Virgilio Martinez grew up in Lima in Peru and did a law degree, but then decided to become a chef. He studied at Le Cordon Bleu school in London in 1998 before travelling widely and cooking in places such as Can Fabes and the iconic Lutece in New York before returning to Peru to be head chef of a restaurant called Astrid y Gascon in 2008, then opening his own place called Central in 2010. In August 2012 he opened Lima in the marginally less exotic setting of Fitzrovia. The head chef of Lima is Robert Ortiz, who worked with Mr Martinez for several years. Many of the ingredients are imported from Peru. The dining room is split over two levels, seating 80 people at any one time at capacity. The wine list is printed over two pages, ranging in price from £18 to £132. Kientzler Pinot Blanc 2011 was listed at £31 for a wine that you can find in a shop for around £9, Hubert Lamy Les Tremblots Puligny Montrachet 2008 was £70 compared to a shop price of £34, and the superb Didier Dagenau Silex 2009 was £100 for a wine that will set you back £67 retail.
Artichokes (£8) with green limes, fava beans, tree tomato emulsion and molle pink pepper was attractively presented, the artichokes having rather limited flavour, though the tomato flavour was reasonable (2/10). Scallops (£8) were served with cassava, yellow aji emulsion and “umami salt”, this dish pleasantly balanced, the scallops having quite good flavour (3/10). Crab (£19) with purple corn reduction, red kiwicha (amaranth) and huayro potatoes (“grown at 4000 metres”) was pleasant enough, but there was very little crab meat, and sadly this included several pieces of shell, showing laziness on the part of the kitchen. Ignoring the shell, the potato and crab combination was interesting, but I am not sure if I could have told the difference between these potatoes and those, say, grown at 2845 metres, and in terms of flavour they were not a patch on the ones served at Arpege (1/10). At £19 for a course they could really have managed a little more crab.
Easily the best dish was the halibut (£18) with cancha corn, Andean herbs and mirasol aioli; here the fish was cooked through nicely, the sweetness of the corn an unusual foil for the fish, but the mirasol chillies were subtle, to say the least (4/10). For dessert, chocolate (£8) “cacao porcelana 75%” parfait was served with mango and hierbabuena (mint) granite with blue potato crisps. The chocolate was fine, the granita a pleasant accompaniment, but chocolate and potato crisps are, to be frank, a daft idea (2/10 is kind). Chanchamayo coffee ice cream (£6) with chancaca honey, cocoa leaf and olive oil with coconut powder was the least attractively presented dish, a grey and green concoction that unfortunately lacked the coffee flavour that it promised (1/10).
Service was well meaning but disorganised. Our waiter confidently placed the wrong starters in front of us, and then repeated the trick with the main courses – even by tossing a coin he would have done better. The bill came to £84 a head, albeit with one of the better wines (Rioja Alta 904 1998 at £71 for a wine that retails at £36), but even if we had sampled one of the more basic wines the bill would have still come to around £65 a head. This still seems to me quite a lot for what was prettily presented but ultimately far from exciting food. The restaurant has the advantage of being unusual and serves pretty food that will photograph well on food blogs, and indeed was very busy this evening. It was pleasant enough, but I am curious to see how it does once the novelty wears off.