After centuries of fending off pirates and buccaneers, Colombia’s colonial treasure, Cartagena de Indias, the pearl of the Caribbean, has become more than used to invasions of one kind or another.
Whereas the arrival of unannounced visitors used to result in the locals shutting up shop, hunkering down for the long-haul or heading for the hills, a 21st century invasion of savvy travelers not put off by the travel warnings and an outdated reputation for all sorts of unsavory activities, has solicited an altogether more hospitable approach.
In recent years the city has been transformedfrom no-go to must-go and it now receives visitors with a more sophisticated pallet entirely. Amidst the new wave of gourmet buccaneers wading in on the boom, Cartagena has attracted its fair share of Peruvian pretenders trying to muscle in on the Caribbean ceviche scene, but La Perla – the first to put Cocina Novoandina on the menu in the city’s 17th century historic centre – still takes some beating.
Four years after it moved into the former premises of Cartagena’s sweetest retreat from the heat, Mila, opposite the exclusive boutique Hotel Agua, La Perla has established itself as a swish landmark on one of Cartagena’s best tasting streets, Calle de Ayos.
Nestled in with other culinary favorites, El Bistro and Oh! La La, this contemporary Peruvian specialist has established itself as one of the first stops for gourmands looking for great food at the sort of prices you would be comfortable paying in New York and London. Famed for its tiraditos – thin strips of fresh tuna or sea bass cured in tiger milk (Peruvian marinades with a Capiscum or yellow chile kick) or Nikkei variations that incorporate Peru’s strong Asian gastronomic ties – La Perla has managed to stay one step ahead of the Andean pack by freshening up its menu at least once a year.
Peruvian chef Carlos Accinelli who learned his trade in the kitchens of Lima and Spain at the Michelin-starred Basque restaurant, Arzak, works closely with owner and manager Roberto Carrascal to ensure the menu gets a facelift as regularly as the petite diner’s stylish interiors. There’s no shifting the stars of the show though. Neither the classic Ceviche Corvina (sea bass ceviche) or the Lomo La Perla, a sirloin steak served with a Roquefort-laced sauce served on a bed of creamy mushroom rice, are showing signs of going out of fashion any time soon.
The owner’s passion for cocktails comes through in La Perla’s impressive selection of Caribbean creations with the bar staff making the most of Colombia’s rich variety of fresh fruits to add a new twist to some staple South American tipples. Standout tragos worthy of an evening to remember include the Mojito Mango Biche made with green mango or a Pisco Sour Maracuya, given a little extra zip with lashings of Passion Fruit citric goodness. Carrascal’s personal favorite, a Martini La Perla involves Hpnotiq Vodka and Tanqueray Gin mixed with basil, cucumber, lemon and Blue Curaçao that will leave your friends green with menu envy.
Carlos Accinelli’s recipe for Lomo La Perla | La Perla Sirloin Steak
For 1 serving – multiply as required
Sirloin Steak – 200 gms
Beef Stock – 300 ml
White Rice – 100 grams
Olive oil – 1 tbsp
Mushrooms Sliced – 50 grams
Rosemary – 5 grams
Garlic finely diced – 5 grams
White onions finely diced – 20 grams
Parmesan Cheese – 25 grams
Cream – 100 grams
Blue Cheese Sauce
Roquefort Cheese – 25 grams
White Wine – 50 grams
- Reduce a liter of beef stock in a saucepan for three hours on a low temperature until you have 300 ml of liquid.
- Fry the garlic and white onions in the olive oil in a saucepan until golden. Add the mushrooms and rosemary. Cook until the mushrooms have softened.
- Add the reduced meat stock and then add the rice. Leave to cook on a low heat.
- Season the steak on both sides with salt and pepper and sear and grill until you have it how you like it – for medium-rare cook for just over two minutes on each side.
- Remove the steak from the pan and allow to rest for 4-5 minutes while you make the sauce.
- For the sauce, boil off the alcohol from the white wine. Add Roquefort cheese and cream. Heat until they have combined evenly.
- To finish the rice, add cream and Parmesan cheese and season to taste.
- Serve the grilled beef alongside the bed of rice garnish with rosemary. Enjoy with a spicy pinot noir or full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon.
Centro, Calle de Ayos No. 4-42
Cartagena de Indias, Colombia
T. +57 (5) 664 2157
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 12.00-15:30 | 19.00-23.00
Writer and producer Rainbow Nelson is the co-founder of This Is Cartagena, the ultimate travel guide to Cartagena, Colombia. He lives between Cartagena and London. His work has appeared in publications such as the Wallpaper*, The Wall Street Journal, Vice, VBS.TV, Vogue Living Australia, Jetsetter and The Sunday Times Magazine. For more information about what to eat, things to do and where to stay in Cartagena, try thisiscartagena.com.