The second London restaurant from Peruvian chef Virgilio Martinez serves vibrant dishes in a friendly setting. Janet Harmer reports
Within days of Lima Floral opening, the 70-cover restaurant in the heart of London's Covent Garden is buzzing, and it is easy to see why. The second restaurant in the capital from Peruvian chef Virgilio Martinez taps into the zeitgeist with its menu of fresh, vibrant dishes alongside slick, engaging service within a relaxed, friendly environment.
This new outpost is the latest culinary endeavour from Martinez and his partners, Gabriel and Jose Luis Gonzalez, who together operate Central, one of the leading restaurants in Peru's capital, Lima.
Located in what at one time was a monastery, Lima Floral offers a dining room on the ground floor and a piqueos bar, serving tapas-style dishes, in the basement.
Large arched windows in the main restaurant create a bright, airy space, heightened by a white wall enlivened with splashes of petrol blue-painted metal girders, seat cushions and candleholders. A mural from Peruvian artist Bluey Byrne provides a dramatic focal point.
The overall feel is informal and laid back. Equally, the food lacks pretension, although it is clear that the thought behind the menu is eminently serious, with a focus on new Peruvian ingredients for London, such as eco-dried potatoes, aji panca chilli peppers and uchucuta seeds, combined with UK produce.
In the main restaurant, a lunch menu of two courses (£17.50) or three courses (£19.50) (including a glass of house wine), is offered alongside the Á la carte menu, which comprises eight starters, seven mains and four desserts.
While waiting for the first course, the arrival of a vivid green coriander and herb bread, accompanied by a yogurt dip flavoured with maca - a root vegetable with a malty flavour, which is ground to a powder and consumed in some circumstances to enhance the libido - provides a colourful and intriguing taste
of what's to come.
A stand-out dish among the starters is a super-fresh sea bream ceviche (£10), featuring the fish in raw chunks as opposed to the more usual fine slices. The bream is marinated in a typically Peruvian concoction of lime juice, onions, garlic, ginger, celery and coriander.
"Adding lime juice to fish creates a white liquid, which we describe in Peru as 'tiger's milk'," explains head chef Robert Ortiz. "We marinate the fish for no more than six minutes to just 'cook' the flesh." Served with blobs of creamy avocado, crispy red onion and cancha corn, the fish is equally refreshing and warming in flavour.
An escabeche salad (£10) confirms that the kitchen is right on the money in terms of skill and judgement. Slices of beef, where the meat has been shown a flash of intense heat so that it is seared to a crust on the outside and retains a juicy red interior, are enlivened with a sweet algarrobo syrup, warm escabeche dressing
(made from onion, garlic, chilli, vinegar, sugar, oregano, coriander and mint) and green salad topped with the sweetest cherry tomatoes.
From the main course, the beef sudado (£24) is one of several on the menu that highlights the influence on Peruvian cookery from south-east Asia which, says Ortiz, has come about following the influx of Chinese and Japanese immigrants into South America. The broth-style dish, flavoured with heritage tomatoes, coriander, chilli and garlic, bulked out with quinoa and topped with rare slices of beef, is Lima Floral's version of a noodle soup.
The grilled monkfish (£20) provides a lighter option, with the accompanying yellow chilli pepper, courgette, green and red tiger's milk, coriander, spring onions and seaweed adding crunch and fragrance.
While all that has gone before is clean and fresh, the desserts, in sharp contrast, are rich and indulgent. Suspiro ardiente (£6) is a traditional Peruvian pudding featuring a base of dulce de leche and beetroot with a crunchy meringue spiked with chilli, providing a hit of heat to a very sweet dish.
Lima Floral's take on apple crumble appears in the form of chirimoya (custard apple mousse), topped with ground maca root and air-dried purple potato crisps (£6). With a price point several pounds below the original Lima restaurant, Lima Floral provides an excellent introduction to Peruvian cuisine with a keen front-of-house team providing knowledgeable details on lesser-known ingredients.
This eaterie is set to buzz for some time.
From the menu
Green causa: avocado uchucuta, muÁ±a corn, tomato seeds, yellow tiger's milk £9
Crudo mar: salmon, rocoto chilli pepper, blue potato £9
Organic lamb rump, eco dry potato, queso fresco, black quinoa, crispy blue potato £22
Organic chicken chalaca, Andean corn, raw asparagus, wood sorrel £20
Chocolate, palo blanco Peru cacao, oat and wood sorrel £6
Café Peruano, purple potato, coffee ice-cream, red kiwicha £6
Picpoul de Pinet, Terre de Roqueloupie, France, 2013 £26
Bodegones Del Sur Marselan, Uruguay, 2011 £32
14 Garrick Street, Covent Garden London WC2E 9BJ