Who is Luis Tans?
Word on the street is that the fellow was a 1960s Peruvian hustler-type; one who had his fingers dipped in both the government and the criminal underworld. He then apparently got himself hitched into a wealthy Japanese family and decided to open up his house of fusion to the public – tucked away from the bustle of the ocean strip that is Bondi Beach.
The House of Luis Tans is a cosy, warmly-lit joint between Campbell Parade and Gould serving up Peruvian cuisine fused with Japanese flavours – this lovechild combination, known as “Nikkei”, is the latest gastronomic sensation to hit the international dining scene. It takes its roots from the first wave of Japanese immigration to South America in the late 19th century. One good example of this fusion was the combination of Japanese techniques and Peru’s thriving fishing industry, resulting in the distinctive dish of ceviche as we know it today.
The fellows behind this Bondi establishment have racked up a variety of experience in their background checks; they are an interesting fusion themselves, with reality television show stints and bar credentials such as Backroom, Ruby Rabbit and Brooklyn Social just to name a couple. It’s therefore no surprise that the bar is well-stocked and displayed, with the drinks menu extending over Japanese whiskies and sake to South American rum and piscoes.
I was lucky enough to snag an invite to their opening night on a very un-Sydney-like blustery and drizzly Tuesday, and the offer of a drink to start was a very welcome suggestion. Looking at their cocktails, it was odd to see that a regular Pisco Sour wasn’t on the list, but I decided to go with our waitress’ recommendation of a Choco Loco Pisco ($19) while my dinner date Night Owl went for a El Gallo Negro-ni ($18).
The Choco Loco Pisco contained pisco (naturally), Tip Pepe and chocolate bitters with lemon and lime juice. Nicely tart yet creamy and with that lovely subtle smokiness of cocoa I preferred it over the El Gallo Negro-ni (Pisco, Suze and Regal Rogue Vermouth with grapefruit bitters) as I felt the vermouth was a tad overpowering
We get a moment while we wait for our food to admire the eclectic interior – both the dining space and bar are designed in a timeless style, with leather lounges, lacquered table tops, recycled timbers and little Peruvian and Japanese touches and finishes which add both warmth and quirkiness. We are both fans of the enormous ceiling lamp shades, interspersed with neon Japanese parasols. Music is an interesting mix of indie, reggae, pop and latin beats and while most of the crowd here for the first night are younger Gen Ys, there are also a handful of older diners who don’t look out of place as they enjoy their meal with a glass of red.
Back to the menu – which is what I’m primarily here to review after all – how easily one can get distracted by pretty things! The menu is neatly divided into small starter plates, house ceviches, salads, warm dishes, sides and desserts. All the dishes sound quite wholesome with many courses looking downright healthy – no doubt to keep the fitness-conscious beach-bod and kale-munching clientele happy. Fresh ingredients and punchy flavours.. what more could you ask for?
We start our dinner with two small dishes and a ceviche. The Platanitos Fritos ($7) are tropical plantain crisps served with chipotle mayo. I still can’t quite get it into my head that plantain is a variety of banana, and Night Owl – being of half-Peruvian heritage – informs me that in South America you can buy these banana chips by the bag as you would a bag of Doritos at the supermarket. Can you imagine?
They are addictively crunchy and I’m somewhat glad they are not sold here by the bag otherwise I would be buying a lot of them.
We move onto the Jojoto a la Parrilla ($9) – grilled corn on the cob with nori, sesame and wasabi butter.
While nicely presented and beautifully charred, I found that I was missing the expected kick of the wasabi butter and the characteristic umami flavour of the nori. I also felt that the corn had been over-cooked just a little in the effort of making it nice and smoky and this took away a lot of the corn’s natural sweetness.
Our moods were lifted by the Ceviche de Pulpo y Cobis ($19) – braised octopus and cobia ceviche with palm hearts, radish and jalapenos – because it was one of the best ceviche dishes both of us have ever had the pleasure of tasting. I had originally been slightly hesitant of ordering the octopus ceviche as I’ve had one too many experiences of chewy, rubbery octopi dishes in my culinary past, but I was pleasantly surprised by the tender texture and how well it moulded with the other ingredients in the well-dressed little dish.
We had ordered a salad – just to ensure we had our daily intake of greens for the evening. The Ensalada de repollo ($11) with red cabbage, black rice, shaved brussel sprouts and edamame beans with agave and sesame dressing was a wonderfully moreish little salad dish; I would have happily eaten a big bowl of this for my meal if I could! A good salad for me has four key elements – it looks beautiful, has texture, has flavour, and you feel good eating it – and this one ticked all the boxes. I particularly loved the nuttiness from the sesame dressing and the podded edamame beans.
Our main, or “warm dish” was something of a beauty. I have a weakness for slow-cooked meats, and the Costillas de Res ($23) was no exception. Tomato-braised Black Angus beef (270 days grass fed) short ribs with chimichurri and black turtle beans:
It was one of those dishes that’s good-looking from any angle, really.
Soft, tender, the meat giving way easily under a probing fork, melt-in-the-mouth slow-cooked beef heaven. The fat had all but dissolved in the slow-cooking process making the beef moist and flavoursome and the chimichurri added a much-welcome zesty freshness to the earthiness of the dish. I was in disbelief that none of the waitstaff pointed out this dish when offering us their recommendations, as this dish was hands down one of the highlights of my dinner.
We take a short break to mull over the dessert menu and order a fresh round of drinks. Night Owl goes for a Lima Sour with Jim Beam Rye and cognac, while I opt for the Cocktail on Tap – a Monkey Shoulder Instantaneo Cocktail ($12) which even came with a little umbrella. I do love my little umbrellas.
To say that I loved my cocktail on tap is an understatement. It was refreshing, super smooth and zesty with orange, vanilla, honey and hints of spice. It went down easily – a little too easily 😉
As you can see from my photo of the Monkey Shoulder cocktail above, we eventually found the room for dessert. You can’t leave a South American restaurant without sampling their churros, and so the L.T Churros ($12.50) were dutifully ordered and arrived with both a classic chocolate sauce and a “secret honey”.
Crisp on the outside, soft on the inside and rolled in a cinnamon sugar that relentlessly got all over your fingers and lips – it was fairly glorious. While the classic chocolate sauce was smooth and dark, the secret honey was beautifully spiced and a much lighter condiment to slather your piece of doughnut in; just be careful not to get the sticky goodness on your chin or all over your hands!
I had taken the liberty of ordering a second dessert, as I am a sorry (not sorry) sucker for panna cotta and the Panna cotta de limoncillo ($14) seemed too intriguing to miss. I was certainly happy we had ordered it because it was one of the most sensational combinations I have tasted in a dessert.
My photo doesn’t do it justice. Ginger and lime panna cotta with pineapple granita, strawberries and mild chilli syrup. It was heat, nuttiness, silkiness, warmth, fresh, zesty and sweet all at once. The ginger and chilli were milder than I had been expecting – acting to simply lend their heat and warmth to the dish and balance out the sweetness from the pineapple granita.
Who is Luis Tans? A darned good host, that’s who. With such an outstanding opening night, I can only imagine this place getting even better as the weather warms up.
15/178 Campbell Parade
Bondi NSW 2026
(02) 8021 8891