Restaurant Review: Rafael Osterling’s Eponymous Rafael in Lima, Peru


An unforgettable meal in a city with an awful lot of really great restaurants

Chef-proprietor Rafael Osterling is one of the culinary stars super-charging the Peruvian dining scene.  It’s a miracle that I was able to get a table relatively last minute, but that is the joy of a weekday lunch at an off-hour.  At night, I am told that the restaurant is positively buzzing, and I would not be surprised given what a curious mix of people watching was already on offer at lunch.

Rated one of the top 2 or 3 restaurants in Peru, South America even, for several years running, I was curious to see what it would be.  There was no tasting menu, but it all looked so good that I asked for the chef’s guidance and took it.  

I ate so much food I had no room for a planned dinner at another temple of high gastronomy, but not to matter, I will be back.  These are the dishes I ate:

  • The best seared scallop I have ever tasted.  Buttery soft, barely cooked through, but seared to caramel on the outside, it was served with a divine spoonful of liquid, a kind of verjus of white wine and soy…when I mentioned these ingredients to the waiter, he asked if I was a chef and then offered that there was also honey, butter, and pimiento pepper
  • Taco of suckling pig
  • Fish…delicious but very slightly dry…
  • I had a delicious tuna tartare
  • Pulpo Gallego…a riff on a classic, delicate and tender, smokey, divine
  • Then a dessert which was an “affogato al café”, something simple I have in Italy all the time, only this was much more complex…it was a caramelized pear served with toasted pine nuts, a brown butter ice cream (mantequilla quemada) and a crumble made with grapes and meringue…it was fabulous and totally different
  • The amuse bouche at the very end of my meal had one that was a pistachio cream in a Florentine shell, but the cream was infused with chartreuse.  It was divine.

Their cocktail list was short but inspiring and I had a Peruvian take on a negroni, one of my favourite drinks.  Pisco instead of gin, but other things besides.

The bread came with a selection of sauces and butters…these were house breads, sourdoughs, flavoured with unusual ingredients.  The bread had that nutty, earthy smell of a well-fermented dough, and that chewy-but light consistency that great bread has.  I don’t usually eat the bread, but this time I had to.  Their homemade bread was delicious and unusual and was of three varieties and there were interesting butters and jams to go with them.  The most interesting of all was a jam made of tomatoes that reminded me of a Moroccan tomato confit…this was flavoured with cardamom, black cumin, cinnamon, sugar, allspice (pimiento chapa), star anise, and black pepper…it was superlative.

It took a while for me to get in sync with the waiters, and I had to order my bottle of water 4 times before it came even though the restaurant was only half full.  Sometimes this happens.  But after my first dish and peppering the waiter with questions, he asked if I was a chef.

“No, but I do write about food, why?”

“Well, I saw you were wearing an apron.” 

“Oh, yes.”  I was wearing a something that is a cross between an apron and a skirt (ie. the slit went all the way to the waist) over a pair of slim trousers and long linen shirt-dress, and a shawl with fringe trim.  People see what they want to see.  The ice was broken, service fell into place.  I inquired after the chef Rafael.  “He will be in later.”  I received a full run down and Q&A on every dish thereafter.

They settled into the idea that I was going to write a review of the restaurant.  They brought me all of Rafael’s books.  I asked if they could ask him to sign them for me.  Yes, of course, but then they forgot.  I asked after the books at the end of the meal and Rafael had left.  And I said, “oh well, that’s life,” and then who should appear as I was standing in full regalia, but Rafael himself, returned from one of his other restaurants.  He must run a pretty busy life on a moped as he scoots between his 4 restaurants during each service.

He spelled my name wrong four times—I think he must be dyslexic, but I liked the name he gave me, a somewhat more feminine version of my name…

The food was beyond delicious.  Every dish was perfect except for the grilled fish, which was ever so slightly overcooked for my taste…but apart from that, the meal was flawless.  Book well in advance.

I normally don’t like to eat on my own, but I had so much chatter with the wait staff, host, and chef, that I felt really well looked after. Unusually, there were several other tables of solo diners. I noticed three men eating on their own, including a Chinese-American who spoke no Spanish and was dressed like a little boy in short pants and a t-shirt with little sneakers and short socks, and two tables of women eating alone–funnily enough on either side of me.

Rafael

Calle San Martin 300, Miraflores 15074, Peru

Tel.  +51 1 2424149

http://www.rafaelosterling.pe/es/lima.html

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