There have been several times that I’ve said, with beaming, sated confidence at a dinner table: “This is absolutely the best meal I’ve ever had.” Of course, there can only ever be one truly “best” meal, but up there among the finest I’ve eaten was one at Osaka in Buenos Aires a few years ago, and I’ve been evangelical about it ever since. A salmon dish dressed in passion fruit sauce was a unique, wonderful experience, the various portions of ceviche I tried were incredible, and the cocktails too. In a city with a million parrillas, where medium-rare bife de chorizo is everyone’s favourite supper, a Peruvian/Asian fusion restaurant may seem an unlikely candidate for the best restaurant in town, but it really is that good. And each night it crackles with a dimly-lit, buzzing, dressed-up social scene.
While on assignment in South America last month, I revisited Osaka in Buenos Aires and enjoyed it as much as before, but I also managed to eat at the branch that opened in 2009 in Santiago in Chile, at the new W hotel. Similarly, it was superb. I revisited the Carpassion dish (7,900 pesos, around £10), and discovered the Thai ceviche (8,500 pesos, around £11), which comes with spicy-sour sauces and coconut milk. Just about everything I had was fantastic, and during Monday lunchtime the restaurant was fully booked.
I haven’t yet visited the long-standing branch of Osaka in Lima, or the latest one in Mexico City, but each has a near-identical menu (though each chef adds monthly or quarterly specials as well as their own creations), and I hear excellent things from fellow Osaka fans about all of them. While Nobu Matsuhisa claims to incorporate Peruvian influences in the kitchens of his eponymous global chain, the fusion at Osaka is more pronounced, and more profound. It’s quite rare that you discover genuinely new combinations of flavours, or a truly fresh take on sushi and sashimi, but Osaka does it in a revelatory way.