Thursday, July 19, 2012


During a phone conversation with Liz, she convinced me to treat myself to lunch somewhere special for my birthday, so after a morning shopping in Chinatown, I invited Willy to lunch at Malabar.

On the way there, he decided that he wanted to treat me instead, which I naturally accepted, and we called Juancho and José to join us.

Malabar is a white-tablecloth restaurant in San Isidro's Camino Real area.  It is the brainchild of  Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, who is widely regarded as one of Lima's more inventive chefs.

The entrance is fairly nondescript, and there is nothing flashy about it.  In fact, it could be easily missed. Inside, however, is a very nice -and surprisingly comfortable- space.  The tables are impeccably appointed and -other than the bar area- the decor is subdued. 

The bar itself is incredibly well-stocked for a Lima restaurant bar, but perhaps the most conspicuous element is the large painting of two nude bathers that hangs over its seating area, directly facing the restaurant's entrance.

On a previous visit to Malabar, we noted that Schiaffino was focused on the flavours and ingredients of Peru's jungles.  In fact, it was on that fusion that he largely built his reputation.  Those elements are maintained still in a few dishes and but this time around Schiaffino had turned his attention to the Andes.  However, what we ate was not the typical "Novo Andina" fusion that has been done -and perhaps overdone- with varying degrees of success here.

For starters, while we waited for José and Jacho to arrive, they brought us a small bowl of traditionally toasted (no oil, no salt) cancha -dried corn kernels- accompanied by cubes of salty cheese from Ayacucho's Puquio province.

Next, when they brought out crusty bread, we were provided with little trays containing two tiles of piedra de Huamanga, a type of alabaster characteristic of Ayacucho's Huamanga province and long used in art and folk crafts in the region.   One of them was chilled and had a hollow filled with butter, the other had been heated to allow each of us to keep his piece of bread warm. (It didn't really work, but it was a nice idea.)

The food, as I've said, was not the usual Novo Andina fusion, in which chefs and cooks too often rely on heavy sauces.  Schiaffino's touch is much lighter and refined, as fits a restaurant that even in city with so many restaurants, and so many good ones at that, is marked as one of the highest-rated gourmet stops.

José ordered a dish of roasted suckling pig, which was crispy on the outside and moist inside, and Jacho had a dish of rabbit with a peanut polenta, which they both enjoyed.

Willy ordered a dish of rockfish -we thing it was a mero- over mushrooms and boiled Brazil nuts in a sage-infused gravy.  It was delicious, specially the sauce.

My own selection was a piece of paiche -a large jungle fish- in a sauce made with masato and topped with black tapioca.  It was very nice although kind of hard to eat with a fish fork and still enjoy some of the sauce in each bite, so I asked for a spoon.

To finish the meal we ordered the selection of traditional Lima desserts.  Clockwise from the center: suspiro de limeña, arroz con leche, picarones, mazamorra morada, and lúcuma ice cream.

As I said, today was a day of culinary indulgence.  And there was yet more to come ...

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