Virgilio Martínez (pictured) and Pía León
Monica Sánchez Hoyos
What makes it special: Chefs Virgilio Martínez and Pía León’s flagship restaurant is a shrine to all things Peruvian, including many ingredients that are seldom seen elsewhere. The husband-and-wife team have been travelling the length and breadth of the country for several years to source interesting and unique produce from land, sea and mountains. Central won the title of The Best Restaurant in Latin America three times between 2014 and 2016.
An award-winning experience: Taking advantage of the pandemic-induced closures, Martínez and León worked hard to improve Central’s service and hospitality, even turning the garden outside the restaurant into a journey of biological discovery for diners. These details and the team’s outstanding attention to detail see Central recognised with the Gin Mare Art of Hospitality Award 2020.
On the menu: Martínez and León like to play with the many varieties of corn, tuber, chocolate and more obscure products offered by Peru’s vastly biodiverse landscape. Classics include Land of Corn and Extreme Stems, with newer dishes such as Waters of Nanay featuring piranha fish served in an entire, sharp-tooth-filled piranha head. The menu explores every altitude, from 20 metres below sea level to 4,100 metres above it, in 17-plus courses.
Central family: Martínez and León were married four days after the awards ceremony for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2013, when they celebrated Central’s first appearance on the list. The couple run together, work together, travel together and even open restaurants together, seen in the León-fronted Kjolle, which opened in 2018.
Other ventures: In 2018, Central left its original location in Lima’s Miraflores district for its current home in the arty Barranco neighbourhood, which also houses Malena Martínez’s Mater Iniciativa research project and a cocktail bar called Mayo. In the same year, the couple opened Mil restaurant in Cusco, while in 2021, they have set their sights on Japan with the opening of Maz in Tokyo.