For the past several years I had heard many good things about El Kapallaq; good friends had raved about it, and it has an excellent reputation within the Lima restaurant industry. For some reason or another I had never managed to eat there until recently. El Kapallaq lived up to my expectations and more.
Before I had a chance to check out the restaurant’s decor and food, I met owner and chef, Luis Cordero Larrabure. Chef Cordero is a seasoned diver who has been actively spearfishing for 30 years and has spent 50 years as a surfer. To say he is passionate about the ocean is an understatement. His energy, enthusiasm and passion permeates the air at El Kapallaq, and his Peruvian and Basque heritage comes through in his style of cooking. After listening to Cordero for 30 minutes it was obvious to me that this recipient of the 2016 Congress of Peru Diploma of Honor (for promoting the development and diversity of Peruvian cuisine) is a passionate “renaissance man” of the sea.
Chef and owner Luis Cordero Larrabure (Photo: Marco Simola/Living in Peru)
Cordero’s strong respect and love for the ocean comes out in his commitment to promote fish sustainability and local ingredients plus the need to protect the ocean and the various species of fish that at the time are overfished. Instead of using popular fish such as lenguado (sole), corvina (sea bass) and mero (grouper), they try to incorporate other species in their cooking such as cojinova, charela and donocella, to name just a few. The restaurant even has their own personal fish purveyor that ensures the high quality and standards of the fish, all of which derives from the north coast of Peru.
A quote from the author of one of my favorite Peruvian cookbooks, “The Art of Peruvian Cuisine,” rings true when he describes Cordero as “a notable fisherman, philosopher and chef. His are some of the most fundamental seafood dishes in Peru. Sitting at a table in his restaurant, Kapallaq, transports you immediately to the seaside.” I could not agree more.
El Kapallaq is currently in its third location in almost 21 years, having moved from Miraflores to San Isidro just a few months ago. The new location has an entirely different “look” than his past restaurant locales, filled with natural light that showcases the high ceilings. Everywhere you look you will observe inspiration from the sea. Kapallaq, which refers to “the know how of keeping food” in the Mochica language, even has a Moche fish as its logo on the menu’s front cover.
A sea of blue inside El Kapallaq (Photo: Marco Simola/Living in Peru)
Cordero gave quite a bit of credit to his daughter, an artist, for her assistance in the decor of the new location. There are a variety of shades of blue throughout, and the decor is tasteful and unique. One entire wall of the restaurant has approximately 50 decorative fish of all shapes, sizes and species that were prepared using a particular Japanese fiberglass method. The opposite wall showcases seven original nautical-inspired paintings, many of which were painted by Cordero’s mother, Antonieta Larrabure. As a Pisces, my favorite part was the wavy design in different shades of blue on the ceiling, reminiscent of waves in the ocean perhaps.
We began our culinary experience at Kapallaq with an antipasto and tabla de quesos while sampling several cocktails. One of my favorites was the midnightgentleman, basically a pisco martini which uses a Huamani brand pisco marinated with “secret” herbs. Served chilled and straight up in a martini glass, this cocktail is anything but timid and most definitely for pisco lovers. Their chicha chilcano was one of the more unique concoctions. Typically I am not a fan of chicha de jora (fermented corn beer), but it was quite good incorporated into this chilcano, most likely because they prepare their chicha in-house.
I highly recommend their frozen hierba buena limonada if you are looking for something refreshing and non-alcoholic. This version is one of the best I’ve had of this wonderfully minty and slightly sweet beverage.
Hierba buena limonada, far left, is an excellent non-alcoholic choice (Photo: Marco Simola/Living in Peru)
We all agreed that it was mandatory that we sampled the infamous chicharrón de pulpo (S/ 52), one of the most requested dishes at Kapallaq. The octopus used in this dish is typically the adult tentacles of the octopus. What I enjoyed about this fried octopus was that it was not overly breaded or overly coated with batter, allowing the tender and crispy octopus to take center stage. Having participated in Mistura four times in the past, Chef Cordero and the Kapallaq team served 8,000 plates of this fried octopus at the 2013 Mistura and won honors for this particular dish.
Crispy chicharrón de pulpo, top, and cool lobster, bottom (Photo: Marco Simola/Living in Peru)
Our next dish was exquisite and was as pleasing to the eye as it was to the palate. The lobster was first boiled in wine along with sage and laurel. The succulent lobster was served with chopped hard-boiled eggs, diced white onion, diced bell peppers, red vinegar, olive oil and fresh ground salt. This is a cold dish and was perfect for the hot, balmy summer day.
One of the table favorites was the *ragu de cuy con orecchiette* (S/ 65). The cuy (guinea pig meat) sauce was cooked for two hours in red wine, along with rosemary, carrots, celery and several other vegetables. The meat of the guinea pig was tender, robust and flavorful and the sauce was ideal for the orecchiette (small ear-shaped pasta shells). I found this to be very much a “comfort food” dish.
We also truly enjoyed the tonnarelli langostinos, tomate cherry, azafrán y aceite de trufas (S/ 56). This egg pasta, imported from Italy as are all pastas served at Kapallaq, was infused with squid ink, and tossed with cherry tomatoes, plenty of juicy shrimp, saffron and a subtle amount of truffle oil. It was a simple and elegant dish.
Ragu de cuy, top, and tonnarelli with shrimp, bottom (Photo: Marco Simola/Living in Peru)
One of the flagship dishes at Kapallaq is their sudado de pescado (S/ 60). In my 10 years of living here in Peru, I have eaten this dish countless times, and have even prepared it in my own home. However I can easily state that this was one of the best sudados I have ever eaten. It was refined and rustic at the same time. Prepared and served in a clay pot, the cojinova fish fillets were steamed and stewed in a broth that includes tomato, garlic, onion, ajíes, cilantro as well as the key ingredient, chicha de jora. The broth in the sudado is the primary source of what makes this dish exquisite. As mentioned previously, Kapallaq prepares their own chicha de jora (fermented corn beer beverage) on their premises. While the team of Living in Peru was devouring this dish and especially praising the broth, Chef Cordero exclaimed “your soul returns back to your body” in reference to the liquid nectar in his sudado. We all smiled and had to agree with his proclamation.
A rustic sudado with cojinova (Photo: Marco Simola/Living in Peru)
The last fish dish we sampled was the popular pescado con salsa kapallaq (S/ 60), which was a pan fried cojinovo fish from the north coast. The sauce served over the fish is what really makes this dish pop. Ají amarillo peppers are soaked overnight in salted water after the veins and seeds are removed. The following day, the water is strained and the ají amarillo are grilled with their skins on until they are nicely charred and golden. The peppers are then puréed along with garlic, celery, olive oil and other ingredients before being combined with large shrimp and served on top of the fish.
El Kapallaq offers 17 different fish dishes on the fish portion of their main menu which includes a variety of cooking methods and sauces. There were so many other wonderful dishes we sampled during our visit that I could not possibly mention all of them in detail. Besides the dishes mentioned above, we also thoroughly enjoyed the carpaccio de atun, finocchio y aceite de oliva (S/ 53), tiradito de pescado con sales (S/ 48), and the espesado de pescado (S/ 54).
I enjoyed our dining experience at Kapallaq. The food was top notch, not trendy in the least and elevated classic dishes. Despite comments regarding the prices, the consistent high-quality food served at El Kapallaq fully justifies the cost.
Many thanks to our charming hosts, Luis Cordero and his wife, Denisse and their team at El Kapallaq.
*Every Thursday evening (9 p.m.- 11 p.m.) at El Kapallaq there is live music (Noches de Música). The music tends to be mostly jazz oriented.
Av. Dos de Mayo 748
Hours: Monday-Saturday: 12:30 p.m.-11:00 p.m. Sunday: 12:30 p.m.-5:00 p.m.
Parking: street, parking lot, and valet available
Capacity: 57 people
Ceviches/Tiraditos: S/ 48-52
Carpaccio: S/ 53
Starters: S/ 46-59
Salads: S/ 35-48
Fried fish: S/ 40-48
Soups/Chowders/Sudados: S/ 48-70
Rice/Risottos: S/ 45-75
Stews: S/ 52-75
Fish dishes: S/ 48-65
Pastas: S/ 42-62
Meat dishes: S/ 60-78
Side dishes: S/ 10-14
Full bar/cocktail menu