YAKUMANKA – the restaurant of the moment in Geneva
by Chené Koscielny
Ceviches, tiraditos, pisco cocktails…
Peruvian cuisine has become wildly popular with fine diners around the world in recent years as modern chefs exploit the rich flavours reflecting the country’s many different cultures.
So, the opening of Yakumanka, a gastronomic Peruvian restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental in Geneva in March 2019, was bang on trend.
As an aspiring foodie, I was recently invited to lunch by Yakumanka with Caro Blackwell of Caro Blackwell.com, who took the stunning photographs for this article.
Not really knowing my ceviche from my cebiche, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’d heard only good things on the grape vine!
As it turns out ceviche and cebiche is the same thing: the seafood dish originated in Peru typically made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, such as lemon or lime, and spiced with coriander or other seasonings.
CHILLED ON THE BEACH
Stepping in off the streets, we escape the heatwave and find ourselves transported to a chilled beach bar – even if we overlook the Rhône instead of the ocean. We choose to sit on the terrace, although the beautiful air-conditioned lounge furnished with Peruvian-inspired textiles with terracotta and bright, fun colours is also tempting.
A REFRESHING HEALTHY DRINK
Our lovely and super knowledgeable hostess, Anne, brings us each a chilled virgin Chilcano – ginger, ginger ale, cucumber and huacatay – (a Peruvian herb) to cool us down. Very refreshing. (Cost: CHF11)
While studying the menu, we snack on canchas –Peruvian choclo (big corn kernels) toasted in oil and served with a seriously addictive mayonnaise sauce featuring coriander, a feisty red Peruvian chili called rocoto, onions and tomatoes. You spoon some of the mayo on your plate, drop the corn kernels into it, mix and eat with your spoon or fork.
You can’t stop and they keep refilling the snack bowls. I’m definitely trying this at home!
Anne explains the Yakumanka concept – a relaxing traditional cebicheria where Peruvians gather to eat cebiches and where plates are meant for sharing among friends. The impressive ceviche bar – with a display of fresh fish to choose from, is at the centre of this concept.
We move on to Pisco sours (around CHF16) – this typical appetiser in Peru is foamy, light and not as sweet as my usual tipple of Apérol Spritz. You definitely won’t only want one of these.
A FEAST OF THE FRESHEST FLAVOURS
We are treated to an unbelievable feast of flavours as the chef presents us with a variety of starters and platters to give us an idea of what this gastronomic restaurant offers fine diners – it’s a tough job, we know!
NIGIRIS, CEBICHES AND TIRADITOS – RAW SEAFOOD STARTERS
We start with a choice of cold dishes including nigiris, cebiches and tiraditos.
Nigiris and tiraditos reflect the Japenese influence on Peruvian cuisine (Japanese immigrants moved to Peru in the 19th century),
Tiraditos differ from cebiches in that the fish is sliced and not cubed and the fish is placed on the sauce just before serving, whereas with cebiches the fish is marinated in the leche de tigre sauce – lemon and coriander, which almost ‘cooks’ it.
The Nigiri Cebichero dish consists of white fish (Maigre: the fish of the day) marinated in the tangy leche de tigre sauce (made from stockfish, coriander, lemon, onion and garlic, the sauce is used in many dishes). In this case it is is infused with scallops and aji amarillo. The fish is topped with fried calamari, yellow Peruvian chili and nori (seaweed). Think sushi, but with a rich, different taste! (CHF15)
Apaltado is a dish chosen off the cebiche part of the menu. Before making your decision, visit the cebiche bar to choose your fish and see how it’s prepped.
The Apaltado dish consists of octopus roasted in a josper (BBQ) oven and served with maigre ceviche marinated in the leche de tigre sauce mentioned above, as well as avocado.
This is one of my favourites so far! The fresh, tangy taste of the fish stays with you long after you’ve eaten it – in a good way. (CHF24)
Barranco (a dish named after this district of Lima) features salmon marinated in the leche de tigre sauce with torched avocado bits, fried sweet potato, black pepper and cloves. (CHF18)
The Nikkei – consists of tuna marinated in a smoked aji amarillo (chili-infused) leche de tigre sauce and served alongside white bean puree. (CHF27)
The Paracas dish (tiradito) contains scallops served on a leche de tigre sauce and an emulsion of scallops, coral and Huacatay = a peruvian herb.
Conchitas a la parmesana – these spectacular grilled scallops are served on the shell doused in a leche de tigre sauce, infused with aged parmigiano reggiano cheese and sprinkled with coffee powder granules, lime zest and garlic – eaten with a spoon!
Say no more… (CHF23)
DON’T STICK TO SEAFOOD ONLY!
So, just in case you think the above selection of seafood starters is tempting enough, let me warn you – you ignore the rest of the menu at your peril. The following dishes are absolutely delicious too!
Chifa Sanguche – consists of steamed white bao buns stuffed with fried chicken, Chinese radish, lettuce and the most amazing combination of a hoisin sauce (sweet), siracha (salty) sauce and more rocoto chili! (CHF15)
“THE MOST TENDER BEEF YOU’LL EVER EAT”
Lomo Saltado – Charolais beef, which had been matured for 3 weeks) with red onion, tomatoes, potatoes, coriander and soya and oyster sauce – served with Peruvian rice. The beef is fried in a wok and flambéed in pisco! This is the best and most tender beef I have ever tasted in my life. It is not to be missed. (CHF46)
THE PERUVIAN BOMB
Peruvian bomb (for 2- 4 people) You don’t have to believe me as I may be starting to gush just a bit too much now, but this dessert exceeds your wildest fantasies. Imagine a a massive quality Peruvian chocolate piñata (the size of a football) smashed in front of your eyes to spill its super impressive contents onto the plate – chocolate brownie bits, granola, almonds, dehydrated strawberries, fresh raspberries and blueberries, strawberry meringue rocks, strawberry sorbet, and a red chili-infused cream.
Tell me you’re not excited by this!
It comes in at CHF62 for 2-4 people, but it is worth every cent and personally I’m planning a Pisco sours and Peruvian bomb girls night out shortly.
You can’t go wrong.
If you’re a self-respecting foodie, (or simply someone who loves food and exploring cultures through food) this restaurant should be at the top of your list of eateries to try in Geneva right now. Beg, steal or borrow, but do it – it’s a gastronomic experience, which will leave you with wonderful memories, not just a meal.
The way to go is to order a selection of the dishes from the cold and hot menu among friends to share. Perfect for parties, special occasions and just hanging out with friends – it’s the type of place you’d like to visit over and over again.
Born in Lima in 1967, Gastón Acurio is a chef, an author, a businessman and an ambassador of Peruvian gastronomy. After completing a Cordon Bleu course in Paris, where he met his future wife, Astrid Gutsche, a German pastry chef, he returned to his home country in 1994. There, they opened their restaurant – Astrid y Gastón – which was a roaring success.
They went on to open establishments in many other countries in Latin America and in various cities such as San Francisco, Miami, Doha, Barcelona and Paris. In 2013,their restaurant was voted Best Restaurant in Latin America by 50 Best Restaurants. The chef now has more than 50 restaurants under his wing, offering a wide range of gastronomic experience.
In 2018, Acurio was presented with the Diners Club® Lifetime Achievement Award by World’s 50 Best Restaurants, recognising his professional career and contribution to global cuisine.
The chef’s collaboration with Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group began in March 2014 with the “La Mar by Gastón Acurio” restaurant at Mandarin Oriental, Miami.
César Bellido, a talented 29-year-old chef and disciple of Gastón Acurio, will be in charge of this second Yakumanka restaurant in Europe, after Barcelona. César honed his skills as head chef at the acclaimed gourmet restaurant Astrid y Gastón in Lima before overseeing the launches of the Yakumanka restaurant in Barcelona and La Mar in Doha.