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Lima, London - 1 Michelin star

Rating: 90.
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Ají limo pepper, Algarrobo tree syrup, Cancha corn, Chia seeds, Paiche, Tiger's milk, Kiwicha, Maca; these are just few characteristic Peruvian ingredients. Most of us are unaccustomed with these ingredients - at least I am. Authentic Peruvian restaurants used to be hard to come by in Europe, but things are changing rapidly and London is leading the way. Last year at least three Peruvian restaurants opened in London (Ceviche, Tierra Peru and Lima) and 2012 also saw the opening of a number of fusion restaurants that have Peruvian-style dishes on their menus, such as SushiSamba and Coya.

Lima is the first London restaurant of renowned Latin American chef Virgilio Martinez, who's flagship restaurant Central Restaurante in Lima, Peru, is currently at number 50 in The World's 50 Best Restaurants and at number 4 in Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants.

The restaurant opened in July 2012 and chef Robert Ortiz is at the helm of the kitchen. In September 2013 Lima became the first Peruvian restaurant in Europe to be awarded a Michelin star. Virgilio Martinez will be opening a second restaurant in London together with acclaimed Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio early next year. Martinez used to be head chef at Acurio's "Astrid y Gaston" in Peru. There are also plans to open a second branch of Lima in London.

Lima is open for lunch and dinner Monday till Saturday. The restaurant offers an a la carte menu with dishes that are perfect for sharing. There's a set lunch/pre-theatre menu (2 courses £20, 3 courses £23) and there's a dinner-only 5-course 'Lima Hoy' tasting menu for £48. I had lunch at Lima with my husband on 12 October 2013 and we ordered three starters, two mains and two desserts.

To start there was chia seed bread with a yoghurt and maca (a root vegetable) dip and annatto (food colouring, extracted from annatto seeds) oil with a dark algarrobo syrup at the bottom, the latter having an elegant sweetness.

Our three starters arrived shortly after. First Octopus Olivo - tender braised and then fried octopus served on top of some creamy, organic white quinoa that had a hint of citrus and delivered a lovely, unctuous mouthfeel. Also on the plate were dots of mildly bitter, purple olive mayonnaise made with Botija olive. This was followed by Sea bream ceviche - slices of marinated sea bream served with tiger's milk, being a blend of the ceviche marinade, Ají limo pepper (a yellow chilli pepper) and the sea bream juices. The tiger's milk was (in a good way) very powerful and sharp and certainly did not overpower the sea bream. The dish was garnished with some lovely crunchy cancha corn and some crispy fried red onions.

The third starter was Duck Crudo - a colourful plate with succulent duck, a light beetroot cream, a delicious lemon mayonnaise and some creamy Queso Fresco (fresh cheese). The duck was covered with a very flavoursome Algarrobo tree syrup, that had a wonderful sweetness to it and a nice and nutty, coffee-like aftertaste. Lovely elegant sweetness from beetroot cream and the lemon mayonnaise and Queso Fresco delivered a nice touch of freshness.

Three fabulous starters with powerful and vibrant flavours, all well-balanced.

Both main courses came highly recommended by the staff. First there was a dish called "Amazon fish paiche" - three pieces of well-cooked tender paiche (freshwater fish from the Amazon river), complemented by a delicious sauce of seaweed butter, annatto, Porcelana cocoa powder and white Kiwicha (amaranth). Loved the buttery richness of the sauce and the wonderful, bitter-sweet flavours from the cocoa powder, great depth too. Lovely 'bite'  from the Kiwicha that resembled fish roe in a way.

The other main was Beef "pachamanca". Three pieces of succulent beef, cooked "pachamanca", a traditional Peruvian underground cooking method; "pacha" meaning earth and "manca" means pot. With the beef came four generous dollops of smooth potato puree, topped with crunchy wild black quinoa, Huacatay herb (Peruvian black mint) and some fresh cheese. The potatoes had been cooked with Ají Panca chillies, resulting in a bright yellow colour and subtle heat, especially in the aftertaste.

Time for dessert. To start there was a lovely creamy Kiwicha and sheep's milk dish, a bit like a rice pudding but then made with Kiwicha. In the pudding were three pieces of dense chocolate cake. A very elegant dessert, not too sweet or too creamy and the drizzle of Arbequina olive oil delivered a nice and fresh touch.
The second dessert was Dulce de leche ice cream, placed on top of a mixture of cookie and maca root crumbs, with a light beetroot emulsion underneath. A delightful combination of flavours that really complemented each other.

I truly enjoyed my visit to Lima. This was my first encounter with authentic Peruvian food so I cannot claim to be an expert. As you will gather from the above, the ingredients and basic flavours used to construct the dishes are quite different from European cuisine and, by consequence, so is the flavour profile of the dishes. For my palate, the flavours are bang-on however, vibrant and energetic; flavours that envelope you. The Holy Trinity seems to be Quinoa, Kiwicha and Ají chillies. The dishes have all the bright colours you associate with Peru and are pleasing to the eye. Service was very attentive, knowledgeable and patient - I had 99 questions! I am very glad that I had the opportunity to enjoy Lima's distinctive and well-cooked food in the relaxed atmosphere of this low-key restaurant. If you haven't visited Lima in London already, make it your first stop in 2014.

Posted 03-12-2013


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