While the food scene in Lisbon just gets better and better, it has tended to remain Portuguese in some shape or form. But a game-changer, in the shape of Cantina Peruana, has blown into town, bringing with it all the Latin American vibrancy that the Peruvian kitchen is famous for. I’ve been waiting to try it and last week was lucky enough to be there while chef Diego Muñoz was in situ.
Found on the first floor of Bairro do Avillez in Lisbon’s Chiado district, home to several of José Avillez’s restaurants, it is a project that Muñoz and Avillez, friends since their days in the kitchen of elBulli, worked on together. The menu, which is all about sharing dishes (€4-€10), is divided into six “worlds” that Diego feels best reflect the rich diversity of Peruvian cuisine, and there is a tasting menu (€70 for two) which takes at least one dish from each of these worlds. That was what we embarked on.
I started at the Pisco Bar with a perfectly made Pisco Sour – soft froth parting to deliver a pick-me-up hit – accompanied by a bowl of crispy fish-skin ceviche and toasted corn. The bar includes a nod to Lisbon, in the form of an aperitif made with ginjinha, the local cherry brandy.
Dinner began with melt-in-the-mouth dishes of a prawn ceviche, a classic ceviche with octopus and sweet potato, and tiradito (first introduced to the melting pot of the Peruvian kitchen by Japanese immigrants, who cut ceviche like sashimi). We moved on to choclo – a Peruvian corn that it is a staple in the country’s kitchens, its huge chewy kernels both creamy and nutty – smothered in cheese and basil. But I lost my heart to what followed: the anticucho, Lima’s favourite streetfood snack. A “Nikkei” pork anticucho and an octopus tentacle anticucho were beautifully tender and the velvety richness of the pork, which Muñoz had given a Japanese-Peruvian twist by basting with a ginger, cream, leek and red shisho sauce, was particularly memorable. We paired this with potatoes stuffed with oxtail and calamari chicharrón (like crackling).
The Chinese influence on Peruvian cooking is represented by the “Chifa” culinary tradition, and the tasting menu gives it the nod with Aeropuerto Capon, a fried rice dish with egg tortilla. We finished with a complicated but considered Peruvian chocolate mousse layered with crispy caramel, chocolate foam, caramelised peanuts and dulce de leche.
Munoz’s menu, like Belmond’s Andean Explorer train, takes travellers on a journey across the mountains of Peru – but here at Cantina Peruana we reached similar dizzying heights, for a fraction of the time and money. We had another Pisco Sour to celebrate.