While one might say that eating at Kjolle restaurant is second best to eating at its sister restaurant Central (Sixth Best on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List) in Lima in Peru, I am very grateful that I did, and that I did so the day before my lunch at Central, it giving me a first taste of the philosophy of both the restaurants, owned by husband and wife team of Chefs Virgilio Martinez and Pia León, and in helping me to deal with some of the complexity of the Central Tasting Menu.
I had not heard of Kjolle before, it having opened only a year ago, when both restaurants opened in the renovated building, previously a dance school. It was recommended to me, to at least get a taste of Central in eating at Kjolle, given that Chef Pia was the Central Sous Chef, before they got married three years ago. While it was impossible to book a table at Central a month in advance of my arrival in Lima, unplanned initially but making sense to visit the world’s number one restaurant city, with two restaurants in the Top 10 of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, alongside Maido. No other city in the world comes close to this achievement. My son made the Kjolle booking for me, easily and immediately. Kjolle is the name of a tree in the Andes mountains.
One is greeted in the car park of the two restaurants, the reservation is checked, and this is how I got to be so lucky in obtaining a reservation at Central, 24 hours before dining there, in asking hostess Chloe (right) if she possibly would have a gap for me for the following day. She checked….. and simply replied with a ‘Yes’. I was in shock. I wanted to kiss and hug her, being so excited. In this area is the herb garden of both restaurants, looking neat and well-kept, in a far better state than the one at Astrid y Gaston, also a World’s 50 Best Restaurant, which I had been lucky to get into the day before. There is a barbecue structure in the garden too, used to smoke ingredients for the menus of both restaurants, and to prepare certain ingredients on the fire.
I was a little early for my Kjolle table booking, so was shown to the MAYO Bar, where the patrons of both restaurants have a drink, waiting for their table. It is a modern building, with lots of glass walls, and in the bar area I saw a separate section with tanks, in which water is filtered for the use by both restaurants. The building design is minimalistic, and was quite Nordic in feel, but there is no such connection. I didn’t have a drink, but watched the bar staff creating cocktails and drinks uniquely designed for the restaurants. I couldn’t get the origin of the MAYO name of the Bar. I loved the Bar Menu, with inserted illustrations and photographs of the Andes, for example, something I’ve never seen before (left).
I found the level of English understanding in the Bar and at Kjolle to be less good than it was at Astrid y Gaston. In the bar I met Americans Marc and Caitlin, and we started chatting, Marc having been to Cuba a few times already, and we shared the Cuba love/hate. We will see each other in Cape Town over the 2020/2021 Festive Season. What a small world. I knew it would be a good lunch after all of this luck. I watched the barman making a Libertad cocktail, with Peruvian rum, vermouth, Lulo citrus fruit, vanilla, and natural sugar. A second cocktail (right) looked equally attractive, made with gin, lemon verbena, mandarin juice, Cocona citrus fruit, and vermouth. I was told that all the cocktails were designed by the bar staff.
Kjolle is small, with nine tables seating 40 patrons. The kitchen is open plan, and seems small. I saw Chef Pia the minute I walked in (first left in the pic on the left, and with me in the main photograph), how refreshing to see a Chef/Owner in her kitchen! She and Chef Virgilio have developed a project to include Peruvian heritage vegetables and fruit in their menus, introducing Peruvian foods to their patrons in the two restaurants, sourcing ingredients from the Amazon jungle as well as the Andes mountain regions.
I noticed a number of items on the side of the kitchen counter, and one of the waiters introduced me to each of them, I having seen the cherimoya apple (called Custard apple in our country) on a fruit vendor’s trolley earlier in the day. A chef spontaneously cut some pieces and offered them to me, to taste. I saw cerise pink olluco potatoes looking like radishes, the brown yacon, the Macambo seeds of the cacao plant, the Sacha tomato, smaller Macau potatoes, mashwa potatoes, and a yellow fruit called Cocona. What I did not know then was that each dish brought to the table had one of the heritage fruits or vegetables as a core ingredient, and it was brought to the table in its original form, so that one could see the origin of the ingredient. I incorporated the original ingredient in the photograph of each dish.
These traditional vegetables and fruits formed the foundation of the menu, there being a Tasting Menu of 9 courses but became 11, with a last surprise extra one, at 412 Soles (R1800). The menu is printed on beige recycled paper, stitched at one side, similar to the stitched yellow napkin waiting on the table with a small blue side plate. There is an a la carte menu too, but it was not an option for me, wanting to experience as broad a spectrum of dishes offered by Kjolle, to give a taste perspective of what was to come at Central the following day.
The restaurant decor is minimalistic, with lots of space between tables. The floor is screeded. A handbag bench is provided, always funny to me, being offered in top restaurants. Glass walls are on three sides of the restaurant, with a wall with shelving behind the kitchen counter, and a weird bluish wall hanging on one side, looking unbalanced and not contributing to the ambiance of the restaurant. I asked a waiter if it had a special meaning, but he could not answer this question. Wooden tub chairs are upholstered in grey linen. The table top looked like it had been made of marble, with different colours combined. The Central tables are made with stone tops, and probably come from the same designer.
The Tasting Menu serving started immediately after a discussion of dietary requirements, telling the waiter that I was happy to put all my ingredients preferences aside, but that I am allergic to mussels. Dishes arrived at a rapid rate thereafter, I feeling the pressure at both restaurants, especially at Central, which I alleviated somewhat by Instagramming each dish photograph before eating it.
- Welcome drink
The warm welcome drink was an infusion of the Cocona tropical fruit, with Ruda and paico herbs, sweet and acid balancing each other. It was poured at each table, and explained by a chef. He told me that the Ruda herb gives joy and good luck. Yes, I had already received the good luck in obtaining a table at Central for the following day! The Paico herb was placed on top of the glass, its origin being the Andes mountains, and grown in the restaurant garden. The drink was a contrast of sweet and sour, coming from the fruit, but the Ruda herb asserted itself in the drink as well.
2. Bread course
A bread course arrived, very classy, with a small loaf made from maca potato, coming from the Andes Highlands, and looking like a rye bread. It was still warm when it arrived at the table. It was served with two spreads, a whipped butter topped with chopped macambo seeds, absolutely delicious. The Uchucuta sauce of Cocona, chili, cheese, olive oil, and chincho herb spread was too sweet for my taste. I have to admit that I finished the bread and the butter, they were so delicious. This was an additional course too, not mentioned in the Tasting Menu.
I spoilt myself with a glass of Merlot, a Kjolle house wine made by Peruvian Santiago Queirolon, sub brand Intipalka, 2018 vintage, light-bodied, 12% alcohol, and more to my liking than an Argentinian Pinot Noir PintoM, which I also tasted. They have no South African wines on their winelist, and cannot find a distributor for our country’s wines. Sommelier Diego told me that he recently tried a Kanonkop Pinotage, and loved it. The winelist looked like an A4 pink file, the cover made from recycled paper, not being spectacular in appearance, and unbranded.
The base of this dish was the two seafoods of razor clams and sea bass, to which had been added a lemon sauce, with a slice of the purple mashwa, a member of the potato family, yellow macre squash, Amazonian nuts, and sacha tomatoes. It was served with rose gold cutlery. The squash gave the dish a crunchy texture.
in the background to the photograph is the purple mashwa tuber.
The scallops for this dish were sliced, and topped with the seeds of the Pacae fruit. They were accompanied by a frozen Pacae ice cream, and a crisp
The dish had a crunch to it, coming from the Pacae fruit and the crisp, but the Pacae seeds were soft.
I counted eight waiters serving eight tables in the restaurant, the quality of the dish explanation being varied.
Its black quinoa base had been baked, with a layer of yucca and cream cheese on top of it. On top of this, slices of red and yellow potatoes were presented in alternate layers, an outstanding looking and tasting dish.
I was told that Peru has about 3000 potato varieties.
6. Cured Duck
The cured duck in this dish was minced, a surprise for me as a duck lover, my first experience of it served in this way. With it came tentacles of squid, strips of squash, as well as chaplain bread made from kaniewa cereal, dyed grey with black squid ink, decorated with the oxalis herb. I was told to spoon the duck into the bread holder and eat it like that.
Interestingly, the whole dish was raw.
At this stage I requested directions to the bathroom. The waiter walked me up to its door, not just pointing me in a general direction. It was an unusual water system, with a regular lever, but the water coming out of a flat piece of copper, taking a little while to start flowing. On the basin was a heart shape in the granite, another good omen for me.
7. Vegetal Diversity
This dish was created with the root vegetable yacon, shavings of chontta, the heart of a palm tree, and topped with dried artichoke, to which was added textures of coffee, this latter liquid not explained.
It was served in a beautiful speckled bowl.
Whilst writing this review, I had to think about the word ‘jowl’, not a word commonly used, especially in food, pork cheeks being seen increasingly on menus. Via Google I found that ‘jowl’ is the lower part of a cheek, ‘especially when it is fleshy or drooping’. With it was served charred vegetables, but the waiter did not get beyond cauliflower as to which they were. With this was served the Cocona fruit, kiwicha, and the oxalis herb, a warm dish, with a good crunchy texture.
9. Beef & Corn
Beef short ribs which had been cooked for 16 hours was the foundation of this dish, topped with borage, mixed herbs, and macambo foam, served with a delicious crunchy yet creamy purée of white corn and topped with chopped macambo seeds.
10. Lime milk
This dish was a first dessert, consisting of lime mixed with cow’s milk, charred citrus fruit (lime, orange, and grapefruit), sprinkled with chopped macambo seeds, with cocoa mucelage.
Mil was not explained by the waiter, it being the name of Chef Virgilio’s newest restaurant in Cusco, very high up in the Andes. The base of the dish was the Chirimoya fruit, with shards of 70% cocoa chocolate, dusted with Amazonian honey powder.
This dish disappointed, being too bitty, and I choked on the honey powder on the shards.
This was a bizarre final course, not mentioned on the menu, a very small shard of more 70% cocoa chocolate dusted with lemon powder, hardly creative given its similarity to the previous course.
The Kjolle waiters interacting with my table were generally of a higher standard in terms of their English and general interaction with me, compared to their Central counterparts. Not once did they stretch across me, putting the cutlery for each dish to my left. The meal consisted of two seafood, three meat, two vegetable, and two and a bit dessert dishes, the bread, and the infusion. Portions were small, yet the meal was filling and not as heavy as it was at Astrid y Gaston the day before. Dishes only have three or four ingredients each, are simple, and I loved the bowls and plates in which they were served. For each dish the heritage fruit or vegetable was brought to the table, allowing patrons to photograph it in its raw state with how it is used in the dish, so clever and so educational. Waiters replace the napkins when one leaves the table. At the start of the dessert section of the menu, a pair of Tweezers is used to replace the napkin, done at Central too, for the sake of hygiene, a clever touch.
I loved that I could chat to Chef Pia, who was Chef Virgilio’s Sous Chef at Central, before they got married. Their little boy accompanied his mom, wearing his apron, matching that of all the Kjolle chefs, too cute. I told Chef Pia about not getting into Central, and before I could tell her about my luck of getting a table for the following day, she was calling her staff to find a space for me. But my booking had already been made and confirmed by then. I was the last to leave the restaurant, at the end of a three hour lunch, at 16h00. Yet I did feel it quite rushed in general. There were no airs and graces from Chef Pia or her staff about Central’s extremely high 6th ranking on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list. I am certain that it won’t be long before Kjolle will feature on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list too.
It is important to be warned that both Kjolle and Central restaurants add a 20% tip without informing diners, not shown on the bill one receives. I was not informed about this, nor is it reflected on the menu, and I only discovered this when I left both restaurants. I am struggling to get both of these unauthorised payments reversed, disappointingly leaving a bad taste, and overshadowing the dining experience at Central in particular. The staff have subsequently not been able to explain the reason for this hidden payment to me, and have been very slow to respond to me, I writing to them immediately after leaving the restaurant a week ago!
Kjolle, Avenue Pedro De Osma 301, Barranco, Lima, Peru. Tel +51 1 242 8575. www.kjolle.com Instagram: @kjollerest @ pialeonkjolle Monday – Saturday, Lunch and Dinner.