When Ceviche, Lima and Coya all opened their doors in 2012, I scratched my head. Peruvian food was clearly having a moment, yet I had anything but fond memories of the food I had eaten there some eight years earlier. Horrible greasy hot dogs. Stringy guinea pig. Tasteless humitas (mashed corn and cheese wrapped in a corn husk and steamed). It was only the ceviche we found in the tiny seaside town of Mancora that made any made sort of positive impact on my palette. Fresh, hot and so full of lime it made our lips pucker, we ate at least one bowl of it every day of our stay.
So it was with slight trepidation that I booked a table at the then newly opened Lima. Pretty and refined, the food definitely did not look like anything I had eaten in Peru, and for the most part, thankfully, it didn’t taste the same either. But there were a few mouthfuls that chimed with the memory of a taste, and I found myself suddenly back in hot, dry Peru, wearing those horrific patterned trousers that are part of the gringa traveller uniform, and buzzing with the adventure of everything. I loved Lima and Ceviche (although stick to the ceviche and Pisco Sours at the latter, most of the other dishes aren’t worth the price). Coya, not so much. I’m not one to write scathing reviews of restaurants, so you’ll just have to trust me on this one: give it a miss.
Since the first openings in 2012, Peruvain cuisine has continued to grow apace in London, with a second restaurant from the Ceviche team, Andina, opening in Shoreditch, and a couple of Nikkei (Japanese-South American fusion) restaurants, Chotto Matte and Sushi Samba, adding to the mix. The latest addition is Lima Floral in Covent Garden, headed up by the same partnership as Lima Fitzrovia; Virgilio Martinez, chef patron of the renowned Central Restaurante in Peru’s capital, and Gabriel Gonzalez, a young Venezuelan entrepreneur. I arranged to go for lunch during its soft launch with Leyla (@leylalaa), Ash (@thricemedia) and Selina (@tastemauritus).
On the corner of Garrick and Floral Streets, Lima Floral is housed in the old headquarters of stained glass makers Heaton, Butler and Bayne, whose name remains carved on the front of the building. It’s a lovely space, with Gothic-arched, person-height ground floor windows pulling light into the main dining room. Inside it is simple, elegant and relaxing. Bold, petrol blue pillars contrast with the white walls, and a stunning colour-riot mural covers the back wall. Woven patterned cushions, which reminded me of the textile markets of Cusco, sit on the banquette seating.
The cocktail menu is, in my opinion, too long and complicated for the upstairs restaurant. While it might work in the casual, tapas bar downstairs, if you are eating Peruvian food, there is really only one drink to sharpen your appetite: the classic Pisco Sour. I was made this drink on my first night in Chile on my gap year by my host mum, who told me it was the country’s national drink, and I’ve loved it ever since. Sharp lime, strong Pisco (a grape brandy, that when not used to, goes straight to your head), and just enough sugar to take the edge off, all mixed with egg white until it froths. Yet Peru also claims both the spirit and the cocktail as its own invention. Interesting fact: when you cross the border from Chile to Peru one of the first signs you see reads “Welcome to Peru: Home of Pisco”. A slap in the face for travelling Chileans! Lima Floral’s version was very good, with a decent sized frothy head adding texture and a couple of drops of bitters piercing the clean white surface of the drink.
We ordered five starters and three mains between the four of us, sharing everything. Of the starters, the Sea Bream Ceviche (£10) was the unanimous favourite. Fleshy white fish soaked in tiger’s milk – a sharp mix of lime, chilli (there could have been a touch more), and plenty of salt and pepper – with beads of toasted corn, beautiful thin slivers of purple-tinged crispy onions, and creamy mashed avocado. It was light, fresh and tangy, just what we needed on a hot day. Also fantastic was the Escabeche Salad (£10), pieces of minimally cooked, almost raw, beef, drizzled in a sweet algarrobo syrup (made from carob pods) and served with crisp green salad leaves. While Dry Andean Potato (£7) didn’t sound like the most appetising dish on the menu, it turned out to be a delicious combination of an earthy warm yellow stew, topped with chunks of salty sheep’s cheese, and sprinkled with onion ashes and red shizo, a nod to the Japanese influence on Peruvian cuisine. It was also the one dish on the menu that really brought back memories of my time in Peru, specifically visiting a small village on the shores of Lake Titicaca, and being given an earthenware bowl of potato stew (along with a piece of overcooked, unnamed, meat) that had the same warm, dry earthiness to it.
Still tasty but less memorable were the Tuna Causa (£10) – tuna tartare served with a log of mashed yellow potato poked with raw root vegetables, which looked a bit like a Yule Log – and Tiradito (£9) – sea bream again, but this time with a bright, grass-green tiger’s milk made with parsley, coriander and rocoto, a type of hot pepper, and crushed giant corn.
On to the mains. Our vegetarian choice was Roasted Black Quinoa (£15), with an egg, sweet yacon reduction and apparently avocado, although we couldn’t find it. It is described on the menu as ‘chaufu’ style, Peruvian-Chinese fusion, and the dish was a clever interpretation of egg fried rice. The quinoa still had bite to it, and a wobbly egg sat comfortably in its middle. It was fine, but if I had ordered it as my only main I would have been underwhelmed. We also tried the juicy lamb rump, with both smooth, piped bright yellow potato and crispy blue potato, with queso fresco (fresh cheese) and more black quinoa (£22). However my favourite main featured, once again, sea bream: the Hot Ceviche a la Piedra (£18). Pieces of the very, very lightly cooked fish floated in a salty broth with a warm heat against the back of the throat, with chunks of sweet potato, courgette shavings and yuyo seaweed. We slurped the final mouthfuls of the liquid straight from the bowl, determined not to waste a drop!
The desserts all contained some sort of savoury ingredient in their midst, such as purple potato, beetroot, or sorrel. We sampled three out of the four on offer. The simply named Chocolate (£6) was made from Palo Blanco Peru cacao, and topped with a soil of oat and wood sorrel. It was rich, slightly bitter, and just delicious! Cafe Peruano (£6) was a creamy coffee ice cream, paired with grains of dried, slightly sweet, purple potato, and red kiwicha, another Andean grain. The most exciting of the desserts for me was Suspiro Ardiente (£6), which I *think* translates as ‘a passionate sigh’. It’s an adaptation of suspiro de limeña which is made of layers of manjar blanco, the Peruvian name for dulce du leche, and a light merengue. The ‘passion’ in Lima Floral’s version came in the form of a brittle waffer, spiked with dried hot chilli pepper, and a sprinkle of bright pink beetroot powder. The heat contrasted perfectly with the sweet creaminess of the rest of the dessert. I was indeed sighing with pleasure by the end of it!
We attended the soft launch so our bill was exceptionally reasonable (the Pisco Sours were on the house, and there was 50% off food, so we paid just £17.50 each). At full price it would have been about £45 / £50 a head. Given that the original Lima is the proud owner of a Michelin Star, and one of Lima Floral’s own will probably follow suit, at that price it would still be pretty good value. You do however pay for the quality and presentation of the food as opposed to the size. The portions are modest, and the food light, which I liked as it meant I left feeling able to get on with my day, rather than weighed down by a stomach full of carbs.
Lima Floral is described as a whole new concept, but the upstairs restaurant at least felt very similar to Lima Fitzrovia, with perhaps just a few more indigenous ingredients creeping in to the menu (many of which are now entering our supermarkets under the guise of ‘super-foods’). I get the impression that as Peruvian food was very new to London when the first opened, they played it slightly safe and this is meant to a be a bolder, more adventurous restaurant. All the dishes were beautifully presented, little works of art, with vibrant colours, tastes and textures on every single plate. I loved the variety and playfulness of it all. I will definitely go back.
Lima Floral, 14 Garrick Street, WC2E 9BJ
Check out all my latest restaurant reviews on a map on Pinterest: