Monday, 28 September 2015
Lima Floral, Covent Garden
When Lima took the city (and critics) by storm three years ago, it was taken as proof that Peruvian cuisine (and by extension, South American, although you don't hear many people talking about Uruguayan or Chilean cuisine for some reason) had come of age in London. Yes, we'd seen seabass ceviche and 100-ways-with-potato before but usually in the form of a street food van or humble pisco bar; this was unmistakeably, unapologetic Peruvian Fine Dining, and very impressive it all was too; sure, you paid for it, but happily, and then you went back for more. I did, anyway.
Since then, while it's probably true to say that Londoners have got more used to the idea of Peruvian food, it's not yet a full blown love affair. A hundred Lima-lites have not followed in Lima's wake. Pisco bars are still a novelty. And I've seen the odd ceviche being sold from the South Bank or in Shoreditch they've generally been something to do with Martin Morales, whose slowly growing empire (which started with Ceviche in Soho) is still doing most of the PR work for Peruvian food. It's still early days.
And just over a year ago, Lima Floral opened in a lovely bright spot near Cambridge Circus to prove that we are still not anywhere near Peruvian saturation point in London, and that the astonishing success of the Fitzrovia joint (they have a Michelin star now, and everything) wasn't a fluke. I've been twice for lunch at Floral, and both times the meal began with some colourful cornbread studded with chia seeds, dipped in a refreshingly garlicky yoghurt dip. Well, it beats stale focaccia and olive oil.
Much of the Lima/Floral offering still involves marinated raw seafood. Salmon with sea asparagus and beetroot was colourful, artistically presented and seasoned beautifully, an intelligent plate of high-end restaurant food that still felt recognisably South American. I'm still not 100% on board with the idea of cold mashed potato (or whatever it was under that salmon; tasted like potato at least) but otherwise this was very enjoyable.
I thought the "ceviche mixto" would be a good way of sampling a variety of Floral's way with seafood in one dish, and there was certainly a generous amount in this £12 starter; a huge chunk of tuna, a big lump of octopus, a square of sea bream. The disconcertingly orange sweet potato purée tasted snotty and odd, but there was just about enough other good things going on - including some of those toasted cancha corn kernels which I always love - that it was easily ignored. Most importantly, the tiger's milk marinade was so good - salty and fresh and acidic - I ended up drinking it straight out of the bowl. I have no shame when it comes to leftover sauce, I'm afraid.
Mains, across both lunches, were somewhat less impressive. The slow-cooked shoulder with dried potato and Amazonian Cashew had some lovely rich meaty flavours in the sauces - and was again seasoned perfectly - but sadly the meat was a little woolly and dry in places.
"Chicken Alto Andes" suffered from the opposite problem - beautifully moist and looking the part but oddly devoid of flavour. Perhaps, noticing the blackened skin I was expecting it to taste char-grilled or thickened with exotic spices; in the end the only part of the dish that really tasted of anything was the dried pepper sauce which was lifted slightly by a hint of chilli. And it seems a bit pointless to get worked up about the seasonality of asparagus in September when 90% of the rest of the menu had been flown halfway across the world as well. So I won't.
Reading back the above it seems I gave the impression I had a much worse time at Lima Floral than I actually did. Yes, there were mistakes, or bits that weren't brilliant, but this is still a vibrant and exciting - at least for now - restaurant which also - again, at least for now - is doing things you can't find anywhere else in London. For this reason alone, the sheer novelty factor, it deserves a look-in. If it had been a little bit cheaper (like streetfood tends to be) or a little bit better (like the mothership Lima) then its score would have been higher, but I still don't regret spending my money there (about £25 for lunch, rising to about £50 I'd say for dinner) and you can do a lot worse in Covent Garden. And plus, as I say, it's still early days...