|braised lamb shoulder / coriander & pisco jus
/ black quinoa & white grape
I’ll be the first to admit there isn’t a huge amount I know about Peruvian cuisine, other than what the odd Facebook holiday snap has taught me from friends who have undertaken the obligatory year of travelling before starting any real work (pangs of envy fully acknowledged), opting for South America rather than the equally well-trodden Far East. Which is that they eat guinea pigs (what a philistine). But what I did know was that I certainly would not turn down the opportunity to learn more, an offer in the form of an invite to visit Lima (alas, not the actual city) in London with two very good friends.
Our table was booked for 7pm and on arrival, I was greeted by a young woman very pleasing to the eye who directed me through the narrow channel running along the length of the bar at the front of the restaurant. It lead to about 15 tables at the rear against an understated but sophisticated neutral backdrop, interrupted by a burst of colour from a piece of abstract art on the back wall and a scattering of bright Inca patterned cushions.
|Lea & I|
The menu was brief – a telling sign in the confidence of its content. Yet it still managed to result in many minutes of painfully toying between the offerings – their highly appraised sea bream ceviche or duck crudo to start? The crab or confit of suckling pig for main? They were fighting it out on the page and in the end I ordered none of the aforementioned, instead succumbing to the octopus and the lamb. Along with one of Peru’s signature cocktails of which we all indulged in – a pisco sour. These were served light and frothy, depositing the remnants of a milky moustache from the whisked egg whites whilst leaving the mouth reeling from an invigorating, lip-puckering sourness with every sip. I could very easily start every morning with one of these.
The meal began with a presentation of a delightful amuse-bouche along with our bread basket, in the form of a shot glass sized serving of wonderfully creamy and coating pale yoghurt with the characteristic tang of acidity from one of quality, shocked with a bright green coriander sauce.
The starters soon arrived and were quite glorious in their presentation – my octopus was braised and served on a bed of white quinoa alongside lilac polka dots of an incredibly intense olive sauce. The charred edges of the meat that caught the pan were crisp and concentrated in their flavour, marrying very well with the fruity familiarity of the olives.
|braised octopus al olivo / white quinoa
/ botija olive bubbles
|duck crudo / algarrobo tree honey /
shaved fois gras / ghoa cress
Lea was keen to sample the ceviche of which there had been many favourable references to in various reviews. Whilst looking delicate and dainty in the bowl, I knew nothing about what it contained and immediately assumed a bout of food envy on Lea’s part when compared to the presence of Mel’s silky duck slithers, or the chunky charred tentacles on my plate.
I duly and politely dipped in a spoon to sample the unassuming milky liquid housing pieces of barely opaque fish. And, well – the mere half teaspoon of this nectar was enough to nearly blow me right out the front door with its chop-walloping splendour. The barrel gun impact of sourness and salt with an allium and chilli presence exploded on the palette, the tongue smacking the roof of the mouth in reflex to such a taste sensation. Coupled with the spanking fresh sea breem it contained and the crunch of the salty corn kernals for texture, it was really something else – a whole paragraph dedicated to a dish I didn’t even order says something.
I subsequently found out post-meal what a ceviche is – at its most basic it is raw fish marinated in citrus, salt and seasonings with the acid in the juice denaturing the protein in the meat in a similar way that cooking does. Or in other words, something I need much more of in my life.
|All hail the mighty ceviche
– with sweet onion skin & inka corn
Plates were cleared and our mains were delivered while I was still preoccupied with thoughts about the dish that got away. However, I had a new task to address sitting under my nose and in need of attention – a neat hunk of braised lamb shoulder lavished with a coriander and pisco jus, alongside black quinoa and white grape.
The meat was beautiful – a concentrated and slightly sticky crust encasing soft and moist flesh providing almost no resistance against the fork. The snippets of sweet from the grape worked very well in contrast to the deep flavours from the lamb.
Mel’s confit of suckling pig was generous in its portion size with a sticky richness and a perfect amount of bite from the puy lentils, and Lea’s crab was an absolute riot of natural fresh colours, almost arresting in their iridescent quality.
|crab / purple corn reduction
/ huayo potato / red kiwicha
Lea ordered the dulche de leche ice cream which was pleasant when I sampled it, particularly with a touch of the set Amazonian maca root honey smeared onto the side of the bowl. I had the cacao porcelana which is essentially very similar to chocolate fudge – the crunch and teeth-sticking quality of the blue potato wafers worked well with the silky texture of the chocolate, along with the hint of sharp sweetness from the mango.
Mel ordered the Andean kiwicha (another South American super grain like quinoa) with sheep’s milk, purple corn and pineapple jelly, and a cinnamon crust. Contrary to all the other dishes, this one didn’t look as appetising on the plate.
|dulche de leche ice cream / beetroot emulsion
/ amazonian maca root honey
|cacao porcelana 75% / mango & hierbabuena granita
/ blue potato crystal
Whilst still good, I felt the desserts were the weakest of the courses. However, the sheer unadulterated joy provided from the previous dishes was so all-encompassing that it really didn’t matter. The meal, my company, and the whole evening was a full on pleasure steam train ploughing through the Peruivian landscape and absorbing all it had to offer. It was a sublime way to spend a cold Monday evening, and I shall without a doubt be returning.