We experienced Above Eleven, where Peruvian food scales new heights. Photo: Lucky 8.
Getting your head around Peruvian food takes a little while. It’s wonderful, full of flavour and familiar in a fresh way.
There’s culture and history to macerate, geography and politics to imbibe, and it’s more than a mouthful. In the annals of culinary history, Peruvian food is divided into two eras: Before Gaston and After Gaston. They refer to the celebrated chef Gaston Acurio who led Peru on a quest to define the national cuisine that encompasses influences from Asia, Europe and the native population.
BG (Before Gaston), according to The Washington Post’s Nick Miroff, was a time of darkness, confusion and ketchup. Following the opening of Gaston’s first restaurant in 1994, Lima was hailed as the new culinary capital of South America.
Above Eleven introduces Bali diners to Peruvian food in a beautiful spacious rooftop restaurant that offers sweeping views across Jimbaran Bay, a large bar, a confusing maze-like entrance and a chef with an impressive culinary pedigree.
Chef Renzo Piero left Peru, like many local chefs, in search of an education he was unlikely to find at home. From an Italian/German family who had migrated to Peru, he had been in love with food since he was a small child and already exposed to lots of different influences at home, where both his grandmother and his father were wonderful cooks.
“I have been passionate about food since I was a child. My parents were of Italian/ German origin and food was always a focus of our family life. My grandmother and my father were both great cooks and I knew from an early age this is what I wanted to do,” chef Renzo explains.
After an extended argument with his mother, who felt cooking was a dead-end profession, she agreed to fund his culinary college before he headed off to see the world and hone his craft. Firstly he headed to Germany where he worked a variety of career openings before landing a job at the Peruvian Embassy. From there he headed to London where his arrival coincided with a wave of enthusiasm for Peruvian food.
“My arrival in London coincided with a time when Peruvian food was just starting to appear on the menus. London was amazing at that time and I worked with some exciting restaurateurs there, it was inspirational. After a few years in London, I was inspired to return to Lima and open my own restaurant,“ he explains.
His adventures in Asia began when the Soho Group, who opened their first Above Eleven on a Bangkok rooftop, advertised for their Bali restaurant and the gregarious chef sniffed an adventure. He sold up in Peru and moved to Bali, sight unseen.
“I fell in love with Bali and I think I’ll stay forever. I have connected with some great suppliers and adapted my recipes when needed and I’m learning more about local food and sometimes incorporating local flavours as well. It’s exciting to be doing something in a new part of the world and inspiring local chefs.”
The most impressive part of Above Eleven, once you get past the view, is the huge seafood counter. Sushi sits beside ceviche on the Peruvian menu, incorporating native flavours in the popular Nikkei cuisine, inspired by the large Japanese population in Peru.
Tigers milk, or leche de tigre, isn’t as frightening as it sounds, and it binds the cultures in an interesting way. The sharp and spicy liqueur has nothing to do with tiger’s – disappointing I know – rather it’s the liquid that is expelled in the ceviche process. A heady mix of lime, ginger, chili, coriander and the liquid derived from the fish by the addition of salt, it becomes a dressing for varieties of sushi and sashimi, giving them a distinctive flavor.
Peruvians are bound by their love of seafood. There is however another geographic influence at play – the mountains. Hundreds of different potato varieties are found in Peru, and a section of the menu is devoted to la causa, a popular potato dish adapted with various ingredients, seafood, meat or vegetables. We tried the tuna, a topping of fresh tartare mixing with the creamy potato, creating an unusual dish that mixes earth and sea beautifully. This is real comfort food after the fresh and lively flavours of sushi and sashimi, or tiraditos in Peruvian.
The Chinese have played their part in Peru’s culinary history and are represented by wok-fried dishes called saltado, which appear on the menu. The Italians have also left a culinary legacy and Above Eleven has some classy pasta on their menu, including a standout bucattini con pato, featuring a Peruvian duck ragout.
Every Peruvian I have met talks longingly of the grilled chicken found on almost every street corner, cooked over coals and dressed with a spicy green sauce known as huacatay. Anticuchos refers to the grilled skewers inspired by this local favourite. On Above Eleven’s menu they offer two anticuchos that feature heart, a popular delicacy in Peru, along with small animals that are best left unmentioned. For purists beef heart is skewered and grilled with three Peruvian sauces or mingled with chicken teriyaki, octopus, crushed potatoes and Peruvian sauces.
This pretty much represents modern Peruvian cuisine on a plate. It is a mouthful, but skillfully prepared, the flavours, textures and very different styles of cooking, or marinating in many cases, results in dishes that are fresh and complex, interesting and deeply flavoured. It’s modern but it also plays with ancient culinary influences. It’s all quite brilliant really and one can see why Peru’s capital Lima is showing up on many of the world’s top restaurant lists. As a dinner venue, Above Eleven is quite beautiful. It’s equally good for sunset cocktails and party nights, including a private area for events.
From sushi to ceviche, from wok-fried dishes to pastas, potatoes done in lots of ways and grills with chili-infused sauces, Peruvian food really is a melting pot. Above Eleven raises the bar for Jimbaran offering a sophisticated, elevated insight into this complex cuisine. I have also become mildly addicted to their national drink Pisco, but that is a tale for another day. S.D.