Quite erroneously and seemingly without reason, I have always associated Pisco with themed restaurants, party sparklers, and cheap cocktail bars.
Yet, of course as you will know, the Pisco Sour is a fine, robust and elegant drink when made well. Indeed in 1889, when recounting his time in San Francisco, Rudyard Kipling described the city’s famous Pisco Punch as “the highest and noblest product of the age”.
In fact Pisco was the drink of mid 19th Century San Francisco. During the Californian Gold Rush, the Andean brandy was dropped off in vast quantities by opportunistic merchant ships. As the small West Coast settlement grew from 200 residents into a thriving metropolis of tens of thousands, Cisco went mad for Pisco.
Another writer at the time illustrates the cause of the Pisco mania in slightly less grandiloquent terms than Kipling: “It was like lemonade, but came back with the kick of a roped steer.”
Three Pisco Sours down at the Bajo Bar in the basement of Lima Floral and I understood what he meant. After relaxing into its expertly mixed light, aromatic sweetness, I was kicked by that roped steer.
It’s a sophisticated kick though, and emulates the bar’s interiors: a moody, atmospheric space with dark lighting and tucked-away booths. Larry and I are practically the only people in the bar on a Wednesday evening – but this isn’t a reflection on price, quality or atmosphere. It’s simply sufficiently hidden away to keep the baying tourists above out.
To tee up dinner, Larry and I order some small plates to take the edge off that steer’s hoof: Beef Empanadas, and Beef Saltadito. They’re moreish, so we order more, then head upstairs to dinner.
Lima Floral is the sister restaurant of Lima, the Michelin-starred pioneer of Peruvian cuisine in the capital. It’s billed as a more relaxed offering. Wooden floors, white walls, simple lighting. There’s a sense of confident ease to the restaurant; a calm elegance, like a well-tailored, white linen shirt.
We start with mixed ceviche, and a trio de tiraditos – strips of salmon tuna and cobia marinated in tiger’s milk, and cashew pesto. Tiradito is Peruvian sashimi, a reflection of the influence of Japanese immigrants in Peruvian cuisine. The raw fish is delicate, but the marinade of the tiraditos is slightly strident, and there’s not enough variation between the tiradito and the ceviche. In hindsight we should have ordered more of the beef, which had been delicious in the bar.
The menu often stresses the Andean provenance of its ingredients. The potatoes that accompany the lamb are 4,000m Peruvian potatoes, tubers and roots are Andean. But I’m not sure this emphasis on South American pedigree is always that important. I had the Paiche Camucamu – Amazonian farmed Paiche with camucamu fruit, plantain banana and seaweed butter. You can’t say it’s not authentically South American, but in truth it doesn’t taste too dissimilar from a massive cod – and the flavours from the camucamu fruit aren’t really strong enough to enrich the white fish. Larry’s Amazonian Lamb Rump, however, was very good. Coated in coffee dust, and slow-cooked there was a magical darkness to the meat which evoked the uncannily familiar flavours of the Creole continent.
Larry finished with Amazonian Tree Tomato – a mousse made from tamarillos, a sweet tart fruit unique to the Southern Hemisphere. While I had the Chocolate a mousse made from dark Peruvian chocolate. Once again you can’t deny the commitment to South American sourced produce. In fact, revealing myself to be entirely uncultured, I’d never heard of Tree Tomatoes before Lima Floral. The desserts are heavy and slightly savoury; and when contrasted with the sweetness of the tiger milk marinade in the starters, it seems as if the order of dishes has been inverted.
There’s a slight touch of the Wonka to Lima Floral with its obscure ingredients, and far-flung provenance. Pisco, paiche, camucamu, tree tomatoes. It is an education. One which is increasingly difficult to find in this metropolis of abundance.
Lima Floral, 14 Garrick Street, London WC2E 9BJ. For more information, including details of other Lima restaurants, events and information about ‘Bajo’ by Lima, visit www.limalondongroup.com.