Let’s be frank: Lima has generally not been high on people’s cities to visit, even though Peru, as a destination, is high on peoples’ bucket lists. Because all air traffic goes in and out of Lima, it’s largely a necessary stop for visiting Peru, and often times the word on the street has been – go to Peru, and spend as little time in Lima as possible.
However, more recently, Lima has become quite a food mecca. In fact, of the top 50 restaurants in the world in one survey, two of the top 10 are in Lima – the only city with two restaurants in the top 10 listing.
On a recent study trip to Peru with A&K, I flew in a day early so I had a bit more time to explore the city before meeting up with my group. I also scored a reservation (which I made well over a month in advance) at Central, rated #4 best restaurant in the world on one list, and #2 on another. If you’re a fan of "Chef’s Table" on Netflix, you’ll find the chef, Virgilio Martinez, profiled in Season 3.
As it turns out, Central is three to four blocks from the wonderful Belmond MIraflores Park Hotel, where we stayed, so it was an easy stroll to get there on the evening after we arrived. But first a word about the hotel.
One of the reasons for my trip – besides visiting Peru and Machu Picchu with Abercrombie & Kent – was to experience a few of the Belmond hotels and trains I've known about but never experienced. I was not in the least disappointed, and from our first entering the hotel lobby, we were treated like old friends. Everyone throughout the hotel was welcoming and friendly – in a very warm and genuine way.
There are a couple of other 5-star hotels in Lima, and I did stayone night at the Westin, which while lovely, felt in some ways like being in a huge upscale mall, and the location, overlooking major traffic, is perhaps more suited to a business traveler than the Belmond's, which is a more intimate property across the street from a park, overlooking the ocean, and a couple of blocks from Larcomar, the major mall built into the cliffside, and as previously noted, a skip and a jump from Central. From the Pisco Sours in the bar, to the lovely breakfast buffet on the top floor pool deck, to the comfy beds and quiet rooms, the Belmond Miraflores Park hotel is an oasis in Lima.
It’s difficult to describe the cuisine at Central restaurant. There are two menus, the 11-course and 17-course versions, and we chose the former, which was quite sufficient and didn’t leave us hungry. The courses are all small bites… but such bites! Everything was quite delicious and unique in taste. The dishes are all designed around the elevations of Peru, so you are served courses from below sea level, to courses from over 10,000’ elevation. I could detail the dishes, but it would probably mean very little except to someone quite knowledgeable about the more eclectic items and spices used here. By way of examples, there was the "Forest Cotton" made of Churo, Gamitana, Pacae and Llanten, and the "Medicinals and Plant Dyes" finale of Congona, Matico, Malva and Pilipili.
Food has become such an integral part of the travel experience, and as we all are becoming foodies to some degree, I have to admit dining at Central is a unique culinary experience – and one we will forever remember -- especially when we were invited into the kitchen to meet the staff. While Central was a standout experience, we enjoyed all our meals in Lima, and there is much to choose from.
Another highlight of my visit in Lima was a half-day spent with Ignacio Barrio, who runs Urban Kitchen, which conducts cooking classes. Ignacio took us through a special farmer’s market, and then back to his kitchen where we prepared ceviche and a popular Chifa dish (Peruvian-influenced Chinese cuisine) which we sat down to enjoy at a dining table adjacent to the kitchen.
Ignacio was so personable and social, and we enjoyed spending time with him, not to mention the wonderful food we prepared, and learning some of the tricks of his trade. The shopping and cooking class is a wonderful experience to have in this foodie capital, and we're partnering with Ignacio now to promote this experience for our guests. Let us know your interest when planning your Peru trip.
I must admit, by the time we left Lima to continue our trip (to Cusco, The Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and our Amazon river cruise), I needed a bit of a break from eating, and skipped breakfast and lunch the next day!