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Friday 20 September 2013

London Restaurant Review - Lima

Words & Photography by Marina Benjamin

Name: Lima

Where: 31 Rathbone Place, London W1T 1JH (http://www.limalondon.com)

Cost: Set Lunch and Pre-Theatre £17.50 for 2 courses, or £20.50 for 3 courses.  À la carte: Starters £8-12, Mains £18-26, Deserts £6-8

About: Lima is a joint venture between Virgilio Martinez, chef patron of the super-successful Central Restaurante in Peru’s bustling capital, and Gabriel Gonzalez, a young Venezuelan entrepreneur with a passion for good food. Open for a little over a year, Lima is already wowing food fans with cooking by head chef Roberto Ortiz that is as vibrantly coloured and textured as it is flavoured – and as beautifully presented as a fashion shoot. 

Space at Lima is in short supply however and you can expect to sit elbow to elbow with diners at adjacent tables. But the clever use of skylights, mirrors, up-lighting prevent the room feeling like a white-walled cube. Peruvian aesthetics appear only as accents – a bold mural in earthy colours along on the back wall, cushions bearing tribal designs, and overall the feel is slick; from the moment you sit down and cast your eye over the well-balanced menu you know you’re in capable hands.

The evening I visited, food photographer David Griffen delivered a masterclass on mobile food photography, the fruits of which – I hope – are self-evident. But since the food at Lima is so gorgeously photogenic, I’m not sure how much credit I can take for the pictures: the real star of the show was on the plates. 

David offered us bloggers plenty of helpful hints as we worked our way through a five-course sampling of Lima’s signature dishes. He recommended using window light over both direct and artificial light; gave us shiny reflectors to play with; and as the sun began setting, he handed out sheets of white card that helped us to bottle up the last straggling rays of sultry summer sunlight and infuse them into each shot. 

What We Ate: Lima’s food is light, its imprint on the plate delicate to the point of appearing to float. There was a bright, slightly too citrusy sea bream ceviche that woke up your tastebuds with a smack of yellow aji, and a tasty dish of marinated scallops that was nicely off-set by the deep heat of a pepper sauce. Lima calls the chilli sauces, which come in shades of white, yellow and red, ‘Tiger’s milk’: the chilies in them are slow cooked for flavour and then strained into an oil-based emulsion for extra smoothness.

Not everyone appreciates small-eats, but I was delighted by the modest amounts of food on my plate, which meant I could look forward to each course, knowing I’d leave the table with a spring in my step instead of a carb-fuelled heave-ho.

Next there was a handful of braised octopus pieces, artfully arranged on a scattering of quinoa, and decorated with tiny stalks of red shiso. The meat was tender and rich against the soft grain, and enhanced by lilac-coloured dots of Botija olive mayonnaise, shaped like macarons.

My favourite dish was a char-grilled beef Pachamana, each succulent mouthful exploding with Huacatay herbs, a hint of chilli and a lot of smoke. This was accompanied by a sublime piped mash, whipped into fluffy puffs and topped with airy white cheese mousse and a sprinkle of black quinoa. Yet another graceful floral garnish gave this dish an almost weightless feel.

To finish we enjoyed a huge quenelle of Peruvian chocolate mousse, dark, intense and richly creamy. It sat over cinnamon syrup, amid a light biscuit rubble, and was stickle-backed with some thin discs of blue potato chips. I got the hedgehog idea, but the chips were bothersome. I plucked them out one by one before diving into the mousse-y heart of the beast.

Verdict: Lima is an utterly wonderful dining treat. The flawless food is stunning to look at, and even better to eat, plus it’s fairly easy on the wallet. I left the place feeling, well, happy and determined to spread the word, like an apostle of old. The waiting staff were uniformly knowledgeable and polite, and they did not hover. And the internationally-sourced and rather confident wine list – next time I am determined to try the Estival, a blend of Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Moscato Biano, from Uruguay – offered plenty of tempting choices to match Roberto Ortiz’s plucky and scrumptious food. Don’t leave without trying the soft breads served with a very more-ish dip made of sweet Algarrobina syrup and hot annatto oil.

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