12 Reasons to Visit Lima, Peru
We visited Peru to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary last year. The primary reason for the trip was to walk to Machu Picchu to mark the occasion with something to remember. We also popped into the Amazon Rainforest, Lake Titicaca and walked into the deepest Canyon in the World (yes it’s in Peru, not the slightly more famous one in the USA). We only had 3 weeks off work so all that pretty much filled our time, which left Lima as the 2 night stopover at the end of the trip, but if I’d known what Lima had in store for us I may have paid it a little more attention.
My 12 reasons came in the form of dinner, but not just any old dinner…
2. Palm Hearts Panna Cotta, Crayfish and Stone Crab
“I don’t like panna cotta” That’s what you would hear me cry if it was on a menu and I had a choice, or my husband wanted to make it on a Saturday night. I didn’t have a choice, it’s a twelve course degustation menu. I have a strong sense of social etiquette, I would never make a scene in a restaurant so I gave it a go. Guess what? I liked it. I can do panna cotta in a savoury dish, and I would go as far as saying I would try it again – not ready for the more traditional sweet version yet, I think the crab and crayfish may have had something to do with it.
3. Cuy Pekines*
For three whole weeks I had been desperate to sample the National Dish of Peru (Cuy) but there hadn’t been the right time or place. The trip was fraught with food poisoning and walking trips, neither of which lend itself to fine dining. I thought our anniversary dinner in Cusco was going to be the night, but that was my night for a dodgy stomach.
Ok, so Pekinese guinea pig is perhaps not the most authentic was to sample it, but who’s going to turn down crispy meat served in a purple corn pancake, rivaling the best Chinese crispy duck pancakes I’ve eaten. The only problem with a degustation menu is, if you do find something you really like there is not enough of it, we were only three course in but I was already thinking maybe I should’ve gone a la carte for a larger portion…
4. Squid Filled with the Pride of Huacho
The pride of Huacho is a sausage. I couldn’t find any reference to it on the net, Google is adament I meant “Gaucho” so I can only assume I did, and the error is in the translation of the menu from Spanish to English. Whatever I meant, it was a good combination and I tried to recreate it at home by stuffing squid with black pudding. My version was not so successful, I couldn’t get the delicate, miniature squid I was served on this occasion, so I stuffed an average sized one. The stuffing didn’t stay stuffed and the size of it was a bit overwhelming, less is more with this one I think.
5. Octopus from a Smoking Barrel
Another dish where normally the jury is out for me. I would avoid it in an average restaurant for fear of it being tough or chewy, but this one was faultless, with a delicately smokey flavour served with posh mash potato. I guess a big advantage of a degustation menu is if you don’t like something it doesn’t matter too much, because you only have to suffer a couple of mouthfuls. I did not suffer for any mouthfuls of this.
6. Tribute to a Late Night Hen Soup
The restaurant was a fine dining affair, but not so pretentious that we couldn’t rock up with our travel wear and still feel that we were a valued customer (no fancy clothes for trekking in winter). In my head I wanted to take photos of every course, but even with it’s welcoming atmosphere I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. This would’ve been a course for a photo though. Not only did it taste great, but I also wanted to sneak the bowl it was presented in home in my luggage. I have a little bit of an obsession with nice plates and dishes, but not enough cupboard space to keep them all in.
The title of this dish doesn’t really do it justice. It was a single ravioli, with a chicken and foie gras stuffing, served in a potato and lime broth. Soups were a welcome staple of this trip, especially on the treks. Some amazing things came out of the tents on the side of a mountain, and this dish elevated an already, fabulous local delicacy to a fine dining experience.
7. Menestron* with Grouper from the Nearby Beaches
This was probably the least memorable course of the night, I say that, because if I hadn’t have noted on the menu that our grouper was served with squid in gnocchi, not farfalle as stated, I wouldn’t have remembered. Nevertheless, I don’t remember disliking it, so it must have been tasty.
8. Tamarind and Coconut Tuna Fish
I guess this was the fine dining version of the local Ceviche (another contender for the national dish). I say that becuase it was served raw, with a citrus dressing to “cook” it. In my eyes, you can’t go wrong with raw fish, especially when it is tuna. Eight courses in and still I haven’t been disappointed.
9. Foie Gras from Oxapampino
By course nine we had the mathcing wines well into our system, so this course is accompanied by the first food photo of the night. It is not the best photo I’ve ever taken, and actually Graham took it as he was feeling slightly braver than I, but it was still taken from almost under the table, without a flash so we didn’t draw attention to ourselves. The photo absolutely doesn’t do it justice, but it was a very tasty piece of duck liver. Having eaten foie gras before I’m not sure it was quite the real deal, it had the texture of liver, rather than the usual creamier texture of foie gras, but it was delicious all the same.
10. Suckling Goat with Loche Pumpkin
I’m assuming this is the Peruvian equivalent of the British/Australian highly sort after suckling pig, if not, it should be. It was a very sweet, tender meat, which was the perfect ending to the savoury dishes of the degustation. I was starting to feel a little full, but it wasn’t as heavy as other meat courses can often be, so easy to squeeze in before I switch from the savoury stomach to the dessert stomach.
11. The Vegetable Course
This one did feel a little bit like an after thought, and if truth be told I could’ve moved straight onto the next course, but they were obviously concerned about getting in their five a day, so we had some smashed potatoes and baby onions with a veal sew juice. Maybe this was also a way of using up leftovers from another day?
12. A Trio of Sorbet
This degustation is advertised as a “creativity tasting menu” with “twelve steps”, but I’m already up to number twelve and we’ve only just started on dessert, so either the chef can’t count, or the creativity is not only in the ingredients but also in the number of courses.
This was clearly the palette cleanser, good to know this theory exists the world over, I’m not sure I feel my palette needs to be cleansed between courses, but this is often the desert course I enjoy the most, not having much of a sweet tooth. But on this occasion I was wrong again, the mango, cherry and lemon mint sorbet’s (to be eaten in order as advised) were good, but little did I know there was better to come.
13. Lucuma Fruit Panna Cotta Topped Chocolate ‘Alfajor’, Cheese Ice Cream and Cape Gooseberry
Another course I don’t remember. I do remember thinking, I like this, maybe I should give more desserts a go, but I can’t tell you if what I liked is what is written here, as the restaurant clearly tweeks the menu n a daily basis to suit whats available and I think they change the whole menu on a monthly basis. The changes could also be their translation of the dish that differs to my understanding of the English equivalent.
What I can say is, this meal, along with a few others we had around the same time, definitely contributed to my increased dessert experimentation, and my developing sweeter tooth.
14. Merengue* Stuffed with “Chica Morada” Sorbet, Guanabana Fruit Mousse, Warm “Champu” with Andean Corn and Chinese Cinammon*
This was the dessert of all desserts, the ‘piece de resistance’ despite all the courses that came before this one, I still could’ve eaten more. The meringue was exactly how I imagine Peter Gilmore’s infamous snow eggs are like, I believe the chicha morada is another corn derivative, which would normally go against my dessert rules (I can’t eat all the beans used in Indian and Chinese cuisine for dessert) but the crisp, light meringue with a soft squidgy centre is just exquisite. The first thing I did when I got home was to buy a pan that I thought could be used to re-create this spherical wonders, but alas the pan remains unused in the cupboard, I will get there one day, too much to make, not enough time!
15. Petit Fours
And finally, let us not forget the petit fours. I don’t usually get to sample these as a non-coffee drinker, but to my delight we got them anyway and we couldn’t help but wash them down with a sneaky dessert wine. I remember they were presented in a quirky fashion, which could’ve been a spinning trinket box with drawers of chocolates, but that also could’ve been something I dreamt or sampled in another fine dining restaurant. What I did write on the menu was “ice-cream stick” and I have a vague recollection of a kebab stick with a tiny ice-cream petit four. You understand by this stage of the meal there had been many matching wines…
1. A Trio of Amuse Bouche
So this should have been number 1 but this is being written 9 months after the experience, as for the past 9 months I believed I had left the menu we were presented with at the end of the night in a Chilean departure lounge, but as I was packing for my next trip (I’m currently in transit in a motel room in Kuala Lumpur Airport) I discovered it lodged in the pocket of my backpack – score! I’m reliving the night all over again, with a few minor gaps. I still can’t remember what the trio was. It definitely involved a fish tartare, a shot of something non-alcoholic and savoury, and some kind of cheese/potato/?fish balls. The one distinctive memory is that it was the first of many courses and it blew me away.
The whole meal blew me away. We have been to a few restaurants now for their signature degustation menus, including Tetsuyas, Marque and the Royal Mail Hotel (the three standouts, in no particular order, there have been others). But this one, if I dare say it, was possibly the best. I don’t know whether it was the fact that we were not expecting food of such high standards in Peru; or whether the reasonable price tag made it easier to swallow; or whether it was the chance to sample the local delights such as guinea pig and purple corn. Whatever the reason it really was phenomenal and the perfect way to end an awesome trip.
“So where can I get my hands on this delicious dinner?” I hear you cry. This fabulous dinner was eaten at Astrid y Gaston. The most surprising part of this meal was that this restaurant is part of a chain of restaurants, so if you are not passing through Lima any time soon, you may well find one in another city nearer to home.
*Any spelling errors are not mine, it is how it was written on the menu. Some things get lost in translation.