Restaurant Review: A taste of Peru’s finest at Astrid & Gaston, Lima
April 7, 2014
Gaston Acurio is probably the most celebrated Peruvian chef of all time so I feel rather privileged to have had the pleasure of sampling the exquisite culinary creations on offer at Astrid & Gaston. My Acurio-initiation took place at the former Astrid & Gaston Restaurant in Lima’s Miraflores district shortly before it closed its doors after 20 years of wowing discerning diners and moved, with much fanfare, to its elegant new home at Casa Moreyra (above) in exclusive San Isidro early in 2014.
Forbidden Fruit? Eden, the kitchen garden at the new Astrid & Gaston in San Isidro
I should state up front that I have not yet managed to actually dine at the at the all new Astrid & Gaston, but having experienced the food and service at the original I do feel qualified to comment on that at least. And having tried quite hard to understand what’s on offer, and to secure a coveted table at the new restaurant, I am confident I can offer some sound advice as to what you can expect should you decide to take up the challenge of eating at Casa Moreyra too.
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Nothing worthwhile comes easy
Astrid & Gaston in Miraflores had recently been named as one of the world’s top 50 restaurants when we dined there when passing through Lima en route to Cusco. We had been on the road for weeks and deprived of world class fine dining, so the effort required to fulfil our minor gastronomic ambition was a little irritating but not enough to put us off entirely. After the exchange of several e-mails we eventually ascertained not only that a table was available, but also what was on the menu. We were recommended the signature tasting menu, advised how long it would take to get through it, and rather importantly, how much such a culinary indulgence might set us back.
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On arrival we were warmly greeted by a team of smartly uniformed staff and seated in the spacious and elegant rear dining room. We asked for the a la carte menu, knowing that we were not in the market for the rather pricy full tasting menu but the hasty response was a further recommendation for the aforementioned tasting menu which we duly declined. We had neither the time nor the funds to splash out quite so decadently, and by now were slightly tired of having the $100-a-head option touted at every opportunity. Rather ironically, however, it proved impossible to choose just one starter and one main course each so we opted for a slightly less daunting five-course ‘tasting menu-lite’ with wine pairing.
Stunning food, excellent service
We started with an appetiser of nori seaweed rice cracker with delicate potato flowers, beautifully presented on a smooth dark pebble. Our first real course was a visually stunning and equally delicious ceviche of octopus, white fish and squid served with giant corn kernels, and fried plantains on a light sauce of yellow aji chillis. This was followed by another spectacular fish course: Conger eel, scallops and prawns with tacu tacu – a traditional Peruvian bean puree – with tomatoes, mushrooms, shredded spring onions and a light broth.
The first meat course was confit and ragout of guinea pig served with mini black corn pancakes with which we were encouraged to construct a kind of sophisticated Peruvian fajita. It worked well and would be an excellent way for the uninitiated to lose their cuy virginity. The second meat course consisted of short rib of beef with bone marrow, accompanied by carrots, peas and native potatoes, decorated with pretty and intensely flavoured parsley flowers.
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Fruits of the Pacific: Conger eel, scallops and prawns with traditional tacu-tacu
Dessert was a lucuma ice cream – a native Peruvian fruit with a soft, pale orange flesh and delicate sweet flavour – with chocolate sauce and crushed nuts. Like the rest of the meal the dessert was subtly flavoured and beautifully presented. But the real revelation was the wonderful Uruguayan dessert wine – Akyone – that accompanied it. To finish off we enjoyed a multi-coloured “chest of drawers” filled with an assortment of irresistible petit fours.
The entire meal was served by a veritable army of English-speaking waiting staff who floated around our table with seamlessly choreographed professionalism. Unlike some tasting menus the portion sizes here were perfectly calculated meaning we didn’t have to seek out a convenient street-food cart on the way back to our hotel.
Short ribs, not short orders: No need to for snacks on the way home
The only thing to take the edge off an otherwise first class experience involved the endless supply of mineral water. Whilst we assumed that only one bottle had been opened, when we received our bill it turned out that we had gone through several. It would have been nice to have been asked each time an expensive new bottle had been opened. I mean, no waiter would keep opening new bottles of wine without asking the customer’s permission first, would they?
Out with the old…
Now if the food and the service we enjoyed at the old restaurant are anything to go by then there is little doubt that eating at Astrid & Gaston’s Casa Moreyra in San Isidro will not disappoint. But no matter how good the food and service are there are still certain aspects of the whole experience that I find frustrating.
Take the new website as an example. It is only in Spanish, and while it may seek to give you an impression of the mood and the tone of the new restaurant it gives very little hard information. There are no photographs of the restaurant or the food. There is no sample menu to give you an idea of what you might eat and what you might pay. I am advised that you should e-mail and ask for a menu. I did.
Maybe it’s just me but I like to have some idea what to expect when I go out to eat and I expect top class restaurants with top priced menus to give me at least a few clues before I commit to spending my money with them. Very few of the world’s top restaurants are so scant with the information they share with the public through their websites. Moreover, there are no phone numbers on the website (you are only given the phone number after e-mailing) so you can’t telephone and talk to someone just in case you need to juggle your diary to fit in with the availability of a restaurant that will more than likely always be booked well in advance.
…in with the new
What I can confirm is that the affordable tasting menu that we enjoyed is not offered at Casa Moreyra’s restaurant, only the 29-plate tasting menu (allow two and a half hours) featuring dishes from the Pacific, the desert, the Andes, the altiplano and the Amazon for 300 Soles (about £65 or US$105) per head without wine pairing and 540 Soles (about £115 or US$190) with wine pairing. I am sure that the food will be spectacular.
If that is beyond your budget you should try to book a table at La Barra – also located in Casa Moreyra – which has an a la carte menu to suit more modest budgets and despite the name does not mean you have to sit at the bar perched on a high stool. I’d love to tell you exactly what is on the menu and how much you can expect to pay but so far my e-mail requests have only elicited two automatic responses.
If a restaurant’s reputation is built solely in the quality of its food and service, then Astrid & Gaston’s thoroughly deserves its ranking amongst the world’ best. But whilst mystery and intrigue can help to build a brand, when it comes to choosing where to dine I like to have a bit more to go on than reputation alone. If you are more trusting than me, however, and have plenty of cash to flash, then Astrid & Gaston’s should definitely be on your culinary bucket list. Just plan ahead and prepare to be patient.
Monday to Saturday: Noon – 4pm and 7pm – midnight. Sundays: 11am – 5pm
Address: 290 Avenida Paz Soldan, San Isidro, Lima Website: http://astridygaston.com/ Reservations:firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com Telephone: +51 (0)1 4422774