A s far as I’m concerned, there’s only one reason to visit Lima at this time of year. It’s not the weather, for the sky is perpetually a misty grey and the temperature barely rises above 20 degrees. It isn’t the ambiance, as even in the wealthy enclave of Miraflores the clean and well-paved streets are thick with traffic, and the electric fences guarding the tops of many a fenceline scream “stay away!”. For me, the attraction of Lima can be summed up in one word: food.

And I’m not the only one to think this way. Modern Peruvian cuisine has hit the global food scene strongly in recent years, and the annual Mistura Food Festival that started in just 2008 has since attracted world-famous chefs such as Ferran Adria (El Bulli), Heston Blumenthal (The Fat Duck) and Rene Redzepi (Noma). For this year’s event – which we sadly missed by just a couple of weeks – one of our favourite chefs, Dan Hunter from the Royal Mail Hotel in Victoria, and Peter Gilmore (Quay), were the only Australian representatives at this prestigious event, and an astonishing 500,000 people were expected to attend the week-long festival!

It follows naturally that there are numerous top restaurants in Lima, and we made it our mission to visit at least one of them while there. The list was short, as we used as our guide the well-regarded San Pellegrino/Acqua Panna World’s Best 50 Restaurants list that is published annually. While the focus is on the top 50 they actually rank their assessment of the top 100 restaurants around the world, and two Lima establishments make this stellar list (by comparison Australia has four entries, three in Sydney and one in Melbourne). The top-ranked Lima joint is Astrid y Gaston, respectably placed at number 35, and it was to there that we made a beeline when we got to the capital. There is a detailed description and photos of this 17-course extravaganza at the bottom of this post, but we both agreed that after a slightly wobbly start it well-deserved its Top 50 ranking. In the much more humble Happy Trails best restaurant listing it catapulted straight into the top 5, alongside our other favourite restaurants The Fat Duck (England), Iggy’s (Singapore), Royal Mail (Victoria) and Est. (Sydney).

Due to budgetary constraints we only managed one other notable dining experience in Lima. Pescados Capitales is a popular and rather relaxed place that focuses on that standout Lima specialty: seafood. Ceviche, the local take on marinated raw seafood that has become one of the most recognised Peruvian delicacies around the world, is simply amazing here and Pescados Capitales is deservedly rated one of the best places in Lima to try it. Kristen had already tasted a number of ceviches in Ecuador (yes, they love it too but their versions are nowhere near as well-known outside that country) and Peru, but Pescados Capitales was my first stab at having a whole dish of it for myself. Choosing the classic ceviche mixto, a selection of diced raw sole, octopus, prawn and calamari marinated in a superb sauce primarily composed of lime juice, salt and chilli. Served in the classic Peruvian manner with finely sliced onions and soft sweet potato, it was utterly delicious. Kristen’s choice was possibly even more tasty: tuna tiradito, a large plate of raw tuna carefully marinated in lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil, and then dressed with a sauce of honey, olive oil, oyster sauce and orange juice. Exceptional. The desserts were nice but nowhere near as good as the fish, and we definitely would go back there again to sample more of the extensive menu.

Apart from these culinary expeditions, we didn’t do much else in Lima except prepare for going elsewhere. We did a short trip down the coast to the desert oasis of Huacachina, which Kristen will write about shortly, and then it was back to Lima for our flight to Cusco. We probably won’t rush back to Lima anytime soon – unless we’re cashed up, that is. There’s no doubt it’s a great place to spend a while if you’re loaded and looking to splurge on great food and late nights!


No matter which way you look at it, Gaston Acurio is a superstar celebrity chef in South America. Born in Lima, he studied law in Spain before dropping that vocation in favour of becoming a chef. Returning to Lima in 1994 with his German wife, Astrid (who also abandoned a former career to become a chef), the pair began applying international culinary techniques to traditional Peruvian ingredients and dishes at their Miraflores restaurant, Astrid y Gaston. Over the following years the restaurant flourished and they branched out to Santiago, Bogota, Quito, Buenos Aires, Caracas and even Madrid. The couple is popular on Latin American television and they have published a number of cookbooks. In short the Acurios now runs a culinary empire that encompasses high-end restaurants on three continents, more casual food joints across South America including cevicherias, bistros, hamburger bars and more, and there is even a hotel chain in the works according to Wikipedia.

However the flagship restaurant, the heart of the empire, remains the original Astrid y Gaston in Lima. It is that restaurant that is ranked #35 in the world, and it is to that place we journeyed on 29th October for a lengthy degustation lunch. Prior to this meal there was some discussion about whether or not we should do the tasting menu, but in the end the choice was clear. Degustations give the chefs the chance to show off their mad skills at their best, and given that half the ingredients would be completely unknown to us we would doubtless have difficulty choosing from the a la carte menu. So we launched into the 17-course meal with open minds, but unfortunately our enjoyment was buffeted at first by some rather erratic waitering.

Perhaps he was not confident with his English, or perhaps he wasn’t fully focused on the service that day, but our first waiter was very brief in his description of the first course. Our questions, especially about the wine list, were abruptly answered and we got bogged down for quite a while trying to work out what to drink with our food. Whether he bowed out by choice, or whether someone noticed and sent in replacements, the first waiter was swiftly replaced with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic somellier and different waiters. The early hiccups were quickly resolved and we could turn our attention to the seemingly endless stream of tasty treats to come.

The meal was divided into themes, each with several courses, and it was accompanied by a thick booklet of words and photographs designed to explain the underlying concept. As best I could tell it tells the story of Peru from its beginnings in nature, through the development of farming, to the Spanish conquest and the arrival of new cultures, through to today, the modern and striving metropolis that is Lima. We didn’t have much time to ponder the booklet during the meal, but it is a very different reminder of the meal to peruse and reminisce with afterwards. It even comes with a CD that we haven’t had a chance to play yet, that will no doubt offer even more memories of the experience.

Below is a short description of each section of the meal, with photos:



  • Achira, herbs and garlic
  • Kiwicha and seaweed
  • Cashew – sweet and sour
  • Apple begonia
  • Maracuya – granadilla sour

All five elements above were served on a “bird’s nest”, each element to be eaten in order as a progression of tastes. Unfortunately our waiter didn’t explain which order to eat them in except to say which was last, but it was an intriguing beginning. Three were quite savoury and two were sweet, and it was good luck not good management that we ate the sweet options last.



  • Wild tomato confit with toasted quinoa, tomato broth

Delicious, the toasted quinoa providing a marvellous crunch to the dish. Brilliant tomato flavours.

  • Huamantanga potato with rocoto pepper, pine mushrooms
  • Lima bean, Brazilian nuts, red oxalis, broth

Not mentioned above were the fine slices of calamari that lifted this dish to another level. The lima beans were presented as two small white spheres to be eaten whole (and quickly), which exploded in the mouth. A stunning dish.

  • Peruvian corn, sea scallop, coral oil, coriander

Another winner, the corn presented as a finely grained powder. Delicious handling of the scallop.



  • Ceviche carretilla with silverside, clam, sea snail, sea urchin
  • Tiradito with catch of the day, artichoke, leche de tigre, olives

Ceviche at its finest. Faultless.

  • Sudado with mussels, mackerel, sea lettuce
  • Chupe with shrimp, curdled milk, yellow potato, broad beans



  • Dashi with toasted octopus, black sesame, daikon, avocado, red shisho

By far the most theatrical of all the dishes. The dashi stock is brought out to the table in an ornate boiler, and an open flame is lit beneath it. As the dashi boils it rises into the chamber above where flavourings including shitake, ginger and lemongrass await. When boiled up, the flame is removed and the liquid strained and then added to the bowl. Quite fun, and the taste was excellent. The octopus shavings were thick and meaty, delicious.

  • Peking Cuy: guinea pig with purple corn fajitas, sweet and sour sauce, pickled vegetables

A favourite for both of us: a small wrapper of soft sweet purple bread filled with roasted cuy (guinea pig) meat. The finely sliced toppings of pickled vegetables matched perfectly.

  • Carbonara of arracacha, egg yolk, guanciale, black pepper
  • Carapulcra of native potatoes, peanuts, pork, chocolate

The least favourite dish of the night. Didn’t really work for us at all.



  • Chirimoya of caramel, crispy caramel cake, orange

Simplistic presentation, great taste!

  • Lucuma popsicle with chocolate (60% native cocoa), Andean granola

A small frozen popsicle is given, which you roll in the chocolate and then coat with granola. A bit of fun, and very tasty.

  • Beso de Moza with camu camu, butterscotch, meringue
  • Quintet of petit fours: Lucuma tuile, Pumpkin cake, Mango-basil-camu camu jelly, Algarrobina truffle, Pisco cup


Overall the meal was superb, reasonably well-paced with a delightful range of flavours and textures. Presentation occasionally was a little simplistic, but apart from just a couple of dishes the food always triumphed over any slight deficiencies in how they looked (and most looked fabulous). The matched drinks were nicely chosen, and a great touch was that they were refilled as much as desired without any addition to the cost (we got through most of a bottle of Ruinart Rose Champagne during the first few courses!). One particularly inspired matching was a dark porter style beer with marinated seafood, one of those it-shouldn’t-work-but-it-does strokes of genius. Kristen’s favourite was the fortified red wine from Uruguay that accompanied one of the desserts, a delightful drop using the usually overlooked grape variety tannat.

While the degustation at Astrid y Gaston is not cheap, given the quality of the meal the overall value is simply exceptional. At any similar restaurant in a western capital this food would cost twice as much, and if you stuck to the a la carte then the value equation would be even better. Eating at Astrid y Gaston is a must-do task for any foodie in Lima, but if your budget can’t stretch quite that far there are a number of other restaurants in the Acurio empire that would surely satisfy. I wish we were able to try them all during this visit!

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Born in New Zealand, now living in Australia. When I'm not travelling, that is... Though I have travelled quite a bit before, 2012 is the first time that I've taken a year off to roam the world. Spending this time with Kristen exploring some of this planet's finest sights has been the best decision I've ever made. Who knows what 2013 will bring?

2 Responses to “Dining Out in Lima” Subscribe

  1. Steve November 20, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

    Hey Kristen & Damien,

    Your story of the ceviche brings back sweet memories of my surfing trip to Peru. We went down to the island San Gallan off the Paracas Pensinula near Pisco. Was the most amazing surf spot – really goods waves, and surfing with hundreds of sea lions. Freaky experience especially when the male sea lions mistake a wetsuited surfer for a female on heat. On the way back we stopped at a fishing village at the port of El Chaco, and had the most amazing ceviche. It was so nice I had two servings (taste buds were doing back flips and summersaults), the seafood was so fresh and heavily souped up with loads of chilli and other spice. I’m not sure which part was most memorable the ceviche or the heartburn I experienced when we stopped at the next surf spot cerro azul on the way back to San Bartolo. Wow did I suffer, anyhow had to soldier on though because the waves were so good.

    Was great taking to you guys last month – you got me a beauty with the Latin American lingo. I think you guys have found you calling as travel writers/food critics, have really enjoyed your blog. I’m sure you could make a living out of it travelling the world all over and over.

    Cheers Steve

  2. Kristen December 3, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    Hey Steve!

    I agree, the ceviche in Peru is so tasty and I had more than my fair share! It certainly has inspired me to learn how to make it myself so stay tuned for a dinner party when we return :)

    How amazing to surf with sea lions! I imagine they like to ride the waves?

    Looking forward to catching up when we get back as well. Lis posted a beautiful picture of your backyard with the jacaranda in bloom the other day and it brought back memories of a great night spent there with the crew – the night you all first met Damo as a matter of fact! Good times.

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