Is Lima just another Peruvian restaurant in Dubai or does it differ?
Dubai continues to amaze me as I discover that City Walk’s new second phase now has licensed restaurants in the ‘Gourmet Boulevard’ courtyard (linked to the La Ville hotel). Lima Dubai is a Peruvian import by chef Virgilio Martínez whose creations at Central in Peru (ranked no. 5 in the 2017 World’s 50 Best list) seen on Chef’s Table, and his one Michelin star Lima outpost in London (read FooDiva’s interview with Virgilio here) set high expectations for myself and my co-diners – an ex-chef, a prolific foodie, an avid traveller and a veggie.
Seating is comfortable and contemporary with the lounge and bar area up the winding stairs one level above the dining room. Pockets of light and darkness give Lima a clubby feel, but the ambience would benefit from slightly brighter lights; after all, I like to see what I am eating.
From the cocktail list I seem to be the only taker for a Pisco Sour – the Andean bellwether cocktail – the rich frothy drink lives up to my expectations. Being a traditional serve-food-in-courses person, the sharing of small portions always leaves me challenged with the feeling that I am not eating a ‘proper’ meal and the lack of sequencing does not allow my palate to register all the tastes. The overarching flavours that run in Peruvian cuisine, particularly the lighter bites, are that of leche de tigre or tiger’s milk, which is a simple yet lively base marinade created by mixing white fish with lime, aji (red chilli pepper), onions and coriander.
We kick off with the lobster tiradito – thin slices of lobster similar to carpaccio with red onion, leche de tigre and rocoto peppers. A good opening serve, but nothing memorable. The aubergine tiradito comes next, with a variety of vegetables to dig into – slices of pickled carrots, asparagus, artichokes and aubergine – all laced with tiger’s milk. My vegetarian partner is not particularly impressed with the combination of vegetables dulling the freshness of the leche.
The catch of the day is a traditional ceviche – with sea bass in a tangy leche de tigre, garnished with marinated red onions and crunchy cancha corn (popcorn-like). I slurp up the remains of the leche de tigre with my taste buds tingling to the acidity of the limes and the spiciness of aji amarillo (yellow chilli pepper).
The chef’s creation of a crumbed chicken breast ceviche is fairly unique in concept, as it is a hot ceviche rather than the traditional cold dish. Slices of crumbed chicken breast are garnished with sweet potatoes and pak choi, whilst the waiter pours over hot rocoto tiger’s milk in generous quantities. The boiling ‘milk’ sizzles over the chicken pieces and we let it settle for a minute before tucking in. While the dish is visually appealing, our taste buds are a little confused with the balance between the ingredients, and we conclude that crumbed chicken breast should be left to the realms of good old bar food to be enjoyed with rye sauce, sliced onion and beets, rather than hot tiger’s milk!
The sour roots causa boasts a creative presentation with a base of crushed purple potatoes, baby carrots, radish slices, baby corn and aji amarillo. An Escabeche sauce gives a peppery character to the creation. This dish does not attract any kudos from any of us – just a lot of divergent vegetables, a slightly unappetising purple potato base, with the sauce doing some damage control.
I am not sure why a beef tartare dish is described as such, but it’s a winner. Unlike the French original, here it’s served as croquettes with crushed potatoes and beef – cooked crunchy on the outside and soft inside. The ocopa sauce which is a classic accompaniment for potatoes in Peru is made with huacatay (a Peruvian black mint), white cheese, aji amarillo, milk and onions.
A quinoa salad is a little more exotic than typical fare with avocado, zucchini, pumpkin and mixed leaves drizzled with an olive emulsion. In Virgilio’s interview with FooDiva, he claimed, “I won’t do a quinoa salad though, or overuse it.” I suppose one dish qualifies as not overusing it.
The chicken breast pachamanca brings the wholesome and earthy flavours of the Andean clay pot to our table. Evolving from the ancient Inca times, the chef produces a sophisticated rendition of this comfort dish. The chicken, potatoes, aji sauce and the corn ‘brulee’ embellishment score highly from all of us.
Lima’s signature braised octopus is a delicately composed dish and resembles a painting with the sauces, micro herbs and violet flowers. A well executed dish with the mildly braised octopus flavour enhanced by a visually vibrant and succulent sauce.
Inspired from the street carts of Peru, the tenderloin anticuchos offer juicy grilled tenderloin slices marinated with a traditional Peruvian aji panca (Peruvian red pepper).
We have little capacity left for dessert but I order the recommended Peruvian suspiro. A very delicate looking dessert with chirimoya (a Peruvian fruit like custard apple) flavoured ice cream and violet flowers – it tastes as good as it looks with various degrees of sweetness creeping out from each component.
At AED225 per head for food only, Lima is priced well, setting a price benchmark, I hope, for licensed restaurants in City Walk. Service needs improving – the communication between waiters is inconsistent, and we have to repeat our drinks orders a number of times because of long delays. Whilst the presentation of plates is fantastic throughout, a number of dishes fail to register memorably on our taste buds. Bar the leche de tigre, Lima’s food differentiates from the rest of the Peruvian pack, but the chef needs to fine tune the flavour balance in some of the dishes. With all this in mind, I give Lima an average 3 out of 5 FooDiva knives.
Are you fascinated by Peruvian food – what is your top pick in Dubai?
Who is FooDiva’s guest reviewer? AK works as an investment banker in Dubai and is an avid gastronaut who thinks that a day without a good meal is a day wasted. He has travelled the world exploring culinary delights including a treasured dinner at El Bulli.