March 12, 2017 / Leave a Comment
Most foodies will be familiar with the name Virgilio Martinez, whether from his Chef’s Table episode on Netflix, or from being the man behind Central, ranked no.4 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. He’s gracious, softly spoken and put simply, just a lovely bloke. We were very lucky he was in the kitchen (and on the floor) for our visit – I’m told he will be back a couple of times a year from here on out, as with most Dubai-based celeb-chef-led concepts.
His casual concept, Lima, has two outlets in London, one of which holds a Michelin star. Fast forward five years from the opening of the first Lima London branch and it’s third location is opening in Dubai. I was lucky enough to be invited to the pre-opening media preview, so I’ll give you a little run down as to what is going on at Dubai’s newest Peruvian eatery.
I have to say it’s a brave move on the part of Virgilio and his investors to bring another Peruvian concept to Dubai, as at current count we have about 1,758,234 Peruvian and Pan-Latin restaurants in Dubai. Dubaians fell head over heels for ceviches and tiraditos, and former Restaurant of the Year, Coya, blazed a path for many to join the party. Or should that be carnavale? Let’s just say that it’s not a cuisine that’s in short supply – to open yet another in this competitive sector takes some serious cojones. But if anyone has the background from which to rise to the top of the pile, it has to be Virgilio and the Lima team.
Lima is located in the ‘fine dining courtyard’ at Citywalk 2 – I can’t say it’s the easiest of centres to navigate for those of us used to valet at the doorstep (#DubaiLife), but I think it will be better signposted soon. Look for ‘Smoky Garden’ – it’s tucked in behind that venue. It’s licensed, surprisingly, given that it’s not attached to the (rather lovely and modern) hotel in Citywalk, La Ville. It does appear however that more independent complexes are being granted liquor licenses lately (e.g. Club Vista Mare), so that gives us hope that establishments may increasingly be able to spread their wings outside hotel properties (and I really, really hope this means the fabulous Dragonfly might be able to get a license one day).
It has a sizable bar area (plus outdoor courtyard and balcony) to make as much use of that license as possible, and the decor was lovely, following along the brown and turquoise theme we’re seeing in a lot of similar Dubai establishments lately. It’s a lovely fit out, with imported Peruvian stone table tops, but in a line-up, I think you’d be hard-pressed to pick it out from the other similar restaurants in town. Creating a strong visual signature is becoming harder and harder in this city, where almost every fit out is laboured over at much expense.
We had a set menu for this media preview, so I’ll take you through what was served up for us to try – but there’s a lot more variety on offer on the full menu. Given that I can’t eat seafood, I had some vegetarian alternatives to the set menu – but I’ve included photos of all dishes that were served on the night in the gallery.
Our drinks were also a limited selection at this event, and I think there is room for improvement on the cocktail side of things – curiously, our cocktails looked identical despite being different, and the flavours didn’t incite us to finish them. Given the stiff competition when it comes to cocktails in Dubai, I think this is an area that could use a little push in terms of recipe and creativity.
Aubergine Tiradito 50
Pickled carrots. Asparagus. Artichokes. Rocoto tiger’s milk.
This was the vegetarian substitute for the first course – and while it looked pretty on the plate, it was very petite and didn’t really stand up as an alternative to the seafood. It was really just a tiny side salad, the dominant flavour being vinegar. It wasn’t unpleasant – the vegetables were lovely, but it felt like a garnish, not a complete stand alone dish.
3,5000m Altitude 50
3500M tubers. Andean potatoes.
Rocoto tiger’s milk.
My excitement for the vegetarian options unfortunately waned further with this second dish. It was beautifully presented – golden shards concealed a bounty of colourful veges, looking just as bright and fresh as the dish preceding it. A combination of very mellow flavours and mushy textures left me wanting so much more from this course, however. I loved the name and the concept, but sadly this dish was more style than substance.
Granadilla. Heirloom tomatoes. Mixed leaves. Grapes. Nasturtium tiger’s milk.
I’m not sure what burrata is doing on a Peruvian menu, but I’m not complaining. By the looks of it, it’s a dish added to the menu just for Dubai – to be honest though, that’s a smart move. They’ve read the market right here – I’m not sure I’ve seen a city where burrata is more popular than Dubai (even in Italy). It’s a lovely take on the menu essential, made unique by the addition of a Peruvian fruit I haven’t seen here to date, granadilla. A bit like a cross between kiwi and passionfruit, it’s sweet yet slightly tangy seeds make this interpretation of burrata a rather good one. The dish on the whole is on the sweeter side, but very enjoyable. The one let down in this dish was the tomatoes, which throughout the meal had been on the floury, mushy side, for want of a better technical term (if someone has a technical term for you know…that squishiness in tomatoes, please let me know).
280g Wagyu Sirloin 8+ 350, Corn Brulee 35
Cassava purée. Ají citrus sauce. Corn brûlée
Another dish that is sure to be a huge hit with the Dubai market. Steak? Wagyu? Grade 8? Peruvian? Diners will flock to this dish like expats to a half price brunch. It might not have been the most marbled, 8+ that I’ve tasted given that it’s the leaner sirloin cut (and I usually choose rib eye or scotch…I want ALL THE MARBLING, hang the health consequences!), but the flavours are insane, and the meat perfectly tender. The Peruvian flavours are the star of the show here, and the corn brûlée that accompanies it is a stunner. It’s a corn cake of sorts with a polenta-like consistency, it’s absolutely delish, and it rounds this plate off perfectly. This one is sure to become a signature dish. (Our portion, pictured, was half size I believe, so you would receive the full 280g if ordering at 350dhs full price.)
Avocado Mousse 50
75% chocolate. Rocoto pepper.
A refreshing and very appropriate end to the meal, this dish feels very on-theme here. The avocado mousse is smooth, creamy and a nice change from the norm. The chocolate shell really is a dead ringer for the real thing, and the silky chocolate ‘stone’ in the middle completes the illusion. My only complaint would be that the serving size is much too large – less than half the serving size would have been enough as it’s fairly rich. I’d have loved some chili in the mix to cut through the creaminess and give some contrast.
Judging by Dubai’s love of Peruvian cuisine, ceviches, burrata and wagyu, I’m fairly certain Lima won’t struggle for diners. Coming from the stable of the world’s 4th best restaurant, it has some impressive clout behind it too, which definitely won’t hurt in this image conscious market. The fit out is beautiful from top to bottom, and every dish is built for Instagram – a symphony of colours abound in both the ingredients and the plates they rest on.
I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that the mushy tomato and potato issue might resolve itself once they’ve had time to settle into their new location – I believe most of the produce is being flown in from South America, and it just felt like some of it had spent a little too much time in cool stores. Bedding in a good quality supply chain is no mean feat here in Dubai – fellow 50 Best CityWalk offshoot Dragonfly (from the Tim Raue team) painstakingly sourced no less than 30 individual suppliers to find the produce needed to deliver the quality they wanted on the plate (with much success, might I add).
It’s only (very) early days for this new kid on the block and I’m looking forward to checking Lima out again in 3-6 months and seeing how they’ve settled into their new and very different home – with all the challenges that adapting to Dubai brings. I hope a brunch will pop up on Lima’s calendar soon – I think it would be a great location at which to enjoy the weekly Dubai ritual! I’m looking forward to being wowed on my next visit.
Do you have a favourite Peruvian restaurant in Dubai? Let me know!