And now it is time for yet another marvellous luxury Mandarin Oriental hotel – this time in Miami. Marvellous because it has re-invented itself since the gal’s last visit. For one thing, the Technogym has been upgraded and now you can enter it direct from the lobby. Also marvellous is the introduction of La Mar by Gaston Acurio, and his onsite chef, Diego Oka, a Peruvian of Japanese descent who honestly becomes one of your dearest friends within a few seconds of first meeting. He brims not only with energy but with talent that has obviously been nurtured by Acurio, the Peruvian would-be lawyer who now, with his Swedish wife Astrid, oversees no fewer than 40 restaurants in 19 countries.
Let us go back. This ship-like hotel opened in 2001 with a Tony Chi-designed restaurant Azul, at first with chef Michelle Bernstein. Later she moved on, and Joel Huff now cooks there. Beneath Azul was one of those all-day restaurants that has to do breakfast, as a result of which it was perhaps a little so-so at lunch and dinner. Now seven million has been spent, some of it to convert this all-day restaurant into La Mar by Gaston Acurio, a space that not only works but is a fantastic success, all day and evening. Local architects Arquitectonica concepted the new-look restaurant space, and a Lima company, Nathan Pereira Arquitectura, did the main design, based on a Peruvian cebicheria. Sure enough La Mar has a 22-seat cebiche (ceviche) bar.
At dinner the entire space, which flows outside if weather permits, rocks. It is ideal for a party, to concentrate on great food and drink, and perhaps lip-reading stimulating conversations. The menu has cebiches, and tiraditor (Japanese sashimi Peruvian style), and Peruvian Nikei, and Causas dishes based on whipped Peruvian potatos and aji pepper. There are salads, and traditional Peruvian skewers, and plates for sharing, and wok concoctions. This is Peruvian food with a hint of Japan whereas that other great half-Peruvian chef, Nobu Matsuhisa, is more Japanese with a hint of Peru. I start with a Nikei causas, potato topped with oh-so-elegant tuna tartare, avocado, sweet chili sauce and rococo pepper cream.
We shared a Fideos Machos, a barely-there squid ink tagliatelle with scallops, calamari, choclo, and lime pepper aioli. The service was exemplary, with waiters somehow catching that slightly-raised eyebrow that Piers Morgan and his wife Celia Walden said, at the 2014 Ultratravel Forum, was the sign of true luxury service. The level of noise rose steadily as the evening progressed, and I wondered how on earth this highly successful restaurant would transform itself into a breakfast venue…