Having reported a Peruvian cuisine graze in London on AlphaLuxe HERE, I was thrilled to discover a new Peruvian restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Geneva. Not just any restaurant but one in the culinary empire of renown Peruvian chef, author, entrepreneur and global ambassador for Peruvian cuisine: Gaston Acurio, who was born in Lima and trained at Le Cordon Blue in Paris, where he met future wife Astrid Gutsche, a German pastry chef. Returning home in 1994, they opened a gourmet restaurant Astrid y Gaston. Recognised as No.1 in the inaugural 50 Best Restaurants of Latin America List for 2013, the Acurio global empire now has more than 50 restaurants.
The first partnership with Mandarin Oriental Group began in 2014 with restaurant La Mar by Gaston Acurio at Mandarin Oriental Miami. Gaston’s right-hand man, Chef Cesar Bellido, leads the kitchen at Yakumanka Geneva after setting up another Acurio restaurant previously in Europe.
Ambience and Decor
The design motif is marina-chic with ocean blue tones, fishing nets and sailing sheets galore. At one end is the Pisco Bar and Fresh Fish station, where one could either prop up the bar or eat at the counter.
Next to the bar is a casual dining lounge area. The main indoor dining room had tables set for two or four diners. Facing the water of the lake and river outlet is the conservatory dining area.
I started with a classic Pisco Sour cocktail made of pisco quebranta, lemon juice, sugar and bitters: a seemingly innocent blend of sweet, sour and bitter to tickle the tastebuds. Little did I know of the alcoholic power of pisco…more of that later. My cocktail was chased down with a Peruvian 100% malt Golden Lager from Cusquena: a light, bright, dry beer with malted tail finish.
Next was a Cusquena Dark Lager: as the name suggests, a darker, sweet, chocolatey malt beer with a long finish. The more complex taste profile suited its role of chaser for a Pisco Sour Maracuya cocktail blending pisco quebranta, lemon juice, sugar and maracuya. The maracuya fruit is unlike anything I’ve tasted before and the closest description that comes to mind is a mix of mango and passion fruit.
I completed the trio of beers by trying the Cusquena Trigo, a medium sweet lager than accompanied the corn bar snacks well and also with the post-prandial cherry pink pisco digestif.
The thema here are small sharing plates like ‘tapas’, which was difficult to capitalise on as a lone diner. Apart from indigenous roots, modern Peruvian cuisine draws heavily on its immigrant cultures from Spain, Japan, China and Italy. Many foreign words have been incorporated into the Peruvian language like ‘chifa’ as a corruption of the Chinese words for “eat rice” (qe-fan) and Japanese words like “nikkei”.
You don’t have to eat a formal full meal as corn snacks or small plates are available in the lounge bar.
In keeping with the marine theme, I ordered six raw oysters:
One au naturel, One with soy sauce & sesame seeds, Two with classic leche de tigre and Two with basil leche de tigres, cherry tomatoes & chimichurri.
The oysters were freshly shucked and tasted of the sea, in the main, except for the toppings and sauces. A good start.
Cerbiches is the Peruvian version of cerviches: a marinated seafood mixed with ‘tiger milk’ (leche de tigre) also popular in Chile. There are no tigers in South America so the origin of the name eludes me.
I chose Apaltado, composed of white fish catch-of-the-day, grilled octopus, avocado and classic leche de tigre mainly because it afforded two textures with raw and cooked seafood. It proved a good choice as the sweet, raw, sea bass and charred grilled octopus complemented one another and offset the piquant sourness of the leche de tigre.
Grilled scallops with aged parmigiano reggiano foam and crispy garlic is ostensibly simple to describe but more complex to execute. The scallops were supremely fresh and enveloped in a whisper of silky, unctuous cheese foam, punctuated by fried minced garlic for a heady umami hit.
Croquetas de Aji de Gallina
Croquettes of stewed chicken with rocoto emulsion. This was the last dish recommended by my waitress as an example of “pompous” comfort food. Tender stewed chicken inside a hot, fried, crispy, panko-crumb coat with a cool, creamy piquant dip: what’s not to like? The melange of different temperatures, textures and tastes was scintillating.
DE LA BARRA NIKKEI
Sashimi “According to the sea’s mood”
Today, it was fresh scallop sashimi: sweet parcels of pleasure to finish my repast. Perhaps a little indulgent but it hit the spot.
Peruvian Chocolate Mousse in the menu seems an oversimplification of chocolate mousse, lucuma ice cream and crispy quinoa. For want of a better word, I can only describe this as a quinoa flapjack layered with chocolate. I have no reference point for the ingredient ‘lucuma’ from Peru but it was “pleasant” with the cherry pink pisco shot. Remember that Astrid is a pastry chef.
PRICE USD $200
Bearing in mind this was Geneva, the cost of dinner and drinks was reasonable. Of course, a good bottle of wine should double the price but surprisingly, despite all the pisco that comes from the country, no Peruvian wine was offer. Otherwise, the wine list contains labels from both the Old and New World.
ALPHALUXE THREE-TONGUES AWARD
Even without a raft of experience with Peruvian cuisine, there were sufficient global taste elements for this grazing reviewer to append the AlphaLuxe Three-Tongues Award to Yakumanka Geneva after only three months of operations.
Everybody knew what they were doing and did it with a smile.
Nobody walked anywhere without something in their hands, whether bringing your orders or removing empties…silently.
The restaurant manager, Michael Truong, used to manage a fine dining eatery in Canary Wharf, London and it shows in his trained staff. His assistant, Dimitri Pras, glided around the service all evening.
Next time, I should bring a posse of friends so we can maximise on the “tapas concept” to try more dishes…..
Previous Mandarin Oriental and Restaurant Articles
Author’s Biography: Melvyn Teillol-Foo (MTF)
Dr Melvyn Teillol-Foo is a contributor on AlphaLuxe web magazine. He was former CEO of PuristSPro.com horology discussion fora. He blends his scientific medical objectivity from the pharmaceutical industry with purist passion, in his musings about watches, travel, wine, food and other epicurean delights.
His travelogue ‘Lazing’ and feasting ‘Grazing’ series of articles have now passed into “mythic legend” on the original ‘ThePuristS.com’ website. Those were the halcyon days when he wasn “rich and famous” that he remembers with bittersweet fondness.
Dr Teillol-Foo is a quoted enthusiast on the watch industry, appearing in feature articles and interviews by Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Sunday Times (London), Chronos (Japan), Citizen Hedonist (France) and other publications. He has authored articles for magazines like International Watch (iW) – both U.S. & Chinese editions, ICON (Singapore), August Man (Singapore), Comfort (China) and The Watch (Hong Kong).