When the Peruvian families of cousins James Hopkins and Rodrigo Barua get together, it’s a loud, lively affair with pisco flowing and smoky skewers (anticuchos) on the grill. Next month, the pair are bringing some of that flavour to the east end with their new Peruvian pop-up, Sí Papi.
The name is an homage to Barua’s dad, Alvaro (the brother of Hopkins’s mum, Clarisa), who can always be found behind the barbie at family festivities. “He’s very much the facilitator,” Barua tells Broadsheet. “Everyone gathers around and enjoys the day or night, and he’s just there working behind the scenes, usually with a couple of piscos.”
“I experience this quite often and I forget that other people don’t. I’ve had a couple situations where I’ve had these family events and I’ve invited friends and it blows their mind how much love and action and flavour is going on … So this is [a way] to show myself – where I come from, and what it is to be a part of a Peruvian family.”
The concise menu will stick to Peru’s signature street food, anticuchos, which traditionally consist of meat offcuts marinated overnight and then chargrilled over coals. “Peru’s quite a poor country, and they’ve got to make the best with what little they have,” says Barua. “It’s usually offcuts, offal … they don’t want to waste. They want to use the entire beast.”
“It’s something people cook at street level, and they’ll have a wheelbarrow full of coals with grill plates … hot and fast, serving the public,” adds Hopkins. “But it’s also a national dish, and you’ll find it at top-end restaurants as well. So we’re kind of bringing those two things together.”
While Hopkins and Barua grew up eating ox heart anticuchos, at Sí Papi they’ll sub that out for kangaroo fillet (what they’re calling “Skippy Sticks”). “It’s still made in the traditional way but the flavour’s really heightened by the marinade. Kangaroo made in this way, it’s a match made in heaven,” says Hopkins. “I really like that it’s a sustainable alternative, but also we’re not making Peruvian food for Peruvians, we’re making Peruvian food in Australia.”
The meat is doused for 24 hours in a “dense, vinegar-rich marinade with loads and loads of spices”. “It’s a bit of a secret recipe,” says Hopkins. “The idea is, with those tough cuts of meat like ox hearts, [that] it’s cut quite finely to give the marinade an opportunity to penetrate. It’s very much about tenderising the meat slowly, and then when you get it over the coals it’s a really hot charring of the meat … and gives it a crispy edge.”
There’ll also be “Hongo Sticks” of Swiss brown mushrooms and capsicum, prepared with the same 24-hour (vegan) marinade. (At the launch, the boys will also serve the “real deal” version with ox heart, plus a side of chargrilled kipfler potatoes.)
“The thing that ties all this together is the aji – the chillies – and the sauces,” says Hopkins. “We’ve already forecasted we’ll be bottling the sauces we make. There’s a rocoto, a red chilli that we’ll be making with a vegan cream-cheese base, and we’re doing an aji amarillo, a Peruvian yellow chilli that we blend with cream cheese and onion. It’s highly addictive.”
Both Hopkins and Barua come from a drinks background – Hopkins as the founder of wine tasting playground The Fruitful Pursuit and Barua as the head of Osteria Oggi’s drinks program – and they both agree the evolution to Sí Papi was an organic one.
“Food is probably the best medium we all share in conveying culture … and wine has always been the same thing for me,” says Hopkins. “It’s a medium of gathering people and celebrating people’s hard work, and it’s very expressive. I think it ties together beautifully.
“I’m really excited about pushing the inclusion, or involvement, of natural wine with the food we’re doing as well.” As such, the launch on February 6 will spotlight the first Australian release by New Zealand winemaking duo A Thousand Gods. (Loc’s full range of wines will also be available to purchase.) Going forward, the Fringe pop-up will serve pisco sours made with Adelaide-owned Pucara Pisco.
After that, you can expect to see Hopkins and Barua around a whole lot more. “We’re in discussion with some other places about having a little weekly pop-up out the front of a venue,” says Hopkins. “Councils seem to be rubber stamping permits at the moment, so strike while the coals are hot.”
Sí Papi will launch at Loc on Sunday February 6. Tickets are $35 and available online.