Last Saturday I went to Peru. Or at least it tasted like it. No PCR´s, no jet lag. Just a quick trip over to the Barrio de Salamanca to find Cilindro. The night didn´t get off to the best start. Finding a parking space in the street is akin to looking for an honest politician so we headed to the nearest carpark. Ten minutes later I was on the phone pleading with the restaurant not to give away our table as it turned out the so-called Parking was only fit for contortionists in a Fiat 500. After 65,000 manoeuvres and a few prayers we managed to squeeze the car into a space the size of a shopping trolley.
We then legged it round the block to the restaurant, past the outdoor terrace and the indoor high tables down to a welcoming cavernous dining room below decks.
Cilindro is the brainchild of Mario Céspedes and Conchi Alvarez. Mario hails from Lima and later emigrated to Asturias which adds an alluring layer to his international melting pot of fusion flavours at both Ronda 14, his original restaurant and Cilindro.
Within minutes a Peruvian waiter with Mensa-brain capacity memorised our order of half portions of numerous sharing plates or “piqueos” as they´re described and was able to divulge the ingredients of each dish with precision and enthusiasm.
We start off with one of my favourite dishes of all time: Ceviche. Husband tucks in heartily mumbling that this must be a synch to make, considering he can barely fry an egg I´d be very interested to know how he´s going to come up with cubes of firm-fleshed raw fish marinaded in lime and rocoto chilli in a creamy sauce.
As usual I feel compelled to request some spicy “ají” salsa on the side to authenticate the food. A generous dish of crimson red gloop appears. I promptly decide this must be spicy ketchup and start to bathe my seabass in it. Next thing I know Volcán Ubinas is in full scale eruption in my mouth and starting to spue smoke out of my nostrils. Husband snorts with laughter.
We order some Pisco Sours to ease the pain, the Peruvian national drink, although don’t mention that to any Chileans as also they claim it to be theirs. The heated dispute over the heritage of this colourless distillate makes the clash over Gibraltar look like child´s play. Either way, Pisco was by far the hardest drink for me to give up in pregnancy. The combination of grape brandy and a frothy bubble bath of raw egg white sprinkled with Angostura Bitters was much more tempting than pineapple pizza for some reason.
The restaurant takes its name from the “cilindro”, a traditional Peruvian cylindrical oven-grill for smoking and grilling. Céspedes has resurrected this Criolla contraption to great acclaim as I witnessed. Not a regular fan of “casquería” (offal) I happily gobble up every last morsel of the slow roasted tripe basted in cumin and paprika with black pudding: “Callos rachi al cilindro con morcilla asturiana”. Likewise the exquisitely-seasoned miniature Beef heart cube (“anticucho”) Gyozas with chilli and coriander slip down with unmeasurable ease.
The cilindro also exuded its magic on the silky smooth smoky pulpo which was so delicious I had to blank out the more emotional scenes from the docu-movie: My Octopus Teacher from my mind. Oozing with unctuous squid sauce, Peruvian olives and “olluco”, a vitamin-rich Andean root vegetable, this was a cracker dish.
We rounded off our savoury South American jaunt with the ubiquitous Bao, this time of “Rabo de Toro”; shredded stewed oxtail trapped between a delectable chewy bread bun that had been flashed over the griddle pan, a welcome original touch. Just the sort of sneaky snack I like to sink my teeth into mid-morning when the post-porridge munchies set in.
Puddings beckoned in the shape of “Cilindro de chocolate”, an intense chocolate mousse with perfectly ripe headily-scented mango ice cream which soothed the volcanic chilli craters forming on my tongue. We also tried the creamy lucuma fruit blancmange with tart strawberry sherbert. Lucuma is a centuries-old superfood known as the “Gold of the Incas”, famed for its age-retardant antioxidants and fertility properties. I was tempted to smear it over the wrinkles round my eyes as opposed to ingest it and risk a geriatric pregnancy. Although…watch this space in 9 months´ time…
Calle de Don Ramón de la Cruz, 8328006 Madrid