The man behind the restaurant is Virgilio Martinez, a native Peruvian who has nevertheless worked in leading restaurants in New York, London and SE Asia before opening his own restaurant in Peru itself (Central Restaurante). The kitchen in London is headed up his long time friend Robert Ortiz who has been working with Martinez on Central Restaurante for some five years now while the front of house is run by Bunmi Okolosi, better known by us at least as @TheMaitreD on Twitter and formerly of Heston's Dinner.
We visited LIMA with theskinnybib and with three around the table, we got to try nearly everything on the menu. Bunmi did a fantastic job of looking after us including explaining the dishes at the table. It is during these explanations that you realise, if you hadn't already from reading the menu, that there is much that is unfamiliar about the the food. There's a core set of ingredients that are imported from Peru and the point of the restaurant is that it should be a new food experience for the diner, and in many respects it is.
In some cases, even a familiar ingredient like the olive sees the lesser known but more intense Peruvian botija olive utilised so giving the dish considerably more of an olive kick than its European counterpart would have provided. The outcome for all but the most seasoned eater-traveller is that LIMA offers plate after plate of originality and is not just another ceviche bar.
You'll also notice from the outset that the plates arrive at the table vibrant with colour, especially yellows: the aji emulsion in scallop dish for example is so vivid it invokes a street carnival on your plate. The attention to the appearance of the plates also highlights in our view a kitchen that cares and while it is a perennial food debate, our view is that food in restaurants that want to be top class should be attractively presented, and here it is.
LIMA then scores well on the three things that matter with food: i) good looking ii) technically accomplished and iii) tastes good. And if you want originality as well, then LIMA is clearly pushing all the buttons. Favourite dishes from the meal included sea bass causa, the braised octopus finished on the plancha which was exquisite, and the suckling pig, which, while clearly not an exclusively Peruvian dish, was nevertheless a very satisfying main that all of us would happily eat any day of the week.
That's not to say that everything hit the mark exactly. The crab, which is sold as a main course dish at £19 doesn't have nearly enough crab on to justify the price or the description. Potatoes are clearly a big thing in Peru and the crab dish is more of a vehicle for their '4000 metre' potato which, while interesting, is not enough to carry the main plate. Duck and foie gras starter seemed unoriginally French while the chocolate and mango dessert, while visually stunning with its vertical blue potato crisps, failed to balance the sweet mango and bitter chocolate in our view. The dulce de leche took the prize for the best dessert.
If Peruvian cuisine is indeed amongst the fastest growing food movements today, no doubt more restaurants are on the way. Only time will tell whether this is a permanent trend and whether demand in London can ultimately sustain multiple Peruvian outlets but LIMA, even as the field grows more crowded, will almost certainly be able to lay claim to be the best of what Peru has to offer.
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