“Discovering new things that people have never seen before, that’s my obsession” – Virgilio Martínez.
When a restautant opens from Chef Virgilio Martínez it’s time to take note. Lima Dubai marks the third international outpost of Martinez’s Lima brand (following two successful openings and a Michelin star in London) and the successor to Central, currently ranked as the number one restaurant in Latin America and the fifth best restaurant in the world.
Lima Dubai is ideally situated in the fine dining courtyard of City Walk and marks the only licensed restaurant in the development. It’s interiors offers immediate appeal and as is fast becoming the norm in Dubai, the fit out is spectacular. The transition from outdoor terrace into causal dining room is effortless and a staircase of wooden struts that resemble Amazonian hanging vines, leads the way up into the bar area. Decked out in swinging chairs, natural wood and a wall featuring a striking mural of flying birds.
The Peruvian influence on the restaurant space is evident and the interiors (much like the food) have been designed with a fine attention to detail, We make our way into a comfortable leather booth, where fishing nets hang above and the walls are adorned with images of alpacas painted in an almost tribal style.
Service comes from a truly global team and we encounter staff from Brazil, Columbia, Uzbekistan, South Africa and of course Peru. A special mention should be given to Charlene who went to great lengths in ensuring we had an enjoyable evening, keeping us fuelled with Pisco Sours and an extensive knowledge of the menu. Lima shows none of the usual signs of a new opening and the team have clearly been well trained in all aspects of the restaurant.
Having followed the career of Virgilio Martínez for some time, we were truly excited to dine at Lima and for those who have seen his episode on the Netflix documentary series Chef’s Table, he is a man of intense vision and extreme passion. Despite the man himself being absent during our recent dinner (he’s set to return to Dubai at least three times a year to oversee the restaurant) head Chef Diego makes for a worthy replacement.
The menu at Lima Dubai has been specially created for the Dubai market and although it does feature a number of signature dishes from the London branches (the signature braised octopus), the majority of dishes are new. The Dubai selection sticks to fairly traditional Peruvian dishes in comparison to Central, whose ‘altitude menu’ is inspired by the biodiversity of Peru and takes items from the Peruvian ecosystem and serves them on a plate. It would appear that Dubai diners aren’t quite ready for such an avant-garde approach to dining and the logistical issues of sending such unique produce to Dubai would be unfeasible.
Yet Lima is not Central and while many of the ingredients such as Andean potatoes have been specially imported from Peru, the dishes don’t disappoint.
We begin with Rocoto Bites a combination of sautéed beef and Rocoto Aji, plus a tomato tartare served on a purple corn crepe. Both bite sized portions are artistically presented on stones that draw immediate links to the mountainous Andes and are served with Leche de tigre (tigers milk, the citrus based marinade of ceviche) that are to be consumed as you would shots. It’s a unique introduction to Virgilio’s Lima and one that leaves a lasting impression.
Progressing into the tiradito’s section of the menu we throughly enjoy the Lobster Tiradito. Offering sweet and succulent lobster meat, set against a backdrop of avocado, red onions and edible flowers. As if a mountainside meadow has been re-created on the plate. This immaculate plating adds an additional sensory element to dining at Lima, where it’s more than just eating, it’s an experience.
We thought we knew ceviche until we dined at Lima but one taste changes our entire perception. The Scallop Ceviche is awash with vibrant colours, as an almost fluorescent corn tigers milk battles for diners attention amongst cherry tomatoes, nuts and chunks of diced scallop. The dish strikes a fine balance between the zest of the lime and the acidity of the tomatoes, while managing to maintain the delicate flavours of the scallops. It’s a difficult task but Lima’s ceviche is a dish of harmonious colours and flavours.
Without meaning to create undue hyperbole, Lima’s Salmon Causas is a contender for the best thing we’ve eaten in 2017. Taking the Peruvian yellow potato and layering it with salmon, a layer of fig preserve and a sour grana padano (cream cheese). The dish is light, unexpectedly sweet and quite revelatory. Especially when compared to many of the other causas dishes currently being served in Pan-Latin restaurants throughout the Emirates.
Lima’s signature Lomo Steak Huancaina represents another plate that verges on perfection. A seared beef tenderloin with a slight char is impeccable seasoned but it’s the tender nature of the meat that’s the real selling point of the dish. The presentation is also exceptional, laid out on the plate in a similar fashion to an Italian carpaccio the meat is visually enhanced by tracing around it with the vibrant Aji amarillo sauce.
Our main courses derive from the land and the sea with a Lamb Rump Seco offering a slow cooked lamb rump, served with pumpkin two ways and Kiwicha (a flowering plant from the Andes). It’s a hearty dish of good flavours and works in perfect contrast to the lighter Red Mullet. A beautifully cooked piece of fish, complete with crisp skin and admirably, each individual component of the plate has been enhanced to let the flavour shine through — a coconut lobster bisque brings a hint of sweetness while the beetroot and leeks have an earthiness that we’re unused to here in the UAE.
Media coverage of Lima thus far has tended to focus on two things, the charming Chef Virgilio and the avocado mousse dessert that resembles an avocado but contains a skin and stone made from chocolate. We’re torn between the Cusco corn brulee, Lucuma fruit and the sweet ceviche but eventually settled on the Peruvian Suspiro. A traditional dessert that literally translates as “the sigh of Lima,” compiles dulche de leche with Oporto meringue and a Chirimoya (Amazonian fruit) ice cream. Comparatively, the San Martin Chocolate is a more traditional dessert offering four-forms of chocolate in various textures (brownie, tuile, jelly) complemented by lemongrass.
Dining at Lima has really opened our eyes to Peruvian cuisine and despite so many Peruvian restaurants opening in the Emirates, it would seem that Lima has immediately stolen the crown. It’s not just the authenticity of the ingredients, presenting items we’ve never tried before, nor the precision of the plating. It’s the entire experience, with diners taken on a journey from the Andes, deep into to the Amazon and out towards the Pacific Ocean, as if the very essence of Peru has made it onto the Dubai tabletop. It’s a reflection of Peru’s melting pot of cultures and its gastronomic revolution.
As we contemplate the night with a phenomenal Pisco Sour in hand, we soon realise it’s been a long time since we’ve immediately wanted to return to a restaurant in hopes of sampling the remainder of the menu. In fact it’s difficult to leave, so we linger just a little while longer.
We were invited to dine at Lima. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE.