Lima is increasingly becoming a global capital of food, thanks not only to Nobu Matsuhisa with his 32 restaurants and a growing number of luxury hotels around the world but also to Gaston Acuria. The gal breakfasted at one of Gaston’s many restaurants, La Mar at Mandarin Oriental Miami only last week, and it is always a delight (as too are Nobu at InterContinental Hong Kong and so many other places). However, it is sometimes great to eat casual, and in Lima a big all-time favourite is anything with avocado – put it with bread and it is even better. Mention the two ingredients to any Lima gourmet, indeed, and one name comes up, Pan de la Chola in San Isidro.
I was with my friend Milly Alva Haimberger, who heads sales for Aqua Expeditions, both here on the Amazon and also on the Mekong – she was born and bred here and she knows Lima inside out (‘this is Museo Mario Testino (MATE), founded by Mario Testino, who is Peruvian, in 2012 to promote heritage and culture, this is the new Omega store opened by Cindy Crawford’ and so on, as she drove with extreme care in and out of the city traffic). Let us go and sit at Pan de la Chola, watch the croissants being made by hand, smell the irresistible aroma of corn and herb and wholemeal breads, choose what you want, in our case wood platters each, with halves of enormous avocado, bowls of dipping oil and chunks of addictive toasted bread. Food, by the way, is an essential part of the Aqua Expeditions product, and when they have onboard guest chefs, they are the best.
All our specialists have to be the best, says Milly. On the Amazon, Pedro Schiaffino is the culinary name. On the Mekong, his counterpart is David Thompson, also to be found at Nahm in COMO’s Metropolitan in Bangkok. Other big names include Lululemon’s ambassador Alex Salihin, doing yoga on the Mekong this December. Francisco Marin does photography cruises, Jean-Michel Cousteau is the sustainability specialist – the vessels, by the way, have all been designed by Jordi Puig, he of Atemporal, which happens to be one of the pre- and post-hotels used for Aqua Expeditions’ Amazon cruises. Milly is the epitomal brand ambassador herself, for the cruises, she oozes such enthusiasm for them it makes you want to sign up straightaway. We finally left Pan de la Chola, and drove past dozens of the icecream sellers who are positioned, exactly, all along the cycle and pathway that runs cliff-top from San Isidro to Miraflores, past hang-gliding lift-offs, and tennis courts and fixed paracourse workout stations. And then it was time to return to the world of luxury hotels.