Central

You might have heard of Central, they had a fabulous episode on Chef’s Table on Netflix and are currently ranked number 6 on the World 50 Best Restaurants and number 2 on the Latin 50 Best Restaurants. We’d heard a rumour Central was closing so when we waitlisted ourselves we weren’t expecting to get in. I was delighted when we heard that we’d got a table.

We got there super early without getting lost, bonus! I’m very thankful to finally be back in a country that has Uber. Because we got a last minute reservation our only option was the Master Elevations Tasting Menu, 17 courses taking us to different altitudes to represent Peru to its fullest. The numbers in the blog and on the menu below represent the metres above/below sea level.

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It had been a while since we’d done a drinks pairing and we’re feeling rather confident about our exchange rate, plus we wanted to try a few different things so we went for the pairing option. First up was a Peruvian spirit, sugar cane and cactus fruit to go with the first two elevations.

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The vibe in the restaurant reminds me of some of the Mexican World 50 Best Restaurants, think Quintonil and Pujol, I’ve been to with a similar design and service structure. We can see the kitchen from our table as well.

We start with Rock Molluscs -10M, sea snail, sargassum, limpet. It’s delicious and creamy, sweet and salty. The cream adds another level and the tasting spirit compliments it well. We’re warned not to eat the decorations which was just as well!

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This is followed by the Desert Plants 180M, huarango, cactus, sweet potato leaf and loche. Again something we’ve never experienced before. The loche drink is totally amazing. I love the plating and completely different feel of this place already.

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Our next pairing is a Peruvian white wine to go with the next three courses. Mil Moray 3500M, potato, tree tomato, alpaca, Muna mint is the next elevation. The potato is cooked in the traditional Andes way, underground. This reminds us of a Hangi in New Zealand. This is to be dipped in the shaved alpaca hearts, tree tomato and Muna mint. Using our hands of course! A clever simple dish, again showcasing the flavours of the area.

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Thick Stems 3400M, olluco, chincho, onion and field mustard is the next elevation. A plate comes out with the original olluco so we can see them in their natural form. It’s like a potato or kumara but totally different and grown in the Andes. The dish has real kumara undertones but is soft and creamy.

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Waters of Nanay 450M, piranhas, cocona, achiote, huampo bark. Told you we’re trying different things! Many we’ve never heard of. The plating on this is incredible. Yes, those are real piranhas! From the Amazon no less. It’s like a freshwater mouthful, again something never experienced before, I’m not sure what to think but I’m not hating it at the same time.

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Out comes an Austrian wine, organic and natural.  We have the Forest Cotton 300M, river shrimp, llanten, huito, pacae. It’s combined into three components: Fruit with shrimp, wow, wow, wow, intense but oh yes. Textures of shrimp, smoky and amazing. Natural die drink which hits all the flavour points.

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It’s all very playful however I also feel like I’m getting an education and getting to taste amazing food at the same time. What a combo! The man himself Virgilio Martínez brings our next course out and we both fangirl a little while trying to keep our cool. It is High Jungle 1900M, macambo, cassava, copoazu, air potato. Essentially the bread course but oh so different. Bread from Amazon seeds, sweet and smoky. Potatoes from the trees. Burnt cassaca/copoazu. Two types of butter. What an inventive elevation!

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While eating our bread the Marine Soil 0M, sea urchin, Pepino melon, razor clam, seaweed comes out. Smashing flavour, texture and kapow. Served with a sparkling wine. They’re generous with the delicacies as well which it’s always the case when fine dining!

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We’re offered extra bread which is no problem and it comes out nice and warm, with extra butter of course. Fiancee comments at this point that the food is energising. There’s a certain feel here in Peru and at Central that’s distinctive from other places we’ve been.

Our next pairing is a Spanish wine, like a sherry. We feel like they’ve almost catered the wines to places we’ve already been! Tree Points 1200M, avocado, kiwicha, arracacha, lake algae. It’s very strong on both the avocado and bark sensations.

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A pink craft beer is to go with the next course. We’re constantly surprised at Central. Land of Corn 2010M, kculli, purple, chulpi, piscorunto. This one is attributed to Cusco which we’re hoping to visit while we’re here. The torched corn husk gives that meaty caramelisation, the perfect example of the Maillard effect being showcased with a vegetable. I so appreciate that they bring out the original ingredients so that you can see them while eating.

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Amazonian gin cocktail, boom! This goes with Amazonian plain 600M, churo, cecina, black chilli pepper, bellaco. This comes out with a golden spoon and is absolutely worthy of its golden status. An impressive dish from all angles, foamy, crunchy, smooth, warm, sweet and just astonishing.

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We have a Chilean rose wine to go with Coastal Harvest 20M, scallops, yellow chilli pepper, milk, tumbo. Very much an ocean taste, the wine match goes well, however, I’m not really feeling this dish. Particularly after the amazement of the previous course.

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The bathrooms are pretty, however, no hand lotion. Our waitress is absolutely lovely and politely obliges when we asked for recommendations in the area, it was our first proper day here so nice to have some local insight. There are mirrors everywhere to give the illusion of space.

Sea coral -10M, octopus, crab, squid, sea lettuce. Octopus take two for me, a fantastic representation of where it comes from, almost meat-like. Served with an Italian white wine.

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German pinot noir is next. High Andes Mountains 4100M, pork belly, yellow mashwa, kaniwa. It’s a little lacklustre but cooked perfectly, no comfort missing. Just not your usual pork belly!

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Sweet riesling. Amazonian white 400M, yacon, coconut, wrinkled lemon. It’s like a cannoli and a nice way to ease you into dessert. It’s almost tropical and I deeply appreciate the saltiness added to the coconut biscuit. Coconut is not usually one of my favourites, this is by far the best coconut dish ever.

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Peruvian port, made in stainless steel using pisco grapes. Lower Andres 2750M, cacao, chaco clay, cushuro, muna. I didn’t like this one, very complex and intense flavour and just that bit too much for me.

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We end our afternoon with Medicinals and Plant Dyes 3050M, congona, matico, malva, pilipili. Very interesting! This is wrapped up with a kitchen tour, signed copies of our menus and a wonderful gift of parts of the plants and artists interpretation on recycled paper.

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Overall a very different, educational and interesting afternoon. I feel like I learnt a lot, tried and lot and explored a lot (from my comfortable seat in their dining room). I can deeply appreciate what they’re doing at Central, they’re not afraid to try new things, to explore new components, to get out there and explore and give diners something that they could never expect or experience on their own.  Would I go again? Yep, and I’d recommend it to others for that dining experience that you’re probably never ever going to experience elsewhere.

Latest ranking:

  1. Tim Raue
  2. Piazza Duomo and Reale
  3. Central
  4. Quintonil
  5. Asador Etxebarri
  6. Le Calandre
  7. The Ledbury
  8. Mugaritz
  9. The Clove Club
  10. Saison
  11. Arzak
  12. Mirazur and Azurmendi
  13. Dinner by Heston
  14. Pujol
  15. Restaurant Steirereck

Next up, Astrid y Gaston, Lima, Peru.

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