If you’re a fan who’s watched every episode of the Netflix show Chef’s Table, you no doubt know who Virgilio Martinez Véliz is. He’s the chef/owner at one of the world’s 50 best restaurants and the top restaurant in South America. Central Restaurant in Lima features in Volume 3, Episode 6 of the series.
And when you eat here, you’ll discover quite quickly why people describe it as a culinary experience like no other.
You’ll also discover a bit about the spending limit on your credit cards. We paid more for this meal than we did to rent an entire apartment for a month when we were in Cusco.
What’s the deal with Central?
Central Restaurant is in the southern portion of Miraflores – one of Lima’s most beautiful districts. Miraflores is an upscale district in Lima where you’ll find artists, musicians, and the like mixed with large businesses and skyscrapers. Central is currently the 6th best restaurant in the world, though it’s been as high as #4.
Dining here is as much about Peru itself as it is about eating a good meal. In fact, when you dine here, you’re not eating a meal in the traditional sense. Besides the fact that “a meal in the traditional sense” is usually $50 or less, here there is no appetizer, salad, entree, or dessert course.
What Central offers is a tasting menu.
Each course at Central Restaurant in Lima highlights ingredients from various elevations in specific regions of the country. Mussels, seaweed, algae balls, lamb, tubers, razor clams – if you can find it in Peru and if it’s edible, it might be on the menu as an ingredient.
Ingredients are so integral to Central that you’ll even find a table that showcases them – at least the dry ones.
Central Restaurant 12-course menu
First, your menu at Central is likely to be completely different than the one I’m showing you here. Items on Central’s menu only last as long as people are enjoying them and/or when Virgilio Martinez and his staff discover something new and exciting to highlight.
The thing about Central Restaurant that you have to know before you go is that everything may not be to your liking. Of course, they hope you’ll love it all, but the point here seems to be to showcase very specific ingredients – some of which might not exactly be what you consider tasty.
You have to understand that coming in – and we did. The experience and the ingredients themselves are equally as important as the taste.
So, without further ado, here is our 12-course meal at Central Restaurant in Lima. Each heading is the name of the course, followed by the altitude the ingredients come from.
Underneath the photo is a list of ingredients the course highlights.
Course 1: Red Rocks (10 meters)
Ingredients: Piure | Percebes | Razor Clams
There is no red. There are no rocks. So, logically, this one makes about as much sense as I expected the first course at a first-class Peruvian restaurant to make. It’s also the only course that had something on it that I didn’t quite like.
The razor clams were delicious. They just popped in your mouth revealing a surprising liquid that made your tongue dance. The crackers (yes, they were crackers) were full of flavor. But the black things in the bowl – the piure, I think – tasted like ink and there was no way to make them taste good, at least not to us.
I believe though that it was a good intro to what was coming.
You also learn a bit about presentation in the first course. Don’t eat anything the waiter doesn’t specifically tell you to eat – for example, the black stuff under the crackers looks appetizing. It’s not edible. The same goes for the shells under the razor clams.
You can always try. Just make sure you have good dental insurance.
Course 2: Desertic Coast (110 meters)
Ingredients: Cactus | Clams | Yuyo Seaweed
I have no idea what “desertic” means. But since the suffix -ic is normally indicative of something that “pertains to” the root of the word, I’m going to assume that they thought it was just OK to make up a new English word.
But I digress. Central Restaurant in Lima is a fancy restaurant, after all. They get paid a lot of money to create new things.
Those brick-ish looking concoctions on the left that look like they belong in a candy dish were quite spongy. I didn’t like the texture much, but the taste was definitely on point. Clams, delicious. And I’m always up for any kind of seaweed. And this seaweed was far better than the stuff I pay a buck for at the local Korean market.
Course 3: High Altitude Farmlands (3750 meters)
Ingredients: Black Mashwa | Duck | Yellow Mashwa
This course was where the menu really started to shine for us. And I think it’s because I didn’t know how they did any of this.
First of all, mashwa is a tuber – basically, a fancy potato. Next, look at the Fruit Roll-Up looking thing on the right. How do you make that from a potato? I guess you just give the potato to Virgilio Martinez and let him mess with it. However he did it, it’s delicious and just melts in your mouth.
Thankfully, it also doesn’t rot your teeth like a Fruit Roll-Up.
I should also say that this is the first time I’ve ever had duck. Sincerely. I’ve never had duck till now. This is not how I imagined it would taste. Because it doesn’t taste like poultry. It doesn’t even quite taste like meat. But then, a lot of things here aren’t quite as I imagined they’d taste.
(There are a lot of things here I never quite imagined at all!)
Course 4: Upper Jungle (890 meters)
Ingredients: Copoazú | Dale-Dale | Sachatomate
Halef and I both agreed that this was, without question, our favorite course. And you know what it essentially was?
Bread and butter. Seriously. Those lumps of stuff were two different kinds of bread – and that was delicious enough. But those two small ramekins were filled with butter and mousse. And you can’t even tell the black one is a mousse-y butter until you dip the bread into it.
(That “black” by the way, is charcoal. I swear, forget the steaks on the grill. My mouth will be forever conditioned to salivate at the sight of the Match Light coals simmering beneath it.)
The only disappointing thing about this course was that they took the remaining butter and mousse away from us after the bread was gone. I’m not embarrassed to say I would have licked the bowl and not cared what any one of the better-dressed people around me thought.
Course 5: Sea Terrain (15 meters)
Ingredients: Squid | Huarango | Sargassum
I know what squid is. I had no idea what huarango or sargassum were. I kinda still don’t. But I do know that they taste perfect when the come tangled together on a black stone plate!
For what it’s worth, huarango is a fruit and sargassum is a type of seaweed. Combined, they are a heavenly mix of goodness.
Course 6: Waters of the Desert (88 meters)
Ingredients: Avocado | Sea Urchin | Loche
Loche is a type of pumpkin. At Lima’s Central Restaurant, it also pairs perfectly with sea urchin and avocado. I admit I’ll eat just about anything with avocado anyway.
When I ate this, my mouth nearly recoiled from the surprise. Never have I tasted sea urchin. And I imagine that if I had, I wouldn’t have expected it to taste quite like this. It’s a flavor I’ll never forget, but it’s also one I cannot describe.
(If it came with the butter from Course 4, it’d be my favorite dish.)
Quick note: It’s about at this point where some people might want to check to ensure they’ve brought their epinephrine pens, because now we’re getting into the good stuff! Also, when you get to Course #9, you’ll understand why.
Course 7: Extreme Altitude (4350 meters)
Ingredients: Kculli | Kiwichas | Choclo Corn
This might be the least memorable* dish we had at Central Restaurant in Lima. It’s probably also the most nutritionally dense. Kculli and Choclo are two types of corn, while kiwicha is sort of like a mini-quinoa.
Peruvians have been using Kiwicha for over 4,000 years. At one time, the Spanish banned it as a food, and natives could only use it to construct statues. Today, they also use it as part of the Day of the Dead ceremony to make little skull-shaped candies.
*By the way, “least memorable” is not meant to say it wasn’t good. It just means “insanely delicious, but just not as insanely delicious as some of the others.”
Course 8: Amazonian Lake (190 meters)
Ingredients: Piranha | Cocona Fruit | Yuca Root
Cocona is a fruit that looks a little like a cross between a yellow apple and a persimmon. I have no idea where it is in this dish.
This one was a little tough to eat. Both Halef and I used to be volunteer divers at Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. We’ve both been inside a piranha exhibit a few times and got to know these creatures quite well. Piranhas are fairly docile creatures that scurry away nervously whenever a diver enters the tank. They’re really kinda cute, if we may say so.
They’re also delicious!
It was at this point where the presentation became a little over the top. Those piranha heads you see in the top right corner? They’re real, frozen piranha heads. It was kinda creepy. Before this, the presentation materials were things like shells, frozen blocks, and dried concoctions from the sea and land.
Just a little too real, if you ask me.
Fun fact: Did you know that Virgilio Martinez was stopped for carrying piranhas across the border at LAX? True story!
Course 9: Marine Valley (-25 meters)
Ingredients: Scallops | Macre Pumpkin | Sea Lettuce
Second favorite dish of the night. And also the point at which Halef was kinda done. Who knew that pumpkin went so well with scallops? Answer: Nobody ever – except Virgilio Martinez. Again, I’m no poet when it comes to describing food, but this was one of those flavors that, like Course #6, was just an explosion of taste that I’ve never had before or since.
Side note: Halef was starting to “feel bloated” at this point. Or at least that’s what he told me. I would find out later that, in his childhood, he had a minor shellfish allergy that he never did tell me about. From this course on, I ate most of the food and drank most of the drinks.
Fortunately, a simple dose of antihistamine when we got home did the trick – no emergency epinephrine required. Not that we had it or would have known where to go if we needed it. We would have been completely screwed. I wonder if an EpiPen is required emergency equipment when a restaurant breaks the top ten?
Course 10: Andean Woods (2980 meters)
Ingredients: Lamb | Olluco | Sheep’s Milk
Ollucos are a type of Peruvian potato, if you were wondering. The rest is self-explanatory. For us, this dish was probably the most intense. It wasn’t just a bite of lamb. It was very, very lamby with a vivid, almost wild, flavor.
The dish was also very fatty. But not in that slippery, dripping fat way that felt pleasant. It was more like fat that had mostly cooled and was getting to its solid point. I didn’t quite like that consistency in the food.
But the dish itself was, par for the [many] course[s], exceptionally delicious.
Course 11: Green Mountain Range (2800 meters)
Ingredients: Cacao | Chaco Clay | Coca Leaves
Normally, I don’t eat dessert because I’m a “salt & fat” person and don’t have a sweet tooth. But I have to say I would eat this every night. Like, every single night – forever. Let me be absolutely clear: this is how you should always serve ice cream. Always.
From right to left: cacao ice cream/mousse, a sort of chaco clay concoction, coca leaves in shave-ice jelly, chocolate and, er, stuff. Even the clay was delicious. Yes. It’s real clay and you’re eating it.
What did I tell you earlier? If it’s edible and it’s from Peru, it could make it onto the menu at Central. Proof.
Course 12: Medicinal Plants (3580 meters)
Ingredients: Congona Leaves | Huampo Gel | Kjolle Flowers
If you watched the Chef’s Table episode, you’ll remember Martinez and staff collecting tiny translucent balls of algae. Truthfully, I would be disappointed if we didn’t get them. So I’m delighted to say we did!
On the show, Martinez was being a little bit of a diva about them. If they weren’t perfect, he’d throw them back. In fact, he noted a bad algae ball to one of the staff. All I wanted to do was see one imperfect ball in my food – just one – so I could be “that guy” who mentioned it to the waiter.
Alas, the algae balls were perfect. But it was 12 courses in. Did I really expect otherwise? It was a nice refreshing drink to end the meal.
Speaking of presentation, see that bowl of crackers? Only two of them were edible. Overkill.
How long is the Central experience?
To experience Central in Lima, you should plan for 2 hours at an absolute minimum. Our experience was over three hours and we were the last ones in the restaurant after midnight. That’s likely because we were filming everything and taking longer.
When we arrived, they seated us at MAYO bar so we could have a drink. Our experience began early when they brought our first course to our table at MAYO bar. After two more courses, they moved us to the main restaurant. We left the restaurant after midnight.
What are the menu options at Central?
Central Restaurant in Lima offers four experiences:
A trajectory through sixteen altitudes of our country
A vegetarian alternative, sixteen natural spaces of our country
A journey through twelve ecosystems of our country
A vegetarian alternative, journey through twelve ecosystems
We experienced the Mater ECOSYSTEMS experience. We also included the wine, beer, and drink pairings because we figured what the hell, this was costing us a fortune anyway. Why not dig into our retirement savings while we’re at it?
The bill at Central Restaurant in Lima
The drink pairings came to about $75 each, bringing our grand total for the evening to S/. 1660 plus tip. At the time, about $565 U.S.
The cherry on top was calling an Uber at 12:30 am and being picked up in a car that looked like it was recently hauled from a junkyard.
A humbling end to an otherwise very classy evening.
Is Central Restaurant worth the price?
When you eat at Central, you have to keep in mind that you’re not just paying for the food. I really recommend watching the Netflix special to see what goes into it. It’s not just about buying ingredients from suppliers.
All the ingredients are gathered by hand. The amount of travel around Peru they do to get them is astonishing. The restaurant even has a lab inside to test each ingredient. It’s an expensive operation.
Without hesitation, Central Restaurant is worth the price – once anyway. The food was a learning experience. You’ll taste flavors that your mouth never experienced before and probably won’t again. The visual experience was just as important. Each dish was simply stunning. The chefs aren’t just cooks. They’re artists.
We really believe that you must do the drink pairings. Ours included several drinks, wine, liquor, beer, and more – all with ingredients from Peru. Each pairing was positively perfect. To say they complement the respective dish is an understatement. It didn’t just complement the dish. It was required for the dish to be complete.
Finally, you do get a parting gift – a package that contains a sample of many of the ingredients you’ll find on the Central Restaurant menu. It contains drawings, as well as actual ingredients pressed into the paper:
Why we ate at Central Restaurant
We know we are incredibly lucky to be able to make what amounts to a frivolous purchase like this. It’s an expensive night out – more than our rent in Cusco for an entire month. So we planned our trip knowing this was going to be a major expense.
We think of it like paying to see Hamilton – except it’s food, it lasted longer, you barely knew anything about the cast, and the music was better.
Our goal was to show that doing amazing things doesn’t mean you have to give up a lot. It just means you have to rearrange a few things to do so. We spent two months in Peru and we ate a lot of $2 menu plates and street food just to make us feel good about it!
As in any “normal” life, we think it’s important to treat yourself occasionally. While visiting countries around the world is almost automatically amazing, even that life becomes monotonous if we don’t splurge now and again to keep it interesting.
We hope you enjoyed this post and the photos from Central Restaurant in Lima. We certainly had fun creating it.
Video to come!
Central Restaurant FAQ
We thought it might be good here to answer a few questions that we’ve seen online about Central. As always, when in doubt, contact them.
This should answer some of the top-of-mind questions though.
What is Central Restaurante’s address?
Av. Pedro de Osma 301, Barranco, Lima, Peru
What are Central’s hours?
Mon-Sat: Afternoon – 12:45-13:30 Night 19:45-20:30 Sun: Closed
Do I need a reservation at Central Restaurant?
Definitely, yes. You’ll probably need to do it at least a few months in advance. We got lucky. We got on the waiting list a couple of weeks prior and got in. If you want, there is an a la carte menu at the MAYO bar. No reservation required, but it’s not the Central Restaurante experience.
Can I cancel my reservation?
Sure. But if you do it less than 48 hours in advance, your credit card (which you need to make a reservation) will be charged $35.
Does Central Restaurante have a dress code?
No. Except to dress respectably. Smart casual is totally fine. We wore collared shirts and jeans.
Can I choose what I want to eat?
Lima Central Restaurante menu is set, but they accommodate for allergies and dietary requirements. Let them know when you make the reservation. There is a vegetarian menu. Generally, everyone at the table is expected to eat the same food, though I’ve heard they will make exceptions. Ask when you make your reservations.
Does Central Restaurante have a Michelin star?
No. But only because the Michelin Guide doesn’t yet cover Peru. If it did, we think Central would have at least a couple of stars.
Will Virgilio Martinez be cooking when we visit?
Maybe. He wasn’t when we were there. At least we didn’t see him.
How much will Central Restaurante cost me?
Plan on $175 US per person if you’re not doing the drink pairings and $250 if you are.
Am I expected to tip at Central Restaurant?
In Peru, tipping is optional. But this is not a regular restaurant. You should tip 10-15% or more. Trust me, the waiters are an integral part of the experience. While we’re sure they’re already paid well, they deserve every tip they get. The experience does not work without them.
Does Central Restaurant accept credit cards?
Yes. You can use all major credit cards here.
Can we bring children to Central Restaurant?
Yes. Just let them know in advance and they will accommodate your children. Keep in mind though that you will be here for at least two hours and people, including you, are spending a bag of money to enjoy the experience. If you think there’s even a chance your children will be disruptive, leave them with a sitter.
Central Restaurante contact information
Phone: +51 1 242-8515
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Michael is originally from Canada but now resides in Atlanta, GA with his husband, Halef, who also writes here. He is a Couchsurfing expert. Michael has traveled to over 50 countries learning how to experience more for less as he travels.