The experts in boutique travel To Peru and South America

Central Restaurant: A Complete Guide to Your Experience

December 18, 2023

Central in Lima, Peru is currently the Number 2 Restaurant in the World. Thanks to Inca Expert Travel’s collaboration with Virgilio Martinez (owner and head chef of Central), I was invited to dine there and experience it for myself.

In short: my meal at Central was one of the best of my life. If you’re a “foodie” or simply love unique, extraordinary experiences, adding Central to your Peru itinerary is a must.

But how (and when) can you reserve your table? What kind of dress code does the restaurant have? And what makes Central worth the hype? Below I’ll share everything you need to know about how to book, prepare for, and enjoy every moment of your meal at Central.

Table of Contents

What kind of food is Central?

Virgilio Martinez’s vision for Central is not to revamp famous Peruvian cuisine: it’s to showcase Peru through food.

This means that you won’t find local favorites like Lomo Saltado or a fresh ceviche on Central’s menu. Instead, diners will choose if they would like 12-14 plates based on ecosystems at different altitudes throughout Peru.

Each “ecosystem” includes ingredients found from that area, or showcases a cooking method its local people utilize in day-to-day life. So whether trying a dish with pacú from the Peruvian Amazon, or having an Andean huatia opened at your very table to reveal deliciously cooked potatoes, you’ll get a glimpse into every corner of Peru over the course of your meal.

The presentation of each dish is as unique and deeply thought through as Central’s concept. Many times, diners won’t even know which items on their plate are edible just by looking at them. Not to worry, though; the passionate, professional staff of Central take generous time introducing each plate as it comes out, describing where the dish is from, and explaining which parts of the plate are to be eaten (and sometimes even how to eat them).

While initially you may not recognize the food in front of you, you’ll leave Central not only understanding the ingredients but also appreciating the places and people of Peru.

Begin the experience at Central with a small tour of all the ingredients that are used which are all on a table after entering the restaurant. Photo by Ken Motohasi for Central

How do I reserve my table?

If you would like to plan a whole customized trip around your visit to Central, you can submit a request to our team of expert Travel Advisors who will help you plan everything from dinner reservations, tours, and hotels. You can also make reservations for Central on their website or through the restaurant’s partners like travel agencies and concierge services. Diners will choose their date, time, and which tasting menu they’d like. You can also add a wine or juice pairing to your meal.

Keep in mind that Central is closed on Sundays as well as on major holidays, including some Latin American holidays such as Semana Santa.

Central only allows reservations up to several months in advance, and tables go fast (gone in minutes type of fast). Hopeful diners need to be vigilant about checking the website if they’d like to get in on the date and at the time they prefer.

Thankfully, Inca Expert Travel clients* can ask their Travel Advisors to take care of the reservations for them. This removes the stress of constantly refreshing Central’s website or rearranging your entire trip if your ideal date sells out: we’ll handle all that for you!

*NOTE: clients of Inca Expert Travel are considered those who book 3+ days of hotels, tours, etc, through the company in addition to their Central reservation.

Lima Tours:

Which Tasting Menu should I choose?

Central currently offers four Tasting Menus. We asked Diogo Miranda, Project and Business Development Manager of Central, to explain each menu to help you decide which is best for you.

1) Territorio en Desnivel: 12 ecosystems

This is the tasting menu I enjoyed when I dined at Central. The menu twists and turns from the sea to the mountains, back down the Amazon, and up again. While some diners shy away from this tasting menu because it’s the shortest, it truly is the “base” experience of the restaurant. You will still get full exposure to the altitude based ideology, and phenomenal plates with this option.

2) Experiencia Creatividad del Dia: 12 ecosystems

Creatividad del Dia translates to “Creativity of the Day.” As the name suggests, this menu changes based on Virgilio Martinez’ or other chefs’ creative whims. “(The experience) is based on what products are best in that season, in addition to altitudes and ecosystems of Peru,” Miranda informed us.

*While this tasting menu may cater more to those who frequent Central, it welcomes any diner.

3) Mundo Mater Experience: 14 ecosystems

Miranda confirmed that this tasting menu is Central’s best seller. Mundo Mater is the same experience as “Territorio en Desnivel”, with the difference being that diners will enjoy two more plates.
“In Mundo Mater, we add dishes with two special national products such as Mero Murique from Tumbes and Pulpo de Moquegua,” Miranda explained.

If you have a bit more to invest into Central (both wallet and time wise), the Mundo Mater tasting menu would be an excellent choice.

4) Experiencia Creatividad Mundo: 14 ecosystems

Experiencia Creatividad Mundo is simply an upgraded experience from Experiencia Creatividad del Día. This tasting menu highlights the best ingredients of the season from each altitude, and will be a touch longer since it includes 14 movements instead of 12.

This tasting menu would be a great option for those who want a unique experience at Central than others who have dined there, and are looking for a very in depth experience.

Experience a gastronomic journey though all of Peru as the menu takes you to several different altitudes. Photo by Juan Miguel Mifflin for Inca Expert

Wine pairing or no wine pairing?

Central offers two different wine pairings chosen by Central’s current Head Sommelier, Diego Vasquez:

Should you choose a wine pairing, you’ll enjoy a small glass of a different wine with each dish. Of course, this translates to 12-14 glasses of wine throughout the evening.

As a wine drinker, for me the wine portions were small enough that they added to my time at Central. However, some of my colleagues who aren’t commonly wine drinkers felt they finished the night “tipsy” and that it took away from their experience in the last few plates because they were less able to focus on the meal.

Therefore, choosing whether a wine pairing is right for you may depend on if you’re already a frequent wine drinker. If so, you’ll likely love the pairing that Central’s experts have put together! If not, perhaps skipping the wine pairing to avoid losing focus on the overall experience is best.

Central is located in the bohemian area of Lima, Peru in Barranco. The restaurant itself is quite casual and only seats 44 guests. Photo by Ken Motohasi for Central

What if I have dietary restrictions?

Central is happy to adapt the Tasting Menu for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free guests. Their reservation website states they can easily modify their Tasting Menu to these three restrictions without sacrificing Virgilio Martinez’s overall concept.

However, Central also clearly states that it cannot accommodate severe allergies (such as nuts, eggs, etc). This is because they cannot guarantee their kitchen is 100% free of the allergen during your visit, and they want to keep you safe.

If you only have a mild allergy or intolerance, you’re free to contact Central and they’ll look into if they could work with you.

Can I bring my children to Central?

Children are more than welcome at Central!

That said, keep in mind that the experience will range from 4-5 hours and that diners expect a quiet, refined atmosphere at the restaurant. The price for a child is also the same as an adult, whether they’re able and willing to eat the 12-14 plates or not.

Therefore, the adult who knows the child best should determine if Central is a good fit for them.

How do I prepare for the experience?

Entering a restaurant where the plates are unrecognizable can be intimidating. Thankfully, there are options to prepare for Central that will greatly enrich your experience.

The best preparation for Central is to watch Netflix’s “Chef’s Table” episode about Virgilio Martinez (Season 3, Episode 6). Martinez explains his inspiration behind Central, the process he and the staff take to create a dish, and the areas of Peru where each plate originates.

I watched the Chef’s Table episode before dining at Central, and can say with absolute certainty it enhanced my time there. After watching the 51-minute documentary, you too will be able to walk into Central feeling more connected to your dining experience.

Don’t have the extra hour in your day? This 5-minute YouTube video is a summary of Central and the vision, research, and people behind the plate.

What do I wear?

No need to pack your tuxedo or evening gown for Central: the restaurant has no official dress code. Diners usually come somewhere between casual and business casual, which matches the minimalist, modern nature of the restaurant.

When I dined at Central I saw tourists in hiking pants and clean t-shirts, whereas I wore a blazer with dress jeans and heels. Simply put, feel free to enjoy Central as you feel most comfortable.

How long will I be at Central?

Expect to clear your afternoon or evening for Central. The shortest Tasting Menu (12 plates) lasts about 3-4 hours, depending on whether you added a wine/juice pairing. The Tasting Menus with 12-14 plates will last slightly longer, with 4 hours being the minimum and going up to 5 hours.

Therefore, you should expect to be at Central for approximately 4 hours, but leave some wiggle room should you like to linger a bit longer.

Pro tip: Being that Central is a lengthy experience, the restaurant offers luggage storage if you need to head to the airport right after the meal.

Pictured here are the two head chefs and married couple, Virgilio Martiniz and Pia Leon. Photo by César Del Rio for Central

How much should I tip?

It is customary to tip at Central. Latin America’s tipping standards begin at 10% as a minimum. Should you feel your service at Central was superior, feel free to increase the percentage from there.

What if Central is sold out during my trip?

Central sells out* months in advance. If you’re inspired by the concept behind Central but find yourself without a table, you can still enjoy awe-inspiring plates by Virgilio Martinez and other world-renowned chefs.

1) In Lima: Kjolle

While Kjolle stands on its own two feet and is not simply a “backup plan,” some visitors are unaware that the restaurant shares the same concept (and building) as Central. Pia Leon runs Kjolle and was named the World’s Best Female Chef in 2021. Leon also still runs the kitchen at Central alongside her husband, Virgilio Martinez.

The main difference between Kjolle and Central is that Central focuses on only one ecosystem per plate, whereas Kjolle highlights multiple ecosystems within the same dish. Kjolle also offers a la carte options in addition to a Tasting Menu, whereas Central only offers Tasting Menus.
You’ll be fascinated by the way Pia Leon takes you on a delicious, winding journey through Peru.

2) Outside of Lima: MIL

Virgilio Martinez’s inspiration for Central came from the communities and ingredients that surround Moray, a famous ruin in the Sacred Valley. After making Central a success, he returned to the source of his passion to begin MIL.

While Central covers ecosystems throughout Peru, MIL highlights the ecosystem near Moray (the Andes). Not only will diners enjoy the thoughtfully crafted 8-course menu at MIL, they will also learn about the local communities that responsibly source its ingredients.

MIL’s leading experience is MIL Immersion. With this option, you’ll get to visit MIL’s Research Center as well as enjoy their world renown dishes. This includes a guided exploration of their gardens to learn about endemic plants, a visit to the experimental farms, and much more.

To truly appreciate Martinez’s vision, diners should book both Central and MIL. That said, if Central is not available then MIL alone will offer the same type of unique plates and ideology as Central.

*NOTE: Inca Expert Travel is happy to help our clients make their reservations at Central. Clients of Inca Expert Travel are considered those who book 3+ days of hotels, tours, etc, through the company in addition to their Central reservation. Feel free to reach out to Inca Expert Travel here.

Enjoy delicious, and fun plates that are sure to surprise your senses. Photo by Juan Miguel Mifflin for Inca Expert

What makes Central truly worth it?

Besides checking off the Number 2 Restaurant in the World, what makes Central worth the time and investment?
Before dining at Central, I had created assumptions about the restaurant. I’d heard that because the ingredients were “experimental” (being that some have never been used in cuisine before), the taste wasn’t always enjoyable. I therefore went to Central prepared to appreciate the idea behind the menu, but also bracing to not enjoy the meal itself.

I could not have been more wrong. From the first plate that came out, I was amazed by the marvelous flavors of all the food. Not only did Virgilio Martinez’s team showcase an ecosystem of Peru and its ingredients, they did so in a mouth-wateringly delicious way.

That’s what makes Central truly special: many restaurants have delicious food, and many have new, brilliant ideas behind their menu, but Central has both. The original concept plus incredible flavors make it an experience to remember.

Make booking, preparing for, and dining at Central a priority during your trip. We’re confident you’ll love the restaurant as much as you love Peru.

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