MAP Café – Colonial courtyards and creative cuisine in Cusco, Peru

When a restaurant has ‘café’ in its name, I normally assume it’ll be quite casual, lowbrow, with an unsurprising menu. So when we arrived at MAP Café, I was slightly thrown for a loop. The courtyard alone suggested fine dining, and the menu was far more gourmet than any cafe I’ve ever been to…
Being in South America, we’ve seen a lot of Spanish-influenced architecture, and Cusco, the gateway to Machu Pichu in Peru, mixes this colonial style with towering Inca stones. The architecture of the MAP Café (which is part of the Pre-Colombian Art Museum), was definitely the former, and the courtyard particularly exemplified that. We chose to sit outside, as for once, the rain had evaded us, and despite being very close to the Plaza de Armas, the airiness of the courtyard meant we enjoyed a lovely and quiet meal, with an added sophistication due to the association with the museum. There was also an artesanal shop in the courtyard, from which we bought some beautiful hand-painted bowls. (I now eat my cereal from one of them, and it makes me feel extremely sophisticated!)

Local textiles

Before we even began, we were brought hot towels to wipe our hands, which was a lovely luxurious touch. We then started off with a little amuse bouche; a dipping oil with huacatay, balsamic vinegar, and black olive salt. It was fresh, minty, and along with our cocktails, the perfect way to begin what would be a spectacular meal. We received two breads alongside the oil; a classic ciabatta, and then a dark number with linseed and burnt sugar (chancaco), both of which were fresh and warm. We then found out that the 7 restaurants that are part of the ‘Cusco Restaurants’ group (including the Peruvian-Japanese Limo) have their own bakery for bread and pastries… it sure shows.
The lunch menu was just one page, which suited us perfectly, as we were able to try (nearly) everything. Our favourite starter was their signature dish, a creamy mushroom soup with a delicate, slightly spicy flavour, crunchy pastry on top, and an additional little show when our waiter cut it open to reveal the beautiful yellow colours.
Although we didn’t order it, we were brought a portion of the trout tartare to taste – a lovely gesture from the café. But whilst it was made of very fresh fish and presented beautifully, it unfortunately lacked flavour. A bit of chili or horseradish might have given it the necessary kick…
Both my companions were squeamish about eating cuy (guinea pig), but after Astrid y Gaston, I was keen to try it again, and so I dug into the pasta starter. The cuy-filled tortellini was delicious (if I hadn’t known, I would have guessed it to be pork), and the chicken bits in between were incredibly tender. The flavoursome broth and beautiful flowers on top added to the presentation, and I all but licked the plate clean!

The three mains we ordered were each very unique. My favourite of the three was the quinoa cannelloni, with the black quinoa crunch and the truffle flavouring that always makes me go weak in the knees. Although cannelloni can be considered heavy, it contrasted well with the light sauce, fennel, and chard, and the entire dish engulfed my senses.

Unfortunately, the sauce accompanying our trout was overly salty, and bits of the fillet felt slightly overcooked. I liked the nod to Peruvian ingredients though, as the creamy purée featured three different types of corn, and as with the other dishes, the presentation was flawless.

We had initially ordered the chicken as our third main, but the chef insisted on switching it up for the alpaca, as he felt the chicken wasn’t quite up to standard that day (take that as you will). We all felt a little guilty about eating an adorable animal we’d seen roaming free in various parts of the continent, but the dark rich meat convinced us, particularly when combined with the beautifully crunchy asparagus (a vegetable I’ve been using more lately) and the stellar gratin.

We were already nearly filled to the brim, but we just couldn’t turn down dessert when we saw the options. We were blown away by the warm chocolate truffles, garnished with physalis, and the waiter’s gimmick of breaking the sugar beet glass after pouring juice out of it was a great twist. The truffles themselves were a mix of a crunchy exterior and gooey interior… who could turn that down?

The Satcha Inchi was an unusual combination of a slightly savoury sesame ring with light yoghurt sauce, topped with coffee gel pieces and a rich bitter chocolate mousse inside.  This was an absolute favourite, and a perfect way to end the meal.

Being my last day not just in Peru, but South America, I was feeling a bit emotional, and the meal at MAP Café, in the sunshine, with beautiful food, was exactly how I wanted my trip to end. If you’re in Cusco and fancy a break from the touristy hustle and bustle, definitely pay a visit, and make sure sit out in the courtyard and soak it all in!

My beautiful dining companions

I received a discount at MAP Cafe, but as always, all opinions are my own.