Celebrity-backed rain forests, imaginative handicrafts, stunningly diverse ecosystems, beaches to longhaul for and the land where the sticky bear originated – all this we already know about Peru. But, until Saturday night, I had been unaware of its delicious, unusual and alternative cuisine. And the cocktails, at Lima 31 Rathbone Place, W1, were another story altogether.
Named after his fashionable capital city, the restaurant is the first London venture from Virgilio Martinez and brilliantly showcases the globally influenced Peruvian food. I couldn’t wait to drag my slightly-doubting-thomas friends along for the ride.
Of course, they had read the reviews and checked out the menu online. Perhaps the wrong side of alternative was the feedback. Smugly I knew we were in for a treat.
The restaurant’s hostess was initially unsure where she should seat us. Our table wasn’t quite ready so, taking a pew at one of the tables at the front of the restaurant, we focused on the cocktail menu while she juggled non-departing diners. As a pisco-virgin, I was fascinated by this colourless, grape brandy and then the long list of concoctions and, quite frankly, needed some advice. Our hostess pointed me in the direction of the Pia (vanilla infused pisco, banana, egg yolk, cacao, frangelico and cream £8). Unusual and exotic, I was immediately transported to the Peruvian mountains along with those funny-looking alpacas.
Needing a little more local advice, we wondered how many starters we should order. As these are more ‘sharing plates’ than starters, our hostess suggested that six choices would suit four hungry mouths. And when they arrived, our table looked as vibrantly colourful as a traditional Peruvian weaving loom. Artichokes with green lime and fava beans (£8), sea bass with potato puree and avocado (£7) and braised octopus with organic white quinoa (£10) graced our table for mere moments before being shared and devoured.
His main was the most admired. Braised lamb shoulder in coriander and more pisco juice with black quinoa and white grape (£22) was more artistically presented than most of the Frieze Art Fair, visited earlier that week.
Back to the cocktails. Those who weren’t driving and couldn’t think of any reason not to sample as much of the menu as possible agreed between them that the Maracuya (one of pisco sours £7.50) was the way to go (literally). (And it most interestingly seems to result no hangover at all – if you know why, please do let me know!)
I will try not to bore you. But seeing as dessert was, once again, a true delight – both in vision and taste – it’s absolutely unavoidable. Cacao porcelana with mango and blue potato chips (£8) and dulce de leche ice cream (£6) – again, shared.
Eating at Lima is a culinary experience; these traditional Peruvanian dishes have been given an innovative twist and are pretty inspiring. Although prices are pretty high, the fabulous treat that the food and cocktails offer helps to justify this. One of my doubting-thomas friends booked a table for a business lunch the following week. He was bowled over. I think you would be too.