If you had never considered Peruvian food two years ago, if you live in Dubai, chances are you have tried it at least once by now. There have been no less than nine Peruvian restaurants open in the emirate recently, and the trend is now also spreading to Abu Dhabi.
The freshest Peruvian restaurant in Dubai is Lima. Ironically, it has taken this long for the name of the capital to feature.
Peruvian food is already a mix of cuisines: it heralds from the country’s multiculturalism, with strong Japanese, Chinese and European influences.
Created by Peruvian chef Virgilio Martinez, whose first restaurant in London has been awarded a prestigious Michelin Star, Lima’s menu takes Peruvian cuisine to another level but - unlike some contemporary chefs attempting to put their own spin on traditional dishes - in keeping with tradition.
We arrive at Lima on a Tuesday evening and are immediately impressed by the location and setting. Nestled in CityWalk, Lima is one of four two-storey restaurants linked by a bridge on their upper levels.
The lower level entry to Lima is through a courtyard surrounded by trees, creating a relaxed outdoor setting. Inside, the restaurant feels more formal, while upstairs the bar and live DJ induce a low-key but sophisticated vibe. Two hanging seats are a fun addition, while the outdoor terrace will undoubtedly attract groups of friends on weekend evenings.
The menu is divided into varieties of Peruvian favourites including: bocados (bites), ceviche, starters dressed with the Peruvian staple of tiger’s milk, barbeque, salads such as quinoa and mains.
The squid bocado (bite) is an absolute must. The bite-sized starter sets an extremely high standard and the chef should be praised for such a stunning start to a menu.
Similar to tapas, Peruvian food is ideally shared. We share a catch of the day (seabream) ceviche soaked in traditional tiger’s milk – which is actually the milky liquid left over after marinating raw fish in a blend of ingredients such as citrus, chilli and onions - and braised octopus, a delicate seafood to cook and one that Peruvians tend to do superbly.
We also order mains of red mullet served with coconut lobster bisque and tenderloin with canary bean ají amarillo purée.
After the squid bocado it was difficult to be as excited about the other dishes - the first bite of the meal was just so, perhaps too, good.
There has already been one victim of the influx of Peruvian restaurants in Dubai; Totora Cebicheria in DIFC closed its doors in March. Having eaten there several times, we doubt the food was to blame, rather it is evidence that if restaurants of the same cuisine intend to survive in such a saturated market they will need to do something dramatically different.
What could be Lima’s saviour is not only its inviting and casual-yet-cool atmosphere but its desert menu. I thought I made a good avocado mousse at home but boy was I out done at Lima. The whipped avocado is served in a thick chocolate shell reminiscent of avocado skin and topped with chocolate ganache and rocoto pepper and edible flowers. The presentation as well as the taste make this one of those dishes that leave you mesmerised for some time.
Non-chocolate lovers must choose the Peruvian suspiro, a delicately presented combination of cherimoya (an ancient Incan fruit) ice cream and mini meringues.
Whether Dubai has Peru fatigue or not, Lima’s menu is sufficiently familiar while still having unique surprises that will draw back both discerning foodies and guests seeking a lighthearted evening with a serious menu. Its atmosphere will be just as key to its continued success as its chef.
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