After a week that included Social Eating House, La Petite Maison, Hawksmoor Air Street and Amaya; Lima was going to have to be something special to stand out. All that I knew was that it was Peruvian. What Peruvian food was I had no idea. It was fortunate that we had an extremely helpful waiter otherwise I’d have been on my iPhone under the table Googling just about every dish. Sometimes I’m embarrassed to ask what a word means, as it’s usually a fancy French phrase- a step too far for my limited Geordie- but at Lima unless you know all about Amazonian herbs and spicing then you really are going to have to be walked through the menu.
So our waiter introduced the starters, reeling off all the fancy ingredients- Ají limo pepper, Sacha Inchi oil etc.- and how there was two ‘warm’ dishes, the duck served pink and the lomo steak huancaina (steak quickly seared in the pan). Everything else was raw fish. I was dining with my dad, and he’s at that age (anything over 50) where he doesn’t trust raw fish- ‘Not for me son, divn’t touch that. They’re too lazy to bloody cook the stuff’- is how he regards sushi. And given the only other two starters were weren’t burnt to hell like he insists any meat he orders must be, I was worried. But a little bit of peer pressure, along with him finishing his first cocktail, before downing a glass of, as the waiter put it, ‘extremely drinkable Muscadet for those who aren’t pretentious about wine’ (and at £25 a bottle he was right- we ordered three), I managed to convince him to be brave and push the boat out. I even reeled off a definition of ceviche that I’d read on the internet, stating how it was in fact cooked in the citrus juices, and so wasn’t really raw. So he went for the beef. I chose the sea bream ceviche, which I was told was one of the signature dishes. And my mum (I have forgotten her up until this point as she spent the first fifteen minutes finishing several cocktails, so that by the time she would have to fret over which dish would have the least calories, she would be too drunk to care) went for the special- halibut with samphire and blue potato (which the waiter told us was in fact from Scotland, a world away from Peru, but he assured us Peru had something like a thousand different breeds of potato, none of which were obviously good enough for this special).
As is custom on a family meal my parents gasp in pleasure regardless of what the food actually tastes like, and slide their plates across the table to me insisting that I have to try it so that I have three plates in front of me before I’ve even tried my own. And as is custom we both have to tell my dad to slow down- ‘savour it dad, try a little bit of everything, let the flavour linger on your tongue, let it transport you back to Peru (or in this case Scotland)’- and all the other pretentious rubbish we come out with after a little too much wine. So my sea bream ceviche. The flesh was beautifully streaked with pink and purple and even though the tiger’s milk (the citrus marinade) was strong and numbing, the flavour of the fish sang through. The little kernels of cancha corn provided the needed texture and rounded off a superb dish. The steak was the weakest of the three, although still a vibrant dish, the yellow ají sauce didn’t have the kick that was promised. As for the halibut, it really stole the show. It was so attractive that my mum spent the first five minutes redesigning the lounge in the same colours that appeared on the plate, gasping at the soft blue of the Scottish tattie, saying how much that would make an adorable little cushion on the chaise-lounge.
For the main course I went for the beef “pachamanca”- tender slices of succulent beef topped with a bright yellow mash potato and a black herb crust, which actually rivalled the ribeye from Hawksmoor the previous night, and a sauce that I had to ask for our third basket of bread to mop up. The Amazonian fish my mum went for was a generous portion of three fillets accompanied by a sauce that again had us wiping our fingers across the plate. My dad of course went for the safer option of suckling pig, and although it didn’t excite in the same way as my beef, it was a flawless piece of Peruvian comfort food.
By the time the desserts came we were well into our third bottle of wine and so it needed a good kick to excite our taste buds. Again the food delivered. We told the waiter that we’d have ‘the three top ones’, as focusing on the menu was becoming a little difficult at this stage, and what came was a delicious surprise. Coffee ice cream arrived with a crust of Amazonian herbs and coconut shavings that gave it an almost smoky flavour. The dulce de leche ice cream was good enough on its own, but the beetroot emulsion it came with lifted the dish. The last was the Peruvian dark chocolate ice cream, lovely and strong, with a cinnamon cream and a cameo for our Scottish friend in a blue crisp form this time.
It was a flawless meal, one that had my dad trying the ‘untrustworthy’ raw fish for the first time and loving it. The food was bright and exciting and the flavours matched. But what sets Lima apart is the knowledgable and friendly staff, all of whom seemed to be South American. They seemed excited for us that we were trying their cuisine and rather than just coming back as a waiter does to ask if everything was to our liking, the staff here take pride in the food. All in all it makes Lima feel like a place you should always just nip into for a Peruvian night, and as we stumbled towards the exit we were promising to be back as soon as we could. A promise I intend on keeping.
And it has recently been awarded a Michelin star!
Lima, London, 31 Rathbone Pl, W1T 1JH