Monday, 16 July 2012

Lima, Fitzrovia


After a faintly underwhelming evening a couple of months ago at Ceviche, the first of the new-wave Peruvian fusion restaurants to open in London, you can forgive me for not being wildly enthusiastic about trying somewhere else ten minutes walk away that, on the face of it at least, appeared to be doing something remarkably similar. Obviously everywhere should be judged on its own merits, but having arrogantly assumed I'd "done" sea-bass ceviche and Pisco sours and not finding many reasons to believe that Lima wouldn't just be more of the same, I rolled up to Rathbone Place with expectations if not low then certainly 'realistic'.


But by the time I'd finished a Pisco Sour (perhaps slightly better than the Ceviche version, although that was very good too) I began to get the feeling that there was something altogether more accomplished about the way Lima was going about things, compared to their rivals. The basement bar at Lima perhaps doesn't have the same shabby Soho atmosphere, but the staff are engaging and the drinks are prepared smartly, and with skill. Upstairs, the dining room is brightly lit by a large skylight (at least it is in early summer) and a large open kitchen makes a entertaining centerpiece while you wait for your dinner to arrive.


Most importantly, while the food at Ceviche veered from 'disappointing' to 'fine', everything we ate at Lima was astonishingly good. Ordering two varieties of ceviche to start (the menu is only vaguely divided into 'starters' and 'mains' but is fairly easy to figure out), an artichoke version came dressed with "amazon tree tomato" (I think more normally known as tamarillo) sauce, sharp and brightly coloured and a perfect counterfoil to the sweet artichokes. Even more impressive though was a sea-bass ceviche which in contrast to the clumsily oversour version in Soho was gently marinated and allowed the soft flavour of the fish to be the main event, texture provided by some rings of red onion. I could have done without the ugly smear of sweet potato purée around the side of the bowl, but I guess they had their reasons.


Mains were similarly high in wow-factor. Four large chunks of halibut, showing a gentle crust from the grill but still tender and moist, were paired with a sort of smooth peanutty sauce, the contents of which I couldn't even begin to hazard a guess at but take your pick from "huacatay herb, Andean grain, aji mirasol" from the menu. Star of the evening though was a plate of the best suckling pig I can remember being given in London, accompanied by "potato 4000 metres" which tasted less like potato and more like a kind of squash with an incredibly concentrated sweet/savoury flavour. Thanks to a mix of some interesting textures such as sliced white pear and chunks of grilled nuts, this was the kind of thing that makes sense of all the hype about Peruvian fusion food - it really was that good.


It's a sign of a great restaurant that as soon as you've paid up and left you wish you could go back and try everything else you didn't get to shovel down the first time. And I do desperately want to try the "Asparagus Peru" and the "Eco Dried Potato" and the "bay scallops tiraditos". But here's the problem with that - I'll have to get saving. Our bill, with a bottle of the cheapest wine, a beer and a very pleasant pot of "Andean Kiwicha" (sort of a crunchy yoghurty thing topped with the unappetising-sounding "purple corn jelly" but was actually nowhere near as weird as it sounds) came to £100 for two, and was the only slight dampener on what had otherwise been a faultless evening. Perhaps I've been spoiled by no-reservations places like Polpo and Burger & Lobster which can offer top-notch food for less by turning tables ten times of an evening, and I admit it was nice rocking up and saying "table for 2 for Pople, 6:30" instead of "how long's the wait?", but £50 is still a lot of money for 2 1/2 courses and a few drinks.


Also, I wonder how many people will raise their eyebrows at a menu that appears to import much of its contents from a country 6,000 miles away? With every recession-era pointing trend towards local sourcing and recycled napkins, it's very strange to be sat in a restaurant that boasts of just how many food miles (and vertical metres) your dinner has travelled, and asks you to pay a premium for it. Can this be a sustainable arrangement? Should it be?


Despite the nagging environmenal questions though, and the cost, there's still a lot to love about Lima. The food, as I say, is extraordinary not just because London has seen little like it before, but because it is thoughtfully constructed, expertly cooked and tastes incredible. Service was spot on (the Maitre d' has come from Heston Blumenthal's Dinner) and we had a thoroughly enjoyable evening. I wish it had been a bit cheaper, but then you can't have everything. So save your pennies, take public transport to offset your carbon emissions, and go and see for yourself.

8/10

Lima on Urbanspoon

9 comments:

Andy K said...

Sea bass then halibut? And you're surprised by the bill? Fish like that doesn't come cheap and nor would you want it to if you're eating it raw...

Great review though - thanks for the write-up.

Chris Pople said...

Andy K: Ha yes when you put it like that, fair point. But actually none of the options were cheap - even the Eco Dried Potato was £16...

Alice said...

Wanted to go here for ages - got to give it a whirl v soon! x

Matt said...

Distance travelled doesn't necessarily mean something is bad for the environment.
Food grown in the UK sometimes needs so much "help" due to our climate that it's better (environmentally speaking) to ship it in.

Gabriel Gonzalez said...

Hi Chris, thanks for your comments, appreciate them. In regards to your comment: "With every recession-era pointing trend towards local sourcing and recycled napkins, it's very strange to be sat in a restaurant that boasts of just how many food miles (and vertical metres) your dinner has travelled", I want to mention a couple of points.

Firstly, there are some Peruvian products that are essential to achieve Peruvian flavours. The most important ones are, for example, Peruvian chilies. For example, the yellow chill pepper you will find in a lot of preparations, dishes. Its like the DNA of Peruvian gastronomy (along with other chilies and products).

The other point I wanted to raise is that from 245 products we use in our menu, around 18 products are from Peru. These are the ones we want to showcase and mention on the menu.

Lastly, its very important for us as well to be able to open a new market for small Peruvian producers. If some of these unheard of products start becoming more popular, it will have a direct impact on them.

Again, thanks for the review, and hope to see you again soon.

Best wishes,

Gabriel
M.D. LIMA

Gabriel Gonzalez said...

Hi Chris, thanks for your comments, appreciate them. In regards to your comment: "With every recession-era pointing trend towards local sourcing and recycled napkins, it's very strange to be sat in a restaurant that boasts of just how many food miles (and vertical metres) your dinner has travelled", I want to mention a couple of points.

Firstly, there are some Peruvian products that are essential to achieve Peruvian flavours. The most important ones are, for example, Peruvian chilies. For example, the yellow chill pepper you will find in a lot of preparations, dishes. Its like the DNA of Peruvian gastronomy (along with other chilies and products).

The other point I wanted to raise is that from 245 products we use in our menu, around 18 products are from Peru. These are the ones we want to showcase and mention on the menu.

Lastly, its very important for us as well to be able to open a new market for small Peruvian producers. If some of these unheard of products start becoming more popular, it will have a direct impact on them.

Again, thanks for the review, and hope to see you again soon.

Best wishes,

Gabriel
M.D. LIMA

Lizzie Mabbott said...

£50 is pretty damn punchy. Too punchy for me, alas. at least it was tasty though!

ZonaGastronomica.pe said...

Why comparing Ceviche with Lima?, total diferent concepts, totaly diferent restaurants. Peruvian food is so much more than ceviches and pisco sours. Get ready to see more, lots more!

Anonymous said...

We went recently and had a very different experience - I wonder if standards have dropped since summer.

The service was mostly fine, however we did feel a bit of pressure to finish our plates and at one point I actually had to stop our waiter clearing up while we were still eating.

The food was pretty average in my opinion. The ceviche we had (with tiger milk) was over sour and actually not as nice as the equivalent dish in Ceviche in Soho.

Duck crudo was clumsily presented with nanometre thick slivers of foie gras obscuring the rest of the plate and comes without bread / croutons indeed anything to provide contrast to the prevailing texture of soggy duck breast. The whole thing tasted cloying and bland.

The suckling pig had burnt when they'd crisped the outside (I assume they thought "that'll do" and served it anyway) and tasted noticeably bitter. The exciting looking red stuff it came with tasted of... not much.

In fact this was a recurring theme: food was beautifully presented - but often the sauces which contained such exotic, delicious-sounding ingredients simply didn't taste of much and the dish ended up being far less than the sum of its parts.

I was rather disappointed - I'd been looking forward to trying Lima and am sad to say my search for a good Peruvian restaurant in London continues (as Ceviche Soho isn't great shakes either).