With only three days in London and lots of lovely friends to catch up with we had to really think carefully about where we wanted to eat. Plenty of exciting restaurant openings to consider – and I guess our main goal was to sample cuisines that are yet to launch on Melbourne’s scene (or have been attempted but to no avail – for example – Japanese ramen – see post here).
The peeling floral wallpaper, teacups and chintzy tableclothes have a kind of 1940s wartime austerity about them. Might explain why the drinks are half the price they are in Melbourne.
Feeling well-oiled and ready to dig into some South American share plates we trot down Rathbone Place to Lima, which is empty. That’s what you get when you manage to secure a booking two days before the evening you want to dine at one of the most talked about places of the year – a table downstairs at 5:30pm. Luckily, the place feels warm and inviting, and we soon forget we are the sole customers for at least the first half hour. Or that might have been the Pisco Sours tricking us into a false sense of security.
None of us have ever partaken in Peruvian food outside of Peru (which apparently when you are on a backpacker’s budget isn’t that great – WordMonkey takes great delight in telling me about the potato, carrot and onion soup she once ordered, that consisted of a whole potato, a whole carrot and a whole onion floating in a bowl of hot water) so we aren’t sure what to expect. We know about the much-hyped superfood quinoa – and have even learnt how to pronounce it properly – but that is about it. Luckily, chef Virgilio Martinez hails from fine stock – the now multi-location acclaimed Astrid y Gaston and most recently Central in Lima, Peru.
There are nods to the restaurant’s South American heritage – cushions covered in Peruvian print with colourful Inca prints and a wall downstairs dedicated to indigenous artists, but on the whole the place is light and airy, and understated.
Which perhaps means the insanely colourful food comes as even more of a surprise. The nine starters and eight mains (four from the sea and four from the land) are described in a minimalist fashion – usually the main protein and the style in which it is prepared. Underneath, a list of the main components are listed. Not much else.
So when the bright yellow Artichoke Amazonia landed on our table (artichokes, fava beans, white onion, tree tomato and molle pink pepper) we were pleasantly dazzled. Light with a slight citrus zing it was one of the best veggie dishes I have had in a while.
But it couldn’t compete with the Duck Crudo (Magret duck, algarrobo tree syrup, foie gras, green leaves). Satisfyingly rich and fatty without being greasy the duck was cooked perfectly and for 10 quid was a great size serve.
The other two starters we ordered, in my mind, didn’t quite hit the mark. Perhaps they were trying too hard to include a myriad ingredients sourced from the Andes to the Amazon, or perhaps it was just me struggling to get to grips with so many new flavours, textures and unfamiliar components on one plate.
Tuna Causa (yellow fin tuna, blue potato, ghoa cress, ginger confit) was plated up to look at pretty as a picture with pansies or nasturtiums perched on top of the tempura-ish fish. But the slightly startling blue (more purple than blue) potato just didn’t look appetising and was grainy and starchy.
The presentation of Octopus Olivo had clearly been thought about a lot, and the dots of pink something were reminiscent of the creature’s tentacles, but again, the ingredients (braised octopus, organic white quinoa, botija olive, red shiso) didn’t combine to create anything special.
On to the mains – Suckling Pig ‘Andes’ (giant corn, ghoa cress, piquillo pepper, green rocoto) – well-seasoned and succulent meat, just the right balance of flesh, fat and crackle.
Lastly, Olluco Tuber ’4000 metros’ (queso fresco, red quinoa, asparagus Peru, yellow aji pepper). Very earthy, lots of root vegetable action happening here.
We didn’t stick around for dessert – we could have done – as we weren’t stuffed. But then we hadn’t gone overboard in the ordering and all the plates were very light.
Instead, we checked out Bourne and Hollingsworth’s new sister establishment, Reverend J. W. Simpson. More shabby chic but in a larger space. More great cocktails but in smarter glasses (as opposed to jam jars). We like.