Lime, Salt and Love

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The culinary artists at one of Doha’s most beautiful dining spots invite Amica Sicilia in to sample the secrets of their family kitchen tables.

As the great heat of a Doha summer begins to ease, there are few more beautiful places to eat than La Mar by Gastón Acurio at InterContinental Doha. We pass down an avenue of olive trees and through tall latticed dark-wood doors. The double-height dining room is an oasis of neutral tones, natural stone and warm wood, but we are lured beyond it, stepping between twin fountains to our table on the terrace. Our view is the pale golden sand and lapping waves of Doha’s longest private beach, embraced by a curving promenade that runs out to a viewpoint with 360-degree views of the Arabian Gulf and city skyline.

Peruvian cuisine is all about simple, fresh ingredients used to maximum effect: contrasts of colour and texture, sweetness, acidity and heat. This food is a love-affair, a criollo marriage of flavours from Spain to the Amazon, Asia to the Andes, and Gastón Acurio is its premier global ambassador, recruiting the finest young culinary talent to bring his passion to the world.

It’s this strong and active connection to the motherland, under the leadership of Executive Chef Frank Ponce Yalico, that makes dining at La Mar such an entirely authentic and transporting experience. And La Mar is now offering an altogether more intimate invitation. Every Saturday evening, this young and innovative cooking team invites diners to taste a new menu based on the flavours of their homes, the food they grew up eating, secrets handed down generation to generation, now refined, elevated and presented to the world.

And nothing could be more quintessentially Peruvian than the first plate to arrive, Cebiche Amazonico. It’s a genius dish, the key to which is absolute freshness. Chef de Cuisine Luis Huamani, creator of this week’s menu, reminisces about making Cebiche on the beach with fish caught himself off Peru’s long, equally golden but rather wilder Pacific coast. “If you have fresh fish, you have everything,” he tells us. Instead of cooking, the freshest catch of the day is quick cured in lime juice, salt and ice, then bathed in Leche de Tigre. This ‘tiger’s milk’ is an elixir of fish stock, garlic, ginger, aji chillies and coriander. This version is gilded with the unexpected sweetness of mangoes and studded with roasted avocado and Choclo, a large creamy white corn, like giant pearls. The Cebiche is paired with another Peruvian icon, Causa, in which fresh, tender shrimps are layered with delicately whipped potato laced with yellow chillies, avocados and tomatoes (plus, of course, the three ingredients that Chef Luis says make everything better: ‘lime, salt and love’).

That was just the warm-up. Next, in swoops a platter of Chabata bread loaded with succulent spit-roasted chicken, and charcoal-roasted fish Anticuchos, a fragrant kebab originating with the Incas. Each one, beautifully flaky, smoky from the coals, nestles on a little bed of buttery corn mash striped with the sweet heat of Rocoto red-chilli cream. This is classic Peruvian street food, meant to be eaten sizzling from the grill, burning your fingers but satisfying your cravings.

Then it’s time for the main event, two recipes entrusted to the chef by his grandmother and hers before her. On one side, a steaming dish of Aji de Gallina, the tenderest chicken cooked in yellow chillies, milk, peanuts and black olives, gently laid over mouthful-sized bites of perfectly crisp home-fried potatoes. Beside it, a vibrant tangle of Tallarines Verdes. Italian emigration to Peru dates back to the 1840s, so this cousin of spaghetti with basil pesto has been enriched over the generations with spinach, evaporated milk and Queso Fresco to a dreamy creaminess.

It’s crowned with a Milanesa, a finely breaded cutlet of beef, crisp outside, tender within. This is comfort food honed to a fine art. We’re wondering whether we could possibly manage anything else, when Chef Luis appears one final time, bearing a surprise that typifies the fun, flair and sophistication of La Mar. Between us is placed a bowl of red-hot coals, with around it a stack of crumbly Alfajores shortbread cookies, a pot of the darkest melted chocolate, a cone of melt-in-your-mouth Manjar Blanco (Peru’s answer to Dulce de Leche caramel) and – the clue to it all – two plump marshmallows.

Toasting our Peruvian smores, we are children again, gobbling sticky molten clouds of joy. Delighted and satisfied, we lean back and savour the view. The lights of the city shimmer out across the water. That stretch of pale gold sand fades to blue, then deepest midnight, reaching upwards to a starry sky.

For reservations and more information, please call La Mar by Gastón Acurio on 4484 4919,
WhatsApp 3391 2820 or email fb.icdoha@ihg.com
@lamardoha

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