A sprawling place, founded in 1535 by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, Lima is a curious mix of a sleek modern city with large shantytowns, and a smattering of colonial architecture thrown in. The most fashionable and upmarket districts in Lima are Barranco, Miraflores and San Isidro. They are also the most policed areas of the capital, and visitors can therefore walk unhindered.
|Sprawling Lima, Peru|
The heart of a bohemian revival neighbourhood, Barranco is now home to many of Peru’s best-known artists, musicians, designers and photographers. It first emerged in the 19th-century as a fashionable seaside retreat for the Limeño aristocracy. They summered here amidst the salty air and a drier, warmer microclimate, as the high cliffs of Chorrillos shield Barranco from Lima’s cold and humid southern winds.
Wealthy families built grand Belle Époque houses around the area’s landscaped parks and along elegant avenues. When 20th century urban expansion encroached upon this elite enclave, those wealthy Limeñans moved out and squatters took up residence in the abandoned, decaying mansions.
|Sunset in Barranco, Lima|
Barranco’s fortunes shifted again in the 21st century thanks to a migration of Lima’s arts community, including fashion photographer Mario Testino and the Nobel Prize winning author Mario Vargas Llosa. Fresh coats of paint on many of the area’s most charming colonial houses signal this vibrant revival, and today it is a very good place to spend a few days in Lima.
Where to Stay
Built in the Belle Époque style in 1914, the original mansion which now houses Hotel B was designed by the French architect Claude Sahut, who also remodelled many of Lima's public buildings and parks.
The house was owned by the wealthy Garcia Bedoya family, and was luxuriously furnished with imported Italian marble and tiles, very high ceilings and open balconies in the bedrooms.
After decades of neglect, the building's restoration successfully preserved the original structure while introducing a three-storey annex. Today, it is a gorgeous looking boutique hotel in the heart of Barranco.
The public rooms of the hotel are strikingly beautiful, with 'La Sala' serving as a reception and gathering area. The space faces the main street and features two large sitting areas and also a bar.
Adjacent to the lobby, La Biblioteca is a quiet room on the main floor, with doors opening onto the hotel’s enclosed central patio, and abundant greenery.
On the first floor, there is a lounge reserved for hotel guests, in an open, airy setting, with international newspapers, magazines, along with light snacks, coffee and tea.
On the rooftop, there is a private outdoor lounge overlooking Barranco and the Pacific Ocean, with a full bar and a light menu, available during the summer months.
Our room was elegantly laid out with many original features, including shuttered doors, and a comfortable king-sized bed. There was a private balcony overlooking the tree-lined street below. Despite its venerable appearance, it had all the modern conveniences one might wish for.
Breakfast is taken in an open-air central patio, which separates the old house from the contemporary annex, and is surrounded with jasmine and fig trees.
There was a stunningly presented buffet of fresh fruit, cheeses and salami, as well as tasty little cakes set out on elaborate silverware and crockery, and hot dishes made to order in the patio.
Hotel B is a haven of elegance and tranquility in Peru’s hectic capital city. It evokes the beauty and glamour of a bygone age, and I cannot think of a more fitting place to stay when in Lima.
Where to Eat
Lima is by far the best place to try Peruvian cuisine in the country. As the capital city, the shear concentration of excellent restaurants mean that in addition to fierce competition, the best Peruvian chefs are to be found there. The high demand pushes the quality standards higher than elsewhere in the country. We didn’t have a bad meal in Lima, but found that standards were patchy in other towns.
This makes Lima the ideal place to savour the huge variety of ingredients Peru has to offer from its coastal, Andean mountain and Amazon regions. Furthermore, the cold Humboldt current from the Antarctic at Lima’s Pacific coast makes the sea very rich. Fish and seafood restaurants are therefore a must when visiting the city, and as affordable as any other.
Virgilio Martinez’ restaurant Central is one of the top dining destinations in Lima, and I have written a feature on the epic 17 courses we enjoyed there, which will be posted separately.
Maras at The Westin Hotel, San Isidro
Perhaps one of the best meals we had during our entire trip in Peru, Chef Rafael Piqueras’ cooking was faultless, blending Peru’s finest produce in a creative and highly sophisticated menu. Chef Piqueras worked in Italy and Spain for a number of years, but returned to Lima to head the kitchen at Maras in The Westin Hotel, in the upmarket district of San Isidro.
|Maras Restaurant at the Westin Hotel|
Maras is a town in the Sacred Valley near Cuzco, from where the country’s finest salt is produced. His 10-course tasting menu (US $65, £40), started with three small ‘abre bocas’ or amuse bouche. Firstly, crispy dehydrated pork skin topped with foie gras, shaved chocolate and Maras salt. This was followed by a thin sliver of house cured tuna topped with ‘tears’ (tiny lobules) of mandarin. The most exciting amuse bouche in my opinion was the gazpacho bonbon – this was a little sphere of cocoa butter filled with tomato gazpacho that burst in the mouth releasing thrillingly intense flavours.
The starters began with a salad of quinoa, tomatoes, with a refreshing artichoke ice cream, topped with chilli and peanuts and served with three sauces, made from rocoto peppers, huacatay, peanuts and fresh cream.
Delectable Paracas scallops were next (Paracas is a coastal town south of Lima, renowned for its fish and seafood, reviewed here), served with crunchy tapioca and yellow cocona fruit sauce.
To follow we had Chef Piquera’s Nikkei grilled octopus with miso, orange, lentils and chorizo - accompanied by intense little spots of flavour – the orange from chorizo, the green from ocopa from Arequipa (Ocopa is a sauce made from fresh cheese, aji amarillo and huacatay or black mint among other ingredients), and the black being squid ink.
Then, onto the mains - our first was roasted seabass served with cauliflower purée, a sautéed slice of cauliflower, a complex duck reduction and black truffle ‘pearls’.
The second main was an exquisite dish of veal cheek - braised for 40 hours, the meat was wrapped in ham and bread, baked until crunchy, then served with a beef reduction and mushrooms, along with a risotto of orzo pasta.
For pre-dessert, we had a sandwich of lúcuma ice cream (lúcuma is one of Peru’s most popular fruits from the Amazon, it tastes very much like butterscotch), with meringue, cappuccino foam, chocolate biscuit and praline. Dessert proper was a lovely pumpkin brioche brûlée served with caramelized fig, lemon sorbet and an unusual but totally delicious lemongrass custard.
Chef Rafael Piquera’s Maras Restaurant is a must for anyone visiting Lima – for a 10-course tasting menu at this level of skill and sophistication, £40 is outstanding value. Highly recommended.
Another fantastic meal was at Cala Restaurant in Barranco. This is an ocean front restaurant with magnificent views of the sea. Cala is a fashionable place, so don’t be put off by the party crowd or the slightly intrusive music – this is a serious restaurant with excellent food.
Our lunch kicked off with a platter of maki sushi– the ‘Cala’ with avocado and cream cheese, and another maki of salmon ‘acevichado’ (£7). Maki acevichado is the Peruvian version of California rolls – an inside out maki-sushi roll, filled with deep fried prawn, cream cheese and avocado, topped with either tuna or salmon thinly sliced, and a drizzle of creamy leche de tigre. Hence the name acevichado, meaning ‘ceviche-style’.
Next came a tiradito of scallop and octopus (£8). Tiradito is Peru’s answer to Japanese sashimi -thin slices of fish are served sashimi-style, but seasoned with a leche de tigre dressing. Here, thin slices of octopus and scallop were beautifully presented on a black glass plater, served with a delicious leche de tigre, Parmesan crisps, tomato, aji rocoto jam and edible flowers.
The Cala ceviche had sole, baby octopus, a jumbo prawn, avocado, choclo corn and crispy calamari (£9.25). This was a great dish, with fish and seafood of outstanding quality and flavour.
We also had a risotto of grouper and king prawns, crustacea and aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow chilli), that was rich and full of flavour (£9.70).
Every dish we ate at Cala was spot-on, and the setting is spectacular. If there is only one seafood restaurant you have time to visit in Lima, make Cala your choice!
Opened in 2004, Malabar is the number 20 restaurant in the San Pelligrino list of the 50 Best Restaurants in Latin America in 2015. The five course menu we sampled cost £44 per person. Malabar is considered one of the top restaurants in Lima, and on the evening we were there it was packed.
The amuse bouche was ‘false stones’ – actually a variety of cooked Peruvian potatoes, covered in edible chaco clay from Puno near Lake Titicaca, giving them a grey appearance very similar to stones. This was a clever, tongue-in-cheek kind of dish to start the evening off.
Our first dish was a plate of brazilnut cheese, served with a tomato confit, ginger flowers, and the Andean peperomia herb, all marinated with chestnut oil. The cheese was a tad salty and contrasted nicely with the tomato confit.
Our next dish, ‘3,000 metres above sea level’, was a delicate creation including wild cucumber, cushuro (a high Andean spherical fungus that tastes a little like seaweed), maca emulsion with leche de tigre. This was deliciously savoury, with a crunchy texture and a tangy dressing.
The dish described as ‘Judas’ ear’, had tropical fresh mushrooms from Chachapoas in Amazonas, with peach palm and fresh hearts of palm. With dry lemon, and pijuayo purée (a nut), this dish featured fresh, earthy flavours, and contrasting smooth and crunchy textures.
Escolar (a Peruvian white fish) adobo style had roasted, crispy sweet potato, and marinated onion pearls. The fish was cooked in a pork-based sauce. I really enjoyed this dish, with tender meaty fish, sweet potato that was crunchy on the outside while very tender inside, and a richly flavoured sauce, all enlivened by crispy onion pearls.
Roasted cabrito (kid), baked for 24 hours, was served with smoked corn purée, corn sprouts, slices of baby corn, corn flavours, carob sauce and fennel. This was very good, with delicious and tender kid, a richly concentrated flavoursome sauce, and a medley of types of corn.
For dessert we had lucuma and white chocolate mousse, coffee ‘seeds’, and bitter chocolate leaves.
I enjoyed Malabar - the dishes were sophisticated and brilliantly executed, and the setting elegant. However, the portions were on the small side, and wished there had been a little more of it, or at least more carbs on the menu.
What to Do
Barranco is now a district for art, and there are many private galleries in the area that are worth a visit. With its squares and gardens, and an extensive front on the Pacific coast, it is also a good place for wandering and people watching.
There are many public and private museums in Lima, but few as pleasing as the Larco Museum.
Housed in a former mansion, itself built on the site of a pre-Columbian temple, the museum offers a varied collection of 3,000 years of ceramic, textile and precious metal artifacts. There are also mummies that show the different ways ancient cultures, including the Incas, preserved their dead.
Visitors are allowed into the museum's store rooms to see what's not on display: a vast array of ceramic objects crafted by ancient Peruvians; there are tens of thousands of pots in the shapes of animals, plants and people.
|A 2000 year-old Moche head scupture - George Bush?|
San Martín 301
Maras at The Westin Hotel
Las Begonias with Amador Merino Reyna
San Isidro, Lima, Peru
Phones 201-5023 / 201-5000
Cto. De Playas
Avenida Camino Real 101
San Isidro 15073
Av. Bolívar 1515