On my recent trip to South America in December, I was very excited to have an opportunity to visit Central in Lima, Peru, where chef Virgilio Martinez has earn numerous accolades (including, most recently, #4 on the San Pellegrino best restaurants of the world list) for the modern take on Peruvian cuisine inspired by different elevations of Peru’s landscape using local ingredients, from below sea level to high mountains. The moment when I found out that I was taken off the waitlist was pure jubilation! While I’ve been to Europe to expand my culinary journey, I haven’t been to South America before so I was looking to check out how the flavor and texture of food there compares to other continents. Peru has quickly become the epicenter of South American dining, and Central is at the very forefront of the innovation of Peruvian cuisine, inspired by the country’s ecosystem and ancient Andean heritage. The verdict: while some dishes didn’t work as well as I had thought, I was absolutely stunning by the plating of dishes throughout my lunch and some dishes really showcased the versatility of Peruvian cuisine.
Once I got the menu (there are two tasting menu options, and the shorter tasting menu that I had for lunch was at 298 Nuevo Sol, slightly below $100), I immediately figured this was going to be something special. Each dish came with eye-catching titles and the altitudes from which the ingredients came. I really haven’t seen quite the plating that the kitchen was putting together, starting with “Spiders on a Rock” consisting of sargassum (a type of seaweed algae), limpet (aquatic snail), crab and sea snail. It really looked like a rock on the bottom of the sea, and all these strange ingredients somehow worked beautifully together.
After a couple of other snacks came excellent bread dishes with spreads made of exotic ingredients. My favorite dish of the meal was the so-called “Marine Soil” that had razor clams, sweet cucumber and lime, a light yet delightful combination that was perfect for an appetizer. Another dish, called “Lake Floor” had chicken raised 2,900 meters above sea level (that’s over 9,500 feet), and was also quite delicious with nice balance of flavor and texture. Some dishes were somewhat mixed, especially in texture. The “Close Fishing” consisting of octopus, coral and barquillo (thin biscuit) looks a true beauty, but the octopus texture was somewhat off. While the combination of quinoas and airampo (a type of Andean fruit) created nice texture, I was very much puzzled why the beef turned out not tender but rather mushy.
Still, I have to say I was very impressed with the creative direction that the kitchen was pursuing, with all the colorful ingredients that would simply wow you, even in desserts. “Green Highland” consisting of lucuma (a type of Andean fruit), cacao and chaco clay was another beauty that displayed elegant flavor, and the meal capped off with “Valley Between the Andes” consisting of kiwicha (a type of Andean crop), cacao and sanki (a type of Andean fruit), followed by a bottle of sweet water called “Solar Mucilage” that the kitchen concocted in house.
Getting a reservation at Central can take some efforts. Once you find out you’re traveling to Lima, make sure to book as much in advance as possible. There are a variety of wine and cocktail lists, and my suggestion is to start you meal with the excellent pisco sour (yes, that Peruvian classic cocktail). The service overall was attentive and friendly, and the dining space had that nice aura corresponding to the nature-friendly philosophy of the kitchen. I would say that South American flavor and texture do not sync perfectly with my tastebud like when I’m in the U.S. or Europe, but overall Central is an absolute show-stopper worthy of its name as the trailblazer of modern Peruvian cuisine.
- Creativity: 9.5/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 9.5/10
- Flavor: 9.0/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
Address: Santa Isabel, 376, Miraflores, Lima, Peru