- When: September 2017
- Male DINK Rating: 12/15
- Female DINK Rating: 13/15
- Total Cost: $428; Food Cost: $315
THE MOST exclusive, MOST difficult to reserve, MOST-acclaimed restaurant in Peru, Central was the most important reservation for us to book when we decided to go to Lima. Refreshing the reservation page at 11:58pm (the block of reservations for a certain time period go on sale at midnight), we saw the reservations open up and were able to secure a table for 7 p.m. on a Monday night. After speaking with a few fellow travelers throughout our trip, we didn’t realize how lucky we were to get a table. Perhaps the early refresh and choosing a Monday were the keys to our success.
We arrived a few minutes early to a line of eager diners waiting outside the door. A few minutes past 7 p.m., the door opened, and we were shown to our tables in turn. We were lucky to be seated at a table next to the floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing the kitchen, having a front-row seat to dinner service throughout our meal. As we sat down at our table, the kitchen staff was having a meeting to go over service. We saw Virgilio’s wife, Pia, leading the meeting and seemed to be providing some words of encouragement as the staff was smiling and and interacting enthusiastically.
We perused the menu and ordered drinks. Female DINK had the Central Pisco Sour and Male DINK decided to order a glass of wine. While we waited for our drinks, we looked over the menu we would be served that night. The menu at Central is called “Mater Elevations,” and the dishes are all composed of ingredients from a certain elevation in Peru. A unique take on a tasting menu theme, it proved to be one of the more interesting meals we’ve had. Note there is also a vegetarian version of the menu, as well as a condensed, shorter version of the menu, available.
As we waited for the first course to arrive, we took a look around the dining room where tables were filling up quickly. We also watched the kitchen staff prepare the first dishes and noticed there was a flourishing garden above the kitchen.
“Rock Molluscs” – sea snail, mussel, sargassum, limpet (-10 M). The snail & mussel combination (limpet is another type of snail) was in a separate container from its accompaniment – a seaweed “chip” or “cracker” (sargassum is a type of seaweed). We were instructed to spread the snail & mussels atop the seaweed cracker. The crispy cracker was the perfect complement to the snail and mussel texture. Surprisingly edible.
While we waited for the next course, we noticed that Virgilio was in the kitchen. Surprised (and fortunate) to see the popular and busy chef in the kitchen, we snapped a photo and watched him and his wife work.
“Desert Plants” – huarango, cactus, sweet potato leaf, loche (180 M). Three different bites arrived on different platings – and all were quite good. The crispy sweet potato leaf was packed with flavor and had a nice saltiness, the frosty pink bite was tuna and cactus and was very tasty, but the best bite was the finely-shredded, crispy fried potato – delicious!
“Lofty Andes” – potato, tree tomato, alpaca, muna mint (3500 M). A single potato cooked in ashes served with an exquisite dipping sauce. The potato was warm and calming, while the dipping sauce was bright and flavorful consisting of tree tomato, cream, muna mint, and alpaca hearts. The potatoes were outstanding for simply being a potato.
“Thick Stems” – olluco, chincho, onion, field mustard (3500 M). Two bites for this course – more, but very different, potatoes (olluco), as well as a straw-like roll filled with mousse. Again, great potatoes. It was interesting how different each type of potato could be from one another. The crispy roll was filled with a sweet, onion mousse that was very good. Additionally, there was a cup of savory liquid to drink served with this course – not sure what I’m drinking, but it is pleasant.
“Waters of Nanay” – piranhas, cocona, achiote, huampo bark (680 M). Watch out for the teeth on this course! Just kidding…the edible part of this course is an orange crispy strip with piranha and dots of sauce. Quite salty, the strips didn’t have a lot of other flavors coming through. There was also a separate serving of piranha meat wrapped inside of a leaf. Definitely a wow factor presentation that left a little more to be desired on the actual flavor.
“Forest Cotton” – churo, gamitana, pacae, llanten (300 M). There were three parts to this dish – a slightly sweet, fruity “cotton,” a leafy roll, and a cup of mysterious contents. The cotton was light and refreshing, the roll was a llanten leaf filled with snails, and the cup was filled with an Amazonian extract that tasted savory.
“High Jungle” – macambo, cassava, copoazu, air potato (2800 M). This appeared to be the bread course. Three types of bread (an airy, crispy chip, a small cassava bread, and a larger piece of fluffy cacao bread) with two types of spread (copoazu sauce and herb butter). We didn’t indulge too much on the large piece of bread because we had a long way to go in the menu, but we tried the others as well as the different spreads. The copoazu sauce was very good.
“Marine Soil” – sea urchin, pepino melon, razor clam, seaweed (0 M). Alas, a course with only one dish! A very unique combination, the razor clam was hiding in the ribbons of melon and seaweed. The large pieces of uni were a welcome addition. A very fresh and sea-focused course.
“Tree Skins” – avocado, huacatay, kanihua, macre (1200 M). A presentation of crisps, leaves, and flowers arrived. The crispy squash (Macre), avocado cream, crunchy quinoa (kanihua), and huacatay all complemented each other well both in flavor and texture.
“Land of Corn” – kculli, purple, chulpi, piscorunto (2010 M). Beautiful colors of corn crisps served atop deep fried corn balls. All sorts of corn, and all sorts of goodness. Who knew corn could be THIS good? One of our favorite dishes of the night, this was packed with intense flavor.
“Colors of Amazonia” – paiche, yacon, bellaco, lemongrass (450 M). A wonderfully colorful dish, the pink ribbons are paiche – a fish from the Amazon river that can grow to be 10 feet long! The paiche was served atop the yacon, bellaco, and lemongrass. Beautiful, but a little strange.
“Coastal Harvest” – scallops, yellow chili pepper, borage, tumbo (20 M). Colorfully dusted crisps sat in tumbo sauce. The scallop crisp adorned with yellow chili pepper and borage was a very tasty combination. The spice of the chili pepper coupled with the sweeter flavors of the borage and tumbo sauce were a great juxtaposition to complement the scallop flavor. A really good dish.
“Sea Coral” – octopus, crab, squid, sea lettuce (-10 M). That is a lot of seafood in one dish! Octopus can hit or miss depending on the texture, but this was a hit and was prepared very well. We were a bit nervous about all of the “sea” in this dish, but it was surprisingly good.
“Low Andes Mountains” – pork, black mashwa, panca chili pepper, kiwicha (1800 M). Thought: Oh good, a meat course after all of that seafood! This was the last savory course and was beautifully presented. The pork was well-prepared and was enhanced by the supporting ingredients of spice, potato, and quinoa. Lots of flavors and lots of textures to round out this delicious meat course.
“Humid Green” – caigua, cushuro, sweet lemon, chaco clay (3700 M). Definitely some different ingredients in this first dessert, we struggled a bit with the algae balls (which you can see Virgilio picking one by one in the Chef’s Table episode on Netflix). However, the sweet lemon was a nice flavor and the sorbet a welcome familiarity. The other strange ingredient was chaco clay, yes, actual clay. A bit challenging for a dessert, but a unique experience indeed.
“Amazonian White” – cacao, chirimoya, bahuaja nut, taperiba (400 M). The second dessert brought more familiar flavors, including chocolate. This dessert combined chocolate mouse with fruit and shaved nuts. Quite a concoction, we enjoyed the contrasting flavors of this dessert.
“Medicinals and Plant Dyes” – congona, matico, malva, pilipili (3050 M). We have finally reached the last course, which had a name that made us a bit weary. We were served two bites (a chocolate crisp and a piece of cake) as well as a green substance in a cup. The chocolate crisp was really good, and was dusted with matico and pilipili, which were both peppery. The piece of cake didn’t have a lot of flavor (or maybe we were distracted by the green liquid). The cup was filled with an herbal, medicinal concoction that was honestly difficult to drink. We can be sure it is a rare ingredient and can appreciate its inclusion on the menu, but this was a rather low note to end on. We couldn’t finish drinking it.
Summarizing our experience, eating at Central was one of the most unique menus we have ever tasted. The ingredients were truly Peruvian, and the courses provided a great appreciation for the diversity of the country. We can honestly say that you will not have similar food anywhere else. That alone makes this a worthwhile culinary journey; however, the food was also very good (besides the herbal drink at the end) and very artistic. If you haven’t seen the Chef’s Table episode about Central and Virgilio Martinez, it is a worthwhile episode to appreciate the story behind Central and what Virgilio (and his wife and sister) put into the restaurant. We would definitely recommend trying Central if you are able to make a reservation – it is a special place.
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