Astrid Y Gaston, Lima, Peru

Ask me to pick my favourite meal of 2017? Well, that would be far too difficult. We ate so well over the last 12 months we’ve truly been spoilt for choice.

One particular restaurant truly blew me away and comes straight to my mind. And it’s a restaurant I almost didn’t go to! I rearranged our booking three times. I debated about whether we should cancel when a friend told me that some locals think it’s overrated… and then the Doc accidentally booked a flight leaving just a few hours after our meal.

“Should we just cancel?” I asked, a few weeks before our meal. “It’s going to be a logistical nightmare to get there, isn’t it?”

The Doc knows how important food is to me, and he also is excellent at making things happen. He took reigns of the situation, amended some plans and everything fell into place and before I knew it, we were booked in for lunch at a restaurant I’d go on to rave about. We went for lunch at Astrid y Gastón, the iconic, internationally renowned modern Peruvian restaurant in Lima, Peru.

We pulled up to Astrid y Gastón in our taxi, and weirdly, I had absolutely butterflies. I was so excited and nervous to be dining at somewhere I’d wanted to eat at since it made the number 1 spot in the 50 Best Restaurants in Latin America back in 2013. Those of you who have followed for a while will know I’m trying to make my way through the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, and I highly rate their lists of top restaurants!

The location itself is wonderful, in a beautiful part of Lima called San Isidro. In an area lined with pretty mansions and boutiques sits Casa Moreyra, an ancient hacienda refreshed into the home of Astrid y Gaston. Climb the steps, walk through the archways, white columns and beaded drapes and you’ll be welcomed by the hostesses and taken through to the dining room indoors or the more casual seats outside

We opted for the tasting menu, 15 contemporary courses with influences from across Peru and beyond. Helped along by cocktails!

Our first amuse bouche is apparently known as “The indecent bed, the forbidden love” – a fisherman’s empanada served with a blue potato which had been stuffed with lamb and a sea urchin toast. Whilst described as indecent, it was in fact, unbelievably good. The stuffed potato melted in the mouth, it was soft, lemony, earthy with a slight sweetness. The tiny empanada was soft and pillowy, almost doughy and the sea urchin was a revelation.

The second was said to be “from the freezing waters of the Pacific” and it was a magical combination. Dry ice was topped with cubes of fresh raw bay scallop and an herby vibrant green sauce. It was finished at the table with powdered freeze-dried apple. The sauce was herby and fresh and I genuinely had to refrain from licking the shell clean to avoid scaring the other guests around, mainly on business lunches it seemed! The Doc’s allergy meant he couldn’t try this but we were incredibly impressed with the replacement. He was served a dish with different textures of apple.

Everyone always talks about Ceviche when they think of Peruvian food, and honestly, this was one of the best we tried in all of Peru (and seriously, we ate mountains of it!) Astrid y Gaston’s version included cured sea bass, aji limon, flowering coriander leaves, onion and giant corn. The sauce was a red “tigers milk” with red chilli. We agreed that this may be the best ceviche either of us had ever had. It was spicy, chunky, fresh with crunchy corn nuts and sweetness from the giant corn with smooth yellow potato cutting through the sharpness. Surprisingly, all of these flavours were perfectly balanced with the citrusy spicy sauce – it was divine!

The next dish was described as “From Lima, the city that falls in love with everyone” – it was an exceptionally fresh tiradito made with thinly sliced scallop and schezuan pepper in a soya tofu sauce. Beautifully garnished with a Jamaica flower from the garden, we admired it before tucking in. They were the best scallops I’ve ever tasted in my life – bar none! The Doc’s shellfish-free alternative was well thought out with different types of tomato instead of scallop. It was gorgeously spiced with tiny nibs of red onion swirling in the silkiest sauce.

Surprisingly, they didn’t bring out the bread from the start, instead five dishes in appeared a generous portion of breads. Essentially it was a bread basket each. The breads were served with regular salted butter, a butter churned with black smoked tomato powder, a dairy-free avocado mash spiced boldly with chimichurri and red chilli and a portion of pork lard which had been sweetened with honey. The spreads were perfect with the array of breads from Astrid y Gaston’s kitchen. Focaccia, croissants, breads made of local mixed corn and my favourite was made of purple corn. The smokey tomato butter was as light as air and delightfully smokey, reminding us of a charcoal dip we loved at the Clove Club. The purple corn bread was studded with dried Peruvian fruits and delightful. It had the scent of cinnamon and reminded me of apple pie.

Peru gastronomy is known for two things: Ceviche and Cuy. Cuy being the local delicacy –guinea pig meet. I never expected to try this and it hadn’t crossed my mind to check if it was on the menu but sure enough, Cuy was the next dish. Astrid y Gaston’s took influence from it’s Cantonese heritage with the next dish the Cuy Peking.

Peru has a large population of Chinese immigrants and a micro-cuisine called Chifa – this is a blend of Cantonese and Peruvian food. The Cuy Peking was succulent and served in a tiny purple corn taco. Despite having been reluctant to try it, it was undeniably delicious.

I loved that the menu incorporated flavours from outside of Lima and even outside of Peru. You may remember that one of my favourite dishes in Colombia was the arepa. I didn’t like them when I visited Venezuela back in 2010, finding them quite greasy. Astrid y Gaston made a refined version filled with suckling pig and Peruvian cheese. It was presented beautifully on a grate – an ode to how it’s served on the street, but given that I’m not a fan of Venezuelan arepas it wasn’t a surprise that I found it a little too greasy. The Doc absolutely loved it so clearly this is more a reflection on my taste buds and I’m sure the majority would enjoy this dish.

I was surprised that the next course was a Waygu beef dumpling. This Nikkei dish was inspired by Okinawa. The dumpling was perfectly cooked, succulent, and it had the flavour of coriander and onion coming through alongside meaty Waygu and the savoury notes from oyster sauce.

The Doc’s shellfish free option was a chia, quinoa and cereal mix topped with grilled octopus. It was served with an orange sauce of potato and adobo with butter sauceThe chia thickened the sauce and provided crunch.

The next course brought us firmly back to Lima. This bright yellow soup was said to be typical dishes of local mother and grandmothers this soup included pumpkin, spicy pepper, green peas, egg and toasted. We stirred to break the yolk to find tiny chunks of cheese, broad beans, and Peruvian giant corn. It was seriously delicious and at this point, we were getting pretty full.

I absolutely loved the scallop with its caramelised almond crust, pesto sauce, parmesan juice, lucuma fruit. It was complex and delicious and though I’d already been served a lot of scallop, I was impressed.

Those of you who have been reading for a while will know I’m obsessed with all things Mexican, and especially the food! The next course was a twist on Mexican tacos. Coriander tacos were filled with sea bass, pumpkin, cubed Peruvian cheeses, fish reduction and served on a sweet mole. The taco and fish were perfectly cooked, with the fish just how I like it. The flavours were interesting and we agreed we’d never tried anything quite like it.

By this time we were so full that we skipped two main courses (rabbit and roast short rib stew) and went onto the desserts.

The first was the light and refreshing dessert made of creamy custard apple (locally known as Chirimoya). A slightly sweet ice cream made of the custard apple was balanced with basil, orange slices and a white wine reduction. Topped with edible flowers, it was almost too pretty to eat.

The best two courses of the entire meal were yet to come. I had no idea how they’d top this…

“Well, as you know, we eat a lot of corn here in Peru” Have you guessed what they served next? Out came a ceramic corn on the cob. Inside was a steamed parcel of chocolate and corn stuffed with cacao; a peppery ice cream; frozen orange flecks and the most divine honey sauce.

This dessert, for me, is up there on the “dishes to try before you die” foodie bucket list! It was incredibly tasty, moreish and maybe the best dessert I’ve ever had.

Our meal ended with an amazing cacao mousse with chocolate from Tumbes in Peru. It was served in a thin wafer of cacao on a bed of dried cacao seeds. This came served on whole cacao pods. Each bite was light and rich in equal measure, broken up with popping candy and a light whipped centre with hints of basil and lemon gel. It was incredible.

We took our petit fours to-go with the never-ending bread basket (which we enjoyed later that day on our flight!)

It’s an achingly cool restaurant with high ceilings, tones of dark blue, mosaic tiling and minimalist decor. Even Astrid y Gaston’s bathrooms are cool, with toilets rival those at Sketch in London, in that you can barely find the doors!

Service was warm and professional and it’s put Astrid y Gaston up there as one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to!

I cannot believe we almost didn’t go. If you go to Lima, promise me, you’ll try to book in. If you had the meal we had, there’s no way you could be disappointed.

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Our incredible meal at Astrid y Gaston was complimentary, but my opinions are my own (and I can’t recommend it enough!!)