Astrid y Gaston – my best meal ever (Lima, Peru)

After four months in South America, it’s safe to say that it’s been a trip of superlatives. And whilst it’s very easy to say ‘This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!’ ‘My feet have never hurt so much!’ ‘This is the best sunset ever!’ (I even wrote a blog post on all our superlatives), believe me when I say that the tasting menu at Astrid y Gaston was, actually, the best meal I’ve ever had. Having visited Gustu (in La Paz, Bolivia) and Malabar (also in Lima) on this trip so far, I was eager to find out how number 7 on the list of Latin America’s top 50 restaurants would improve upon numbers 14 and 38. And whilst I previously thought it would be hard for any restaurant to top my meal at The Lawns in the Wirral, Astrid y Gaston did it, and then some.

It started off with the setting. After power walking to San Isidro and arriving slightly out of breath, the gorgeous entrance and the subsequent cool, airy, and bright interior immediately calmed us down. And a pisco cocktail in the beautiful bar even more so!

Throughout the afternoon, I felt taken care of like never before. When we sat down in the third dining area, where we could watch the chefs at work, feel surrounded by nature due to the greenhouse-like ceiling, and where the size of the room and natural light pouring in made us feel incredibly relaxed, our waiter told us he wanted us to finish our cocktails in peace before starting on the food. After all, we wouldn’t want to mix inappropriate flavours on our palate now, would we? So we sipped them calmly as we sat in our suede chairs, and took in the natural and earthy colours of our surroundings. We were in for a treat, as we were due to enjoy the full tasting menu including wine pairings.

I love tasting menus, as you’re never quite sure what will come next, and every mouthful is a delicious surprise. Starting off with the bread basket, we were blown away by the different tastes and textures – good bread has been hard to come by on our trip, so we appreciated the basket immensely. The guacamole, salted butter, and fish spread that accompanied it were soft, creamy, and utterly delightful, which made it even more difficult not to devour it all, but rather save our appetites for what was to come!

The first course was likely my favourite straight off. Scallops, presented on a bed of ice and topped off by our waiter with apple and basil shavings, melted in my mouth and freshened my palate in a way I’d never experienced before. Paired with a delightfully crisp Sauvignon Blanc (the best wine we’d had since leaving Argentina), it was the perfect start to the menu, as it left my mouth watering.

The next course was a classic ceviche. After having learned a lot about this dish in my cooking class with Sky Kitchen the day before, I was delighted to see that all the ‘rules’ had been followed. The leche de tigre was added just before we ate it, making sure not to overcook the fish. The fish itself was undoubtedly fresh as fresh can be, and the camote (sweet potato) and choclo (corn kernels) perfectly balanced the flavours and textures. We were also told to eat it with a spoon to make full use of the dressing, something Diana had told me the day before as well!

I can tell I’m soon going to run out of words to describe all the food, and since there were so many courses, I will try and sum up each one following in one (maybe 2) sentences!

Egg tempura: the most interesting dish of the night – a deep-fried, perfectly poached egg, with superbly tender camarones (prawns) and a crab sauce to die for. Served in a beautiful stone bowl and paired with a wine made from the same grapes that are used for Pisco, it was utterly unique in both flavour and texture.

Peking cuy (guinea pig!): Beautifully presented with daikon on a mermaid dish, the thought of eating guinea pig was nerve-wracking at first, but it tasted just like its duck counterpart – crispy, five-spiced, and delicious. We didn’t realise at first that we had to roll it up in the black wrap, but were soon put right…

Seafood gyoza: A taste explosion, with incredibly high quality seafood and a light sweet chilli sauce – I love Japanese food, so this was an absolute winner.

Fish course: The only dish we found fault with due to a slight oversaltiness, with sides that seemed a little starchy at first due to the abundant choclo (corn). It improved with every bite, but was not quite as interesting as all the other courses, apart from the pretty plate it was served on and the soft and light wine it was served with.

Cochinillo: Crispy McCrispington, with gorgeous edible petals as a garnish and a citrus and potato drizzle, our notes from this dish include the word ‘BONANZA!’ (We’d had quite a bit of wine at this point)

Nutty baklava with fresh fig and mascarpone: ‘Ahora viene el mundo dulce’, announced our waiter. And oh, what a sweet world. The baklava was not too sticky, not too sweet, just a perfect combination of flavours and textures, with all the nuts we could ever have wanted. My companion even declared it was the best dessert she had ever eaten. With it, we were given a fruity gin that was very strong, but superbly enjoyable!

And THEN… the creme de la creme. The magic box. The chest of wonders. The treasure of treasures.

Juan Carlos, our waiter, put it before us and then slowly and torturously opened every section and drawer as our eyes nearly boggled out of our heads. What was this Willy Wonka wonder? We could choose as many as we wanted, and whilst both of us were sorely tempted to simply take one of each, we had to pick a socially acceptable four. From passionfruit truffles to homemade brownie bites and chocolate heaven, each one tasted better than the last! We then washed it down with an almost chocolatey cold coffee and reminisced over what we’d just experienced.

After all of this, we were in desperate need of a good swadge (if you don’t know this word, you should… look it up here). Luckily, it was past the midday heat at this point, so we made our way out to the terrace for another (completely unnecessary, yet so necessary) drink whilst taking in the beautiful outdoor bar in this 200-year-old building. We then realised we were the only people left in the restaurant, as five hours had passed since we arrived, and so we sadly waddled out the door, knowing we’d just experienced something very special. We had delayed our onward journey to Mancora in favour of this lunch, and I do not regret it in the slightest!

One thing I cannot fail to mention about Astrid y Gaston is the service, which was absolutely stunning, perfectly choreographed, and effortlessly bilingual. Every course was brought out at just the right time; never too early, never too late. The wine pairings were explained in detail, in English no less, as our waiter wanted to practise his language skills, and he made sure to give us the exact appropriate amount of wine when he topped us up (though we were still very merry at the end of it!). I felt as though our waiters were watching us closely so they knew when to come by, because as soon as we finished our last mouthful of a dish, both our plates were whisked away in perfect unison. I swear one of the waiters even did a little pirouette as he picked up my wine glass… it’s no wonder this restaurant is rated number 7 in Latin America and number 30 worldwide. I can’t imagine any food, service, or setting being any better than this! (Also, the toilets were a bit like a space-age pod, which was so much fun!)

I am honoured and humbled to have been a guest at Astrid y Gaston, but of course, all opinions are my own and entirely unbiased. I also chose not to include some of our drunken notes, such as ‘Juan Carlos please marry me!!’ when the chocolate box was brought out… 😉