Astrid y Gaston
Even from my short and wellness-impaired visit to Lima, it was easy to see why it holds such a strong reputation as a culinary hotspot. Much of the credit for that goes to chef Gaston Acurio and his pastry chef wife Astrid Gutsche who together opened the original Astrid y Gaston back in 1994.
Now transported from its original location to a magical villa in San Isidro, the restaurant continues to thrive as one of the country and continent’s finest places to eat.
I was lucky to have snagged a table during a jam-packed Saturday lunchtime service. As well as the main restaurant area where I dined, there seemed to be a plethora of other rooms and bars with a real sense of this being a place that Lima residents – rather than simply the tourist crowd – came to dine.
I’d booked for the tasting menu and matched drinks so a list of what today’s selection comprised was brought and we kicked off from there.
I’ll start with a little gripe. There was a bunch of motivational call and response from the kitchen to start service which is something I never enjoy. This always seems to set up a division between kitchen and customer, and while the kitchen here was open there was no warmth or interraction between chefs and diners which felt like a missed opportunity.
Thankfully, just about everything else with the experience was sensational, starting with an excellent set of snacks titled ‘the indecent bed, the forbidden love’ for reasons that were not entirely clear. Each course had a title with some oblique in this way and others more descriptive.
The snack comprised a dainty little fisherman’s empanada, a purple potato stuffed with lamb stew, and sea urchin toast. These were top notch and set the bar for the rest of the dishes to follow.
Three seafood courses followed. First we had Andean river shrimp served in a creamy herb sauce then topped at the table with apple snow. I’ve seen similar dishes to this at Amaru and Franklin and this was every bit as good as those ones and better.
We stayed in the traditionally Peruvian vernacular with an outstanding sea bass ceviche with traditional tiger’s milk sauce added at the table. Despite my claims for marmalade sandwiches as their national dish, this is the emblematic Peruvian dish recognised and loved around the world. This was a stellar version.
We completed this glorious trio of seafood delights with another classic, tiradito. This featured scallop ceviche in a beautifully presented dish that looked like a spring garden.
Continuing the riotous colours, the bread basket to follow was simply dazzling. This was a lot of bread in the context of a 14 course tasting, but I was encouraged to try little bits of everything with the accompanying whipped and smoked tomato butters as well as excellently fresh guacamole. What were all the different breads? Delicious, that’s what they were.
We recommenced with one of the more notorious Peruvian delicacies. Called cuy (kwee) in the native tongue, it’s your favourite childhood pet the guinea pig. This dish was a terrific fusion with the cuy served in the style of Peking duck inside a soft taco shell. It was splendid and every bit as memorable as Tim Raue’s signature Peking duck.
We then moved on to a brief exploration of the Japanese influence in Peru which is very strong. Aside from Maido being their current number one restaurant, the Peru-Japan fusion cuisine known as Nikkei is widely prevalent and popular. This dish was an elegant gyoza on a corn based sauce. It was splendid.
The catch of the day course brought together seabass and river shrimp with a bean salad and foamy sauces. This was probably the least convincing dish of the day but still reflected accurate cooking and a good balance of flavours.
We were back to fusion with the next course, a rabbit curry with jasmine quinoa. This had beautifully cooked rabbit and lightly aromatic sauces.
Skwered beef tongue was then served with a caramelized tuber called arracacha and an array of sunbright piquant sauces. This was another winner.
The final savoury course was outstandingly tender stewed short rib beef, with delicious fried rice and seaweed salad.
We then had a little pause before the sweet selection proceeded. This commenced with a palate cleansing chicherito in the form of a riff on a mini ice-cream cone. It was a beaut.
We then had stylised potato with a sugar-crisp shell filled with a mix of saffron, kumquat, huacatay and honey ice cream on a bed of mushroom soil. It was very impressive.
The plating of the final dessert featured a tableau of different states at the end of a meal. It was pretty odd but the zingy chocolate and yuzu truffle that the onlookers were gazing at was extremely good.
Throughout, the paired drinks had been outstanding. There was a really interesting balance between local – an APA brewed by Alcon solely for the restaurant, and incredible Pais red from Chile – with some great old world stuff – an Italian orange wine, some excellent palo cortado sherry and a fine Tokaji with dessert, Parce rum from Colombia to finish – all of which felt very well calculated and gave a measured sense of Peruvian food culture on a world stage.
It’s easy to see why Astrid y Gaston is so highly valued. Aside from the excellence on display, the thing that struck me most was how fresh, vibrant and relevant it all felt almost a quarter of a century after it first opened its doors. This was in sharp contrast to restaurants in Buenos Aires – most notably El Baqueano and Tegui – which felt stale after around a decade and in desperate need of fresh impetus. Astrid y Gaston should definitely be on your list for a visit to bask in the glory of a truly amazing venue packed with timeless class and truly exceptional food.
Blythe scores Astrid y Gaston
5/5 for food
4.5/5 for presentation
5/5 for setting
4.5/5 for service
giving an overall 19/20
I ate: tasting menu
I drank: paired drinks
I wore: black suede loafers
Total bill: 747 sol
Address: Avenida Paz Soldan 290, San Isidro, Lima