Central vs. Maido - Lima's Best Restaurants Reviewed
Warning: This article will make you hungry.
In Peru I spent a brief day-and-a-half in Lima and somehow I managed to hit up two of Lima’s most prestigious restaurants - Central and Maido.
Let me start by saying, these two places couldn’t be MORE different from each other. And while they’re often pitted against one another (like in this article) it’s like comparing apples to oranges, or corn to cod in this case.
Lastly, I’m no food critic (though I did whip up a guide sharing the Peruvian dishes you must try while in Peru), so don’t expect me to elaborate on the taste profiles of every course. I’ll give you my key differences and my “normal-palette” opinion. This way you if you only have the time or budget to visit one, you’re making the best decision for your travels.
Chef: Virgilio Martínez and Pia León
Style: Contemporary Peruvian
Price: ~ $161 for the Alturas Mater Tasting Menu
Dress Code: Business-Casual / Semi-Formal
Address: Av. Pedro de Osma 301 Lima, Barranco 15063
Hours: Lunch: 12:45pm (Monday to Saturday). Dinner: 7:45pm (Monday to Saturday). Sunday: Closed
Chef: Mitsuharu 'Micha' Tsumura
Style: Japanese-Peruvian Fusion
Price: ~ $130 for the Nikkei Tasting Experience
Dress Code: Business-Casual
Address: Calle San Martin 399, Miraflores 15074
Hours: Lunch: 12:30 to 3:45pm (Monday to Saturday). 12:30 to 5:00pm (Sunday). Dinner: 7:00 to 10:45pm (Monday to Saturday)
Central - Awards
2018 - THE WORLD'S 50 BEST RESTAURANTS: #6
2018 - Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants: #2
Maido - Awards
2018 - THE WORLD'S 50 BEST RESTAURANTS: #7
2018 - Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants: #1
Central - Menu
16-Course Tasting Menu
The menu at Central is best described as an “experience”. And I know this term is often overused, but in the case of Central it’s 100% accurate.
In one evening, Chef Martinez takes you on a tour of Peru, with an elevated menu. What does this even mean? Well, each course is based on a different elevation within Peru. You eat your way through below sea level (-25 meters), to the Amazon (1,800 meters) and high up in the Andes (3,600 meters).
It’s a brilliant way to feel like you’re discovering regional tastes all in one night. And I can say, after visiting the coast, desert and the Andes, it really does it justice. The food I ate in the Andes had similar flavours to his dishes from that altitude. It was a great way to introduce my palette to these new flavours before visiting them for myself.
My Verdict: While I loved the concept behind the elevated menu, 16 courses was a lot. I have a healthy appetite and made sure not to fill up before, but I struggled at around course 10. Of the 16 courses, I loved 5, thought 10 were “interesting” and new to my palette and disliked 1. If your time is limited and you can’t visit the different regions this is a great way to get a sense of all the different flavours in one place.
Maido - Menu
11-Course Nikkei Experience
Nikkei means Japanese-influenced Peruvian cuisine. Before visiting Peru this would have sounded exotic but there’s actually a large population of Japanese-descent Peruvians in Lima so Nikkei can be found throughout the city.
If you enjoy sushi then you will feel right at home here. The fish is fresh, and mostly raw. It changes based on the catch of the day… that’s how fresh it is.
Almost every course had either a fish or meat element to it (there is a vegetarian version, though I’ve read it’s not as robust) and the sauces were a delicious balance of Japanese and Peruvian flavours.
My Verdict: 11 courses is the max my stomach could handle. But boy were they yummy. You could tell that each course was experimental but never to a point where the flavours weren’t right. I certainly had much more familiarity in my palette with this menu. At course 10 I was ready to throw in the towel but the desserts were delicious, so I bravely finished.
PERUVIAN FOOD GUIDE
Looking for more insight into amazing Peruvian dishes? Check out my food guide to Peru where I include 26 of my favourite meals along with helpful food safety tips.
Central - Presentation
The presentation at Central is equally important as the taste. Inside the restaurant is a glass-paneled workshop where you can see drawings, designs and bits of foliage stuck up on the walls. The team isn’t just filled with chefs but artists too.
Whenever each course was served I would gasp, it was all so creative. I had never seen anything like it before. They used leaves, seaweed, volcanic rock, even piranha heads all in unique and clever ways. I could just picture them talking in their team meetings saying, “plates are basic- no food directly on plates”.
My Verdict: I have never experienced plating quite like this. Which is why I say “Central is an experience”. Make sure to really listen when you’re presented each course, since the plating isn’t always edible. You want to make sure you’re not gnawing away at a design feature.
Maido - Presentation
Maido’s plating is elegant and clean. It lets the food do the talking. The sashimi is served on a minimal slate board. While the soups come in mini cauldrons. There are elements of wood and bamboo.
It’s all very Japanese which means it’s minimal and zen.
Unlike Central, almost everything you see on the plate, you eat.
My Verdict: Minimal, and clean. The millennial in me loves this. Everything looks natural with little pops of colour from ingredients like avocado or eggs. I love seeing one piece of sashimi taking up an entire board. You just know that it’s going to be the best damn sashimi you’ve ever put in your mouth. It reminds you to really savour every bite.
Central - Atmosphere
From the second you pull up to Central it screams “exclusivity”. Security guards man the outside like a fortress. It’s surrounded by an outer grey wall so you can’t even see the restaurant from the street.
Once you enter the gates everything changes. You walk through a zen garden on your way in. The entrance greets you with a presentation table filled with bowls of regional grains. Right away you’re hit by the vast amount of ingredients in Peruvian cuisine.
The tables are made from grey stone, with clean lines. The kitchen is behind glass panels, so you can see everyone, including (when I went) Chef Martínez, in action.
The staff were very friendly but serious about the food. Every course was explained in detail and you have to be laser focused to understand what you’re about to eat.
My verdict: I appreciated the education into Peruvian cuisine and the glimpse into the creative thinking of the Central team. Overall the atmosphere was a bit too serious for me. I found myself whispering in discussion and it’s strange, but I just didn’t hear much laughter that night.
Maido - Atmosphere
Let’s start with the name, “Maido” which means “Welcome”. Yup, that’s exactly how you feel when you are eating here. The staff were friendly and accommodating and had no problem with us taking our time, closing out the restaurant.
You hear a lot of laughter at Maido and it’s from a mixture of tourists and locals who are out enjoying a good meal. There is a bar section, that overlooks the action, providing a more low-key vibe.
Maido is a well designed restaurant too. The main feature in the dining room is made up of hundreds of ropes, dangling from the ceiling. If you look up, you’ll see that when reflected off the adjacent mirror they form the Japanese flag.
My verdict: Maido is unpretentious, and that’s exactly what I love about it. You feel welcomed into the restaurant, like you were joining someone at their home for dinner. And yet, it’s still elegant enough to make for a special outing. The perfect balance I’d say.
Central - Reservation Process
Awards aside, this restaurant was featured on the popular Netflix show, “Chef’s Table”. And just like all the restaurants on this show, it’s tough to get in.
Central opens up their reservations in blocks of 4 months. These blocks unlock a month before the new period. So you’re likely going to be making a reservation 1-4 months in advance of your meal.
The reservation process is done online and you’ll have to provide your credit card information to hold your spot. Any missed or cancelled reservations, 48 hours prior to your seating, will result in a charge.
Tables cannot fit more than 6 people and everyone at the table must have the same menu.
Maido - Reservation Process
It’s a little easier to book here, however you can’t book more than 60 days in advance. So if you’re a big pre-planner you’ll have to remember to book 30 days before the trip.
It’s all done through an online system. Easy peasy.
There was flexibility in the menu as we selected our options when we arrived. Therefore if you’re just not feeling well (like the one person in our group who was sick) then you don’t need to order the full Nikkei Tasting Experience.
The restaurant tells you there is a 10 minute tolerance time, so plan ahead to beat that Lima traffic.
PACKING FOR PERU
Take a look at this comprehensive packing list for 2-weeks in Peru. It includes a semi-formal outfit for either of these fine dining experiences.
Central - My Final Honest Opinion
I’ve said it several times and I’ll say it again, Central is an experience. It was obvious to see the effort and research that went into each course and for that it’s worthy of your visit.
I left with a greater understanding of Peru, its regions and ingredients.
I didn’t enjoy the taste of every single course but I think that’s actually ok. Just because my palette wasn’t used to the flavours doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. And this is the most important expectation I’d want to set for you.
Go if you:
Have an adventurous flavour palette
Have an appreciation for art and design
Are looking to understand Peruvian flavours and ingredients
Want to experience a truly unique evening of dining
Don’t go if you:
Are expecting familiar flavours
Are looking for somewhere to relax and have laughs
Aren’t a fan of different textures
Have a small appetite
Maido - My Final Honest Opinion
The food here was delicious. I found myself closing my eyes and smiling at every bite. There were also moments of surprise where I was expecting a certain flavour and it was something completely different - that’s the beauty of fusion.
I certainly got glimpses of Peru, though not a full understanding of local ingredients but that isn’t what Maido is about.
I left with a warm feeling - I think it was the mixture of friendly service, laughter with friends and lots of sake.
It was a memorable meal, and I would go back again if I lived in Lima.
Go if you:
Enjoy fresh raw seafood
Are with a group of friends who want to let loose and laugh
Want to try new flavours, but seek some familiarity
Don’t go it you:
Are looking for 100% traditional Peruvian flavours
Want an experience that’s unique to Peru
Dislike raw fish and seafood
Food Photo Gallery
Click on the picture to read the menu description.
Central Photo Gallery
Maido Photo Gallery
So where are you going?
Let me know in the comments below.
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