Lima, Kjolle is much more than Central's younger sibling

With its rich vocabulary of Peruvian flavours, the restaurant of Pia León in Martinez shines in its own right

04-12-2019
Pía Leon, chef at Kjolle in Lima, Peru (photo 

Pía Leon, chef at Kjolle in Lima, Peru (photo Gustavo Vivanco)

Every now and then we all start itching for a change, an urge that’s easy to resist in lieu of the confines of our comfort zones. Yet chef Pia León wasn’t afraid to step outside hers.  As the chef de cuisine of Central restaurant in Lima, León helmed the kitchen alongside her husband, chef Virgilio Martinez, playing an integral part in its climb to the top spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Latin America list and its current ranking as sixth best in the world. When Martinez decided to relocate his esteemed restaurant from Lima’s lively Miraflores district to Casa Tupac, a former art and cultural center in the Barranco quarter, León decided to inaugurate a restaurant of her own in the revamped complex—smart decision. Just a few months following the opening,  she earned the Latin America’s Best Female Chef award from the World’s 50 Best. 

Nestled neatly into Casa Tupac’s first floor, Kjolle (pronounced koy-yay) sits just above Mayo, a cocktail bar that completes the husband-and-wife team’s trinity of Lima eateries. The venue also lodges a garden, water filtration plant, herb dehydrator and Mater Iniciativa lab. A biological research center operated by León’s sister-in-law Malena Martinez, Mater Iniciativa is at the core of Central, known for a tasting menu that reflects Peru’s various ecosystems and altitudes, as well as Kjolle.  

Named after a yellow Andean flower that blooms at a high altitude, Kjolle opened in August 2018. “I am not much of a structured person, I am more impulsive,” says León. “With this concept of regions, I don't have a limit when creating. It is more of a free concept.” Her dishes showcase just four or five ingredients via a cleverly unbridled fusion of colors, textures and flavors, mixing and matching the myriad bounty of Peru’s regions to take clients on an intrepid journey through the country’s motley flora and fauna. 

Pato curado 

Pato curado 

The side dish served with Pato Curado

The side dish served with Pato Curado

I’m welcomed with a warm infusion of camu camu, a tart Amazonian fruit, and paico, an herb harvested on-site, a fitting prelude for the eight forthcoming, meticulously paced courses. A dish called Scallops and Seeds marries the Pacific with the valleys of the Andes, the latter represented by the pacae fruit. Tenderly plump scallops are bathed in a zingy ginger-lime Tiger’s Milk sauce and topped with two frozen meringues crafted from the fruit’s sweet white pulp, then finished with a sprinkling of its seeds.

Peru is home to more than 3,800 tuber varieties, and Tubers celebrates these starchy delights in the form of a quinoa tart filled with a layer of goat cheese that’s crowned with translucent layers of overlapping potatoes, yucca and olluco—some sliced into long ribbons while others resemble nickel-sized discs—in shades of pink, red and yellow.  A nest of silky, white paper-thin strands of Amazonian chonta, or heart of palm, conceals what lay at the bottom of Vegetal Diversity. I swirl them as I would spaghetti, each forkful encompassing crisp nuggets of the yacon tuber, a broad bean emulsion and coffee broth. Cured duck is minced and served with tiny squid arms in squid cream and complete with shards of fried onion.  I scoop it all into the accompanying chapla, a pita-like pocket bread typical of Ayacucho, made from kuniwa (a cousin of quinoa) and squid ink, and dig in, sanwich style.

The wine pairings kick off with an Alsatian Crémant then segue into a selection from South American wineries with a strong showing from Peru, including a merlot from Intipalka Valle del Sol made especially for Kjolle and cañazo, an ancient drink typical of Cusco crafted from sugar cane, as well as a distillate from the kjolle flower itself.

Kjolle, details of the decor 

Kjolle, details of the decor 

"I want the clients to feel the diversity we have,” says León. “Not only on the products but about materials, textures. I want the clients to have more contact with the cooks and to discover new products."

Textures also abound in the ambiance. Floor-to-ceiling windows connect high pinewood ceilings with the polished concrete floor while smooth wood and colorful marble tabletops are bedecked with jagged, custom-made plateware crafted by local artisans. Two rows of shelves overlook the open kitchen from their perch on a delicate powder blue wall, one of which displays infusions in various shades of amber alongside flattened and framed dehydrated herbs.  

Comparisons between Central and Kjolle are inevitable. Yes, both are deliberate, dynamic and imaginative, but—and I mean this in the best way possible—the comparisons should stop there.  I wouldn’t necessarily chalk Kjolle up as a less formal alternative to Central or even refer to it as Central’s ”little sister.” While the restaurants are most certainly siblings, there’s nothing diminutive about Kjolle—it’s a dashing complement to Central that flows to the beat of its own pan flute. 


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