Two months of eating and drinking my way across Lima. These are the places that stand out.
My love for La Panetteria grows deeper and deeper. A place for a casual bite to eat where you know it’s gonna be good. I’ve eaten nearly the entire menu, and not one thing has disappointed me. Usually when travelling I don’t like to make repeat visits but the Panetteria is so good it has become my Lima living room. Silky smooth soups, fresh fresh salads, impeccable baked goods and bread. Real bread. Baked by real bakers with expertise and skill. Everything screams we care. The presentation is simple, thoughtful, considered. Little touches like the free tiny biscuit with every hot drink, and how they toast the bread they serve with soup. They offer a daily special of simple bistro style dishes – lasagne, burgers, stir-fries – for 22 soles, or 32 with a glass of wine.
I was first taken here by a friend. I had some concerns when on the way there they said, you’re gonna like this place – “es muy basico, pero bueno, y tu eres muy mó.” BASIC? ME?! But when I walked in I breathed a sigh of relief because Mó is very laid back, minimal glam. Hints of turquoise and gold. A big compliment.
The waiter was adorable. Young, a little doughy with curly hair and cheeks I wanted to SQUEEZE. Mó was probable one of his first jobs and he was so into it. His eyes lit up when he was describing the menu and bringing the food, you could tell he was proud of the place. I like seeing people enjoying themselves. Reminded me of one of my favourite quotes from JD Salinger. “I like it when people get excited about things. It’s nice.”
The menu is not so much basic as simple. Fresh, seasonal ingredients seamlessly blended together, not trying to show off. I ordered a Vietnamese salad that ticked all my boxes. Vermicelli rice noodles, the most exquisite citrus chilli dressing, mounds of fresh fresh leaves, coriander, mint, crunchy pickles and the perfect amount of succulent pork belly for that hearty YES.
I also got a macadamia pie that blew my mind. Balanced flavours, textures, colours, temperatures. A flaky, buttery crust. Crunchy, toasted macadamias in a silky smooth caramel sauce that had been heated to the perfect degree of warm. Flaky sea salt, a light dusting of finely grated dark chocolate on the plate and cold, unsweetened whipped cream. TEN POINTS!
I went back for more a few weeks later, going over the menu in my mind only to arrive and find they had revamped the whole thing for summer. Highlights of the new menu include the yuka rosti with sea urchins. The house croquettes are something very special. We discovered they are made of puré de sesos – brain. Yum. I like how they just slip it in there like its no biggie. Then once you’ve eaten it you’re like, okay brains are not only not revolting they are downright delectable.
The aubergine fried in perfectly golden chickpea batter and served with baba ganoush was the perfect dish to accompany a bottle of wine.
A cosy little wine shop/bar. Made me feel like I was in Madrid. Italian owned. Great food. Fried pizza and tortellini stuffed with asado de tira and savoury chocolate. The staff are very knowledgeable on wine but not in a pretentious way, in a fun way! An impressive cheese selection made better by the fact everything is made in Peru – even the queso de Burgos. I previously would have had qualms with going to a place like this. What is the point in travelling anywhere new if you’re just going to eat and drink what you’re used to? But that’s not always the point in Peru. It’s not about being interesting or original, it’s about being delicious. If they don’t get worked up about originality why should we? Just enjoy yourself!
Perhaps the most influential chef of Peru is Gaston Acurio. The man credited with bringing Ceviche off the streets and into restaurants. Unlike many other parts of Latin America, Lima is not a street food city. It’s a restaurant city, which is largely due to Acurio’s influence. Previously, cooking was regarded as a lesser skill, not something to aspire to. Ill respected and ill paid. I’m not entirely sure we’re out of the woods yet on this one but that’s another story. The point is, the man has given Peruvian cuisine the platform it deserves and inspired a whole new generation of chefs.
Acurio and his wife Astrid own dozens of restaurants in Peru and internationally. Barrio is one I visited several times in Miraflores. There is nothing here that I didn’t like but the thing I most enjoyed was the zarandaja they give you to nibble on while you have a drink and read the menu. This is a bean dish from Northern Peru that I could eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner and never get sick of. This was the first place I ever tried it and it was a beautiful moment.
Guys I went to Maido! Consistently voted Latin America’s number one restaurant. I’m lucky to have been invited but I must admit I am not a fine dining person – a term thrown around so often it’s lost all meaning. I feel like so much focus goes into presentation that flavour inevitably takes a back seat. All the elaborate looks seem to do, in my opinion, is give high expectations for taste which are rarely met. Obviously a place that’s been so well recognised knows what they’re doing and I ate some damn fine things here. I don’t mean to knock it so much, it’s just not my style.
We ordered a tasting menu. One of the highlights was the cuy (guinea pig). It had been filleted, breaded, deep fried and served with a perfectly spiced cauliflower puree. Until I was told what I was eating I was convinced it was pork belly. Now I know why they’re called Guinea Pigs.
One thing I did not care for was the foie gras maki. I’m not a foie gras fan because of a) questionable ethics and b) YAWN! Seriously BE MORE BASIC. It has its place, and yes I know there are many compassionate duck loving producers. It just didn’t work on top of a bed of sticky rice. Two textures that were never meant to be combined.
Pan, Sal, Aire
My favourite food is bread and butter. Of the utmost quality, of course. This place caters to that. A strong emphasis on the PAN. They make their own sourdough in house and let me say they know what they’re doing. It is exquisite. Probably the most popular appetiser on the menu is an end of a crusty loaf, flashed in a hot oven and served with salted butter and rocoto sauce for dipping. A thing of great beauty.
Their breakfasts are fabulous. Standout items include shakshuka, and the French Toast which is just about the best I’ve ever had. Super cinnamony with a deep, dark blueberry sauce. More like a bread and butter pudding than French Toast.
When I come I often order a glass of the Peruvian red. They also have this on the menu in Mó and the citywide consensus seems to be – so good you can barely believe it’s Peruvian!
My one criticism is, seasoning issues. Sometimes undersalted pizza dough, over salted rabbit ragu. But the quality is otherwise so good I feel confident that it’s just a part of the learning curve that will soon be overcome.
A casual, neighbourhood joint in Barranco offering Peruvian criollo classics that happens to be one of Latin America’s top 50 restaurants.
Isolina has taken hearty, traditional Peruvian food and elevated it. Criollo cuisine is classic Peruvian food, fusing cultures much like the nation itself. Historically you would have been more likely to eat it in someone’s family home than a top-notch restaurant. Think ceviche, papa rellena. They make some fantastic meat dishes using cuts that are only for adventure eaters here in Ireland. I went and had a delectable beef liver with tacu tacu – Peruvian beans and rice. Sweetbreads and tripe feature several times on the menu.
It has what I call Bavarian beer hall vibes – big beers, big plates, big meat, a place to have fun and not worry about spilling sauce on your shirt.
Portions are generous, but they considerately offer smaller servings for solo diners or people who want to have the stomach room to sample a few different things.
A must for visitors to Peru who want to eat something authentic.