Virgilio Martínez’s perfect weekend in Lima

Since the inception of Central, his Lima flagship, the celebrated restaurateur has developed a singularly modern take on indigenous Peruvian ingredients and become a global sensation

Restaurateur Virgilio Martínez in Lima
Restaurateur Virgilio Martínez in Lima | Image: Mark C O’Flaherty

“I stay in bed a little later than usual on Saturday; you don’t get much sleep when you’re a chef. My son Cristóbal, who is nearly four, wakes up around 7am and gets into bed with me and my wife Pía. 

We moved recently, along with our restaurant, to the Barranco neighbourhood. To me, this is the Lima that we need to preserve: it’s like the city was 50 years ago, with small brightly coloured homes and few big buildings. A lot of artists live here, and the people are very open-minded.

We’ll have a coffee at home while we wait for Isolina to open. Theirs is not a traditional brunch – it’s very Peruvian, with huge portions of fish, tongue and tortilla with brains. You’ll see every kind of local there, from young people going for beer to big families. 

Afterwards, I’ll take Cristóbal to the park to play, then call into the Taller Dos Ríos ceramics studio. These are craftspeople who speak the same visual language as me. I work with them on the plates for the restaurant: if we create a dish from a certain part of the Amazon, they try to use complementary shapes, textures and colours for their design. Anyone can visit them and place an order, but you need to make an appointment.

Then I’ll go to La Calandria, which sells a lot of natural Peruvian ingredients and medicinal plants, including excellent cacao, herbs, and a unique edible clay called chaco that people in the Andes use for baking their potatoes. 

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There’s a great gelato place a few doors down called Blu. They work with really pure ingredients, from the fruit to the cacao and coffee. I always buy a chocolate ice cream and walk with it to the nearby square, Plaza de Armas Barranco, to sit and read my newspaper; I travel so much, it’s good to catch up with what’s going on at home. The square is nostalgic for me: I used to skateboard there with my friends, and I still like the skaters’ bar, Hensley, where I once took the pro skater Tony Hawk after I saw him out and about in Lima. It’s a good place for a beer and a fish sandwich. Piselli, which is really old, with an ornate wooden interior, is another great locals’ bar. I like to walk around the neighbourhood to take a look at the street art – there are so many great murals – and then I’ll head home to relax for the rest of the afternoon.

Later, I’ll have dinner with Pía at Maido, which has the best fish in Peru. I love raw seafood. We always sit in the corner of the sushi bar so we can have some quiet time, and I order the whole ocean: clams, ahi tuna, spicy tuna and lots of sashimi.

On Sunday we go to Pan Sal Aire for breakfast. They serve healthy organic dishes – eggs and avocado, and fantastic coffee. Then we go to the farmers’ market nearby to talk to people about what they’re doing, including a guy I know who’s making cheese from legumes. 

After the market, I enjoy going to La Mar for a long, late lunch with Pía, Cristóbal and some of my chefs. When I was young, there were cevicherias everywhere – small places run by a couple of guys with no money, which stayed open until they ran out of fish. Then the fashion changed and people just wanted to go to chain restaurants. La Mar, which is outdoors but also quite fancy, brings back the old Lima: it has so much life and energy, which is what a great cevicheria is all about. We order a lot of dishes – ceviche, octopus with rice, and a huge crab soup – and often stay for four hours or more enjoying them, before heading home to spend the rest of the evening on the sofa, maybe ordering pizza later. 

Sleep is my biggest luxury. During the week, I might get four hours a night. Still, I prefer being on the sofa on Sunday rather than just going to bed early, because when my eyes are open I can take in the view of the city.”

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