you learned between opening the first and second sites?
Carnaby was the first restaurant I’d ever worked in, let alone run. I’d run other businesses, but they weren’t in hospitality, so it was a steep learning curve. We’ve now built a good team and have had three and a half years to get all our systems right, whether that’s how we prep our dishes, or how we run our front-of-house operations. This time, we just went into it a lot more confident having had more practice.
How many Señor Ceviche restaurants would you like to open?
We’d like to continue to open more sites, but I think it’s going to be a tough 12 to 18 months for the industry with the Brexit worries alongside the increase in business rates and property prices. We haven’t got a full-on strategy in terms of numbers, but there will definitely be one more in the next 12 to 18 months in London. We’ll remain focused here for the moment and, depending on how popular Peruvian cuisine is in the UK, and how it goes, who knows how far out we’ll go.
What do you love about Peruvian cuisine?
I’d always loved ceviche, hence using Señor Ceviche as a brand name, but when I started looking more into Peruvian food four years ago I discovered a lot more about all the other influences involved. Peruvian food is like a melting pot of global cuisine, there are lots of Japanese and Chinese influences. There’s the Japanese Peruvian cuisine, which is Nikkei, then the Chinese side – in Peru they call it Chifa – so there’s this fusion of Asian ingredients mixed with Peruvian cooking techniques and Peruvian chillis.
We’re beginning to feature a lot of that on the menu which I expect is what sets us apart from other Peruvian restaurants in our sector. We don’t focus on doing traditional Peruvian cooking, we look at featuring traditional dishes, but also at how we can make it unique to Señor Ceviche. With the Nikkei and Chifa mixed in we’ve got quite an eclectic offering of dishes from all over Peru.
Do customers understand your approach to the food?
When people come to us for the first time there’s a certain level of education we need to give them and explain what ceviche as many don’t realise it’s raw fish that has been marinated. That’s all part of our staff training. We test the guys so we ensure they’re at the top of their game, because a lot of them don’t know about Peruvian food when they join us. Peruvian food is getting more popular and I think there will be more brands opening. I know our competitors will be looking to do more, which actually is great for Peruvian food all round. The more Peruvian restaurants there are the better for the market.
Do you think Peruvian food has the potential to take off in the UK in the same way as Mexican, Thai or Japanese has?
I definitely think it could and it will. We just need to reach that tipping point of how many people know about it and how many are willing to get involved and spread the word. We’ll certainly be doing our bit. I don’t see why it couldn’t. Ten to 15 years ago, before Wahaca and other mid-market Mexican restaurants came around, there was only Tex-Mex. Now you have this new wave with the guys like Breddos tacos, so it’s just about educating people on that and making it an exciting enough concept.
At Señor Ceviche We’re not focusing on the high-end. We are a premium mid-market restaurant which we want to be affordable and accessible enough for people to come back time after time, rather than once every six months.
What was the hardest part of going from pop-up to permanent?
It wasn’t easy. Before this I had set up small companies, but when it came to opening up a restaurant with 25 people who don’t know each other, or much about you as a concept, that was tough. Staffing the restaurant in the first six months was especially tough. At a pop-up you have friends working for you and people are a bit more forgiving with that, but when you’re opening a bricks and mortar site in Central London customers aren’t taking any hostages if you mess up. We did make mistakes in the first month or so, but you learn from them pretty quick.
Where do you find your inspiration?
As far as dish inspiration goes we look at Peru and every year head out there on research missions. I know a few of the big chefs out there so it’s great to meet up with them and I go and do a few days work in their kitchens to find out what the latest is in Peruvian food. Last year Amazonian ingredients were getting very big.
We also have our chef heroes here of course, but we try and innovate as much as we can with Peruvian food, tapping into what’s going on out there and bringing back ideas of what we’ve seen or flavours we’ve tried and tasted out there.
Who or what in the industry do you admire?
What Corbin and King have done is pretty amazing, starting with The Ivy and Le Caprice. They set the bar for British hospitality and continue to do so. They keep bringing out concepts that seem to conquer every time. I heard someone say they are the Batman and Robin of hospitality, which I think is the perfect description.
Hospitality & Catering News, Interviews Editor