Peru’s cuisine is a literal melting pot of flavours and traditions from every corner of the globe, as people have immigrated here from Spain, Italy, France, China and Japan. Plus, there is a distinct Indigenous culture from the coast, mountains and rainforest. It is this last group that Chef Virgilio Martinez has concentrated on.
Central has been named the best restaurant in Latin America the last several years, and the number 6th best on the planet. After working and being trained in London, New York, Bogata, and Madrid, he opened his first Central in 2009, before recently moving to his new location. He is known for his unique use of ingredients that grow in different altitudes. Because Peru is so large and so diverse, Central lets you explore its biodiversity through food.
We were blown away immediately upon entering the gated courtyard of this stunning new property. Located in a gorgeous neighborhood, blocks from the Pacific Ocean. There is no sign out front, just a few people to welcome you and check you in through the zen-like setting. You can see chefs come out and snip fresh herbs from the garden and return them to the kitchen to add to your 16-course meal, or should I say adventure.
The restaurant itself has about 20 tables, and is chic, refined, minimalist, with tables widely spread out, and all with a view into the kitchen. It seemed as though there was more staff than patrons, and you felt as though you were in a temple that breathes passion, from the produce to the service, the design, the music and above all, the food. If Lima is the gastronomic capital of Peru, then this must be its headquarters.
The round menu was organized by elevations. The restaurant offers you a tour of those regions through its food. Beyond the creativeness and beauty, each dish is fastidious in its choices and presentations. Is this food or art? I say it is a little of both.
Each course used different custom dishware and silverware. Each dish was so unique and something I’ve never seen before, with different textures, flavours and tastes. Because it is impossible to remember each course, you receive a book at the end, describing each dish and elevation, and the process Central goes to source all its ingredients. I don’t use this term lightly, but Chef Martinez is a true genius. Dining here is like going on a gastronomic tour of the unique biodiversity of Peru. His food is a work of art, a colourful journey, from dishes like ceviche to exotic fruits and herbs that you’ve probably never heard of and never will again. With courses from the edge of the desert, dark purple root, forest cotton, jungle highlands, coastal foothills, Amazon, ocean floor, high valley, jungle plains, deep sea, Andean slopes to the amber woods, and the mountain rains, you will be taken on a fascinating journey, from 20 meters below sea level to 4,100 meters above, and it will be an experience as much as it is a meal.
Noma in Copenhagen has a similar concept, sourcing unusual local ingredients which are the freshest of the season. Here they take us on an adventure through desert plants, rock mollusks, sea creatures and plants. The chef is always looking for new ingredients.
If you consider yourself a true foodie than this is a must-visit destination. Each dish here is beautifully prepared with precision, intellectualism, innovation, finesse and notable highlights. Craft vs art, and the hype meets reality. Kudos!