Restaurant Review: Amazonian Adventures at Malabar, LimaApril 11, 2014
You should never judge a book by its cover, nor, apparently, a restaurant by its name. At least not where Malabar is concerned. In at number seven on last year’s Top 50 Restaurants in Latin America List, the name seems to suggest a celebration of the fragrantly spiced food from the Malabar coast of Southwest India, a kind of Peruvian-Indian fusion. But in reality, Malabar, in the exclusive San Isidro district of Lima is a tour de force of wonderfully inventive and downright tasty cuisine inspired by the food of the Amazon region of Peru. Created by one of the country’s most popular chefs, Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, who refined his skills in Italy and New York, Malabar is one of those restaurants that could easily transform a mediocre trip to the Peruvian capital into a memorable one.
In keeping with the bookish metaphor, however, my recent experience at Malabar was rather like reading an epic novel, with a definite beginning, middle and end.
A Very Promising Start
Things started off very well, before we had even set foot inside the restaurant. Unlike some establishments I could mention, the Malabar website is an extremely informative introduction to the restaurant. Not only are there mouth-watering photographs, but there are sample menus, a wine list – with prices no less – and comprehensive contact details including e-mail addresses and phone numbers and all manner of boring but practical little details that actually make choosing, reserving and finding a restaurant that bit easier.
OK, the food menus may not have prices on and they are in Spanish, but I only had to wait six hours for a reply to my request for menus with prices, and just 8 hours more when I realised my Spanish was not up to understanding the full range of exotic ingredients on the menu and had to request an English translation. The promise of dishes such as sea urchin with fava beans and roasted kid with carob sauce and smoked white corn only served to heighten my anticipation.
Warm Welcome to a Lima Hotspot
On arrival the positive vibes continued. The friendly Maitre d’ gave us the option of going straight to our table in the spacious and slightly minimalist restaurant, or pausing for an aperitif in the softly lit bar. We opted for the latter and relaxed to the sounds of Buddha Lounge music on oversized bar stools with two cool Kir Royales and a plate of cheese and corn nibbles, whilst smartly dressed baristas mixed tempting cocktails in front of us.
A gilded statue of a giant paiche – an edible Amazonian fish – and a collection of wall-mounted origami-style animal heads surveyed the comings and goings of trendy Limenos who gather here for a cocktail or two before a night out. However, it was far from overcrowded and was anything but intimidating. But as we dragged ourselves away from the bar and made our way to our table the music system malfunctioned, and suddenly it started to look like the evening was about to drift into a slow decline…
A bit of a Wobble
The tasting menu is available as 11 or five courses, but only the full 11-course version appears on the menu and our waiter seemed unsure as to which five courses made up the shorter version. So we chose from the a la carte instead only to find that two of the dishes we ordered were off, with one of them actually only available at lunch times. Which is fine, but it would be helpful if it said so in the menu.
Undeterred, we found some equally appealing alternatives, placed our order and set about perusing the wine list. We wanted to start with a glass of white wine but there were none on the list. Our waiter offered us a glass of red for 36 Soles (about £7.75 or US$12.75), but had to disappear to find out if there were any white wines by the glass, which thankfully there was – just the one – a very good Spanish for 24 Soles (about £5 or US$8.50).
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By now all the positive first impressions were starting to fade and the poor cold-afflicted waiter’s constant sniffing only made matters worse. But luckily, with the arrival of our wine came a new, English-speaking, healthy sounding waiter, and very soon afterwards the first of what would prove to be a series of truly excellent dishes.
The Proof of The Pudding
With the exception of roast belly pork (pictured, top) which was possibly too rare for some people’s tastes – and the baby aubergine that accompanied it was a tad bitter if I am being really fussy – every dish we sampled was exceptional. Starting with an appetiser of “false stones” – Andean potatoes in edible clay and two giant pajuro beans in a large green pod with a spicy Amazonian sausage sauce, things were quickly back on track.
This was followed by a subtly flavoured Brazil nut cheese with caramelised cherry tomatoes and sweet chillis. It looked too good to eat but we forced ourselves. The octopus with sea lettuce and roasted green chillis that came next was warm and tender and so tasty that I forgot worrying about just which part of the Peruvian Amazon was home to octopus.
For those who are squeamish about guinea pig, this would be a good place to try it out: served on a heavy slab of slate the roast guinea pig portions came with crispy skin – like a delicate pork crackling – with native potato and a nutty yellow chilli sauce – virtually unrecognisable as a household pet. And similarly, if you have never tried kid – as in baby goat – this would be an excellent place to give that a try too. The kid confit was served with a light carob sauce with thin slices of baby sweetcorn and giant white corn kernels and would equally make any goat connoisseur very happy. We were certainly more than happy with it.
The menu varies from season to season but right now you will pay 320 Soles (about £68 or US$114) for the 11 course tasting menu or 420 Soles (£90 or US$150) with wine pairing. The five course version is 200 Soles (£43 or US$71) or 250 Soles (£54 or US$89) with wine pairing. If you prefer to choose from the a la carte, expect to pay from 46 Soles (£10 or US$16.50) to 62 Soles (£13 or US$22) for a starter, 55 Soles (£12 or US$20) to 75 Soles (£16 or US$27) for a main course and if you have room, 33 Soles (£7 or US$12) to 38 Soles (£8 or US$13.50) for a dessert.
Red wines start at 92 Soles a bottle (£20 or US$33), white wines at 63 Soles (£13.50 or US$22.50) and sparkling at 98 Soles (£21 or US$35). There is also small selection of rose wines for those sultry summer evenings from 92 Soles.
Despite the minor lapses in service between cocktails and the arrival of our food, the quality of the food and its superb presentation were easily enough to make all the little hiccups forgivable. Our overall experience at Malabar definitely culminated in a happy ending. Oh, and to save any confusion, Malabar in Spanish is the adjective for things related to juggling. I’m still trying to work it out too…perhaps a return visit would enlighten me further.
Lunch: Monday to Saturday 12:30pm to 4pm
Dinner: Monday to Thursday 7:30pm to 11:30pm; Friday and Saturday 7:30pm to midnight
Address: 101 Camino Real, San Isidro, Lima
Reservations: +51 (0)1 440 5200/440 5300
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