LIMA, June 22 — The neighbourhood: Stylish Miraflores, a district of elegant houses and sleek condominiums by the sea in Lima.
Lima, Peru’s biggest city and capital, is where it all comes together. I had spent about a month traipsing around Peru, sleeping in tents under the stars, in 10-bed hostels in colonial towns, and in tiny guest houses run by the locals in Andean villages. I munched on snacks from street stalls, shopped for produce at local markets (and ate many lunches there), and got schooled by farmers on Peru’s 4,000-plus varieties of potato.
The flavours and dishes I had sampled all over the country surfaced in subtle, modern ways in the city’s top dining spots, as did the artistic traditions and history I had learned along the way. I did not know it then, but I would cap it all off by spending a week’s budget on lunch at Central — fifth on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list 2017.
Travellers tend to not spend too much time in Lima, but that is alright — a single day in Lima is still an enjoyable and relaxing affair.
First things first — where to stay? Miraflores is an extremely popular spot for travellers, but I much preferred staying in Barranco. It is full of beautiful mansions (some crumbling, but in a picturesque way) that were once the holiday homes of Lima’s wealthy, good eateries, excellent museums, street art, and a charming village-like atmosphere you cannot get in Miraflores.
Begin your morning at La Panetteria (Av Grau 369), a small cafe just off Parque Barranco that serves great coffee, light and tasty sandwiches, and bread you will want to cart home by the loaf. Spend the rest of your morning checking out the streets of Barranco and its cute boutiques such as Dedalo (Saenz Pena 295), which stocks homeware and fashion inspired by Peru’s rich cultural traditions, albeit in a contemporary way and refreshingly different from the usual touristy doodads. There is also Cajamarca 219, where a French designer does pared-down knitwear with subtle motifs using Peru’s star fabric: Alpaca wool.
Those who still prefer tradition can cross the street to Artesanias La Pallas (Cajamarca 212), a shop that is also the beautiful home of Marie, who sources and commissions Peruvian crafts from across the country, including incredible vintage pieces. Just visiting the store to chat with Marie is an experience in itself.
If shopping is not what you had in mind, check out the celebrity- and style-fuelled works of Mario Testino at the Mate - Museo Mario Testino for a fun alternative. Housed in a 19th-century mansion, it showcases many of the most iconic images in pop culture — all shot by the Peruvian photographer.
For lunch, make your way to the aforementioned Central. The mood here is one of exhilaration, because when the food is this good, what else is there to worry about? If you do not score a reservation in the main dining room (try at least two to three months in advance), fret not. It is far easier to get a spot at the bar — the full tasting menu is not available here but an abbreviated version is, and my mind and stomach were plenty thrilled — plus the convivial atmosphere of sitting around the bar and chatting with other diners (fellow food nerds) was an unexpected bonus.
The restaurant was featured in the second season of Netflix’s Chef’s Table, and while it can be hard for food to live up to such cinematic expectations, the fare at Central did. Having gained an idea of which ingredients are important in Peruvian cooking (corn, potatoes, peppers, fish, herbs such as huacatay, and cereals like quinoa and kiwicha) while travelling, I was excited to see some of them show up in the dishes in unexpected ways.
A dish called Land of Corn showed up in the form of purple and pink translucent crackers, on top of what appeared to be lightly seared creamy balls resting in a golden brown glaze. Crunchy, creamy, smoky and sweet at the same time, it was a rich and pleasurable showcase of its star ingredient — the humble corn — and had me smiling to myself as I ate it.
Work off some of your food coma by walking to the nearby Museo De Arte Contemporaneo de Lima, which is a small but beautifully curated museum of modern art by Peruvian artists featuring temporary and permanent exhibitions. The museum makes good use of outdoor space to showcase the works, and a pleasant afternoon can be had sitting on the grass and watching children play amid the giant installations.
Return to Barranco to enjoy the area’s convivial nightlife atmosphere. Better yet, steel your stomach for dinner at Isolina (Av San Martin 101), for a stylish take on heavy, hearty criollo-style cooking. Those squeamish about offal might not love the innard-heavy offerings (I loved the tripe and potato stew made with fried blood), but the drinks are excellent, and the atmosphere is lively.
Machu Picchu can wait. — TODAY