As someone that eats food, it is very difficult to even wrap my head around the concept of being the best restaurant in the world. For some reason, the 3rd best is even more elusive to me, signalling that there was contenders that were close to being better, or worse, in a competition of millions.
That is until I ate at one of them. The third best of them. Then I understood.
Central located in Lima, Peru, from first appearances looks like any other fine dining experience. There are tones of gold and stone that give the cavernous room the feel you might be stumbling on some buried treasure. A large glass wall retains the kitchen that functions with the precision of a laboratory, diners frequently tearing their gaze from their plates to get a glimpse of the two rockstars behind the concept, Chefs Virgilio Martínez and Pía León.
They don’t gaze long. No amount of celebrity could distract you from the dishes you are bing served.
Central I find difficult to even call a restaurant. It is much more theater or perhaps a cultural studies class you take with your mouth. You see Central could be called an “elevation restaurant” a term I am coining once and for all, to describe the genre of food you’ll find there. Yes, it is Peruvian without question, but you will not find Lomo Saltado or any variety of choclo that you can recognize.
Elevation restaurant means that the dishes you are being served will represent the food you will find at any given elevation in Peru. You start at 50m below sea level, and depending on how large your expense account is, you climb up to the top of Huascarán, 6,700 meters above. What most don’t realize about Perú is that it has the most dramatic geographic features found anywhere on the planet. To put it in perspective, there are 32 definable climate types that exist in the entire world, from tundra to desert. Perú has 28 of them. Far more than any other country.
With that diversity comes amazing biology, lots of which you can put in your mouth, which is what Central takes advantage of. Not just fish and meat and veg, no, we’re talking lichen, grubs and gells you would not find on any menus anywhere else. The dishes themselves on which the meals are served are unique, echoing the theme of the restaurant being made of material found at that elevation. At one point I found myself eating off the Altiplano plains, conveniently frozen in a block of round ice to make a perfectly clear, and clean plate.
Was the food good? It was exceptional, but not like my mother’s meatballs or a burger from the Brindle Room. There is no way to even compare tastes when the flavor is coming overwhelmingly from the concept, the idea of what is food. At Central you are eating a country in it’s entirely, from bottom to top.