At a stunning hotel restored from a 16th-century convent in beautiful Cusco, Peru, Qespi Restaurant takes guests on a culinary journey
On a 10-day trip through Peru last month, I had the pleasure of staying at the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco Hotel. This beautiful boutique hotel is built on the grounds of a 16th-century convent in the heart of historic Cusco, and restored with many of the original building materials. In fact, two exhibition halls are filled with ancient Peruvian artifacts for guests to enjoy, and you can even take a “Monk’s Tour” of the hotel every evening at 6 pm.
The JW Marriott restaurant, Qespi, is very much in keeping with this focus on the history and traditions of both Cusco and Peru in general. Peruvian cuisine evolves around ancestry, history, culture and mysticism. It is “Food from the Earth” – natural, wholesome and nourishing. At Qespi, they extend the invitation to guests to discover and indulge in the sights, smells and tastes of the San Pedro Market through their cuisine.
On our stay at the hotel, we were able to do just that, with “A Trip Around Cusco” tasting menu presented by Executive Chef Heivel Bedoya. In the beautiful dining room with its brick and stone walls, rich woods and soft lighting, overlooking the courtyard that was the main square of the convent long ago, we enjoyed a culinary journey through Cusco.
The first course was also the most beautiful, and ended up being my favorite. Wine poached apples, goat cheese, walnuts and teardrop peppers, all served with some gorgeous edible flowers.
As I learned, Peru has about 4,000 different kinds of potatoes, a fact I find astonishing! For this course, the potatoes were served with herbed Andean cheese, sorrel and arugula.
Smoked Bourbon Cocktail
Before we got any further into the meal, bartender Nic came by to create one of the most elaborate, interesting cocktails that I’ve ever had, tableside. He wheeled in a trolley, on which was this contraption for smoking. After pouring the bourbon into the flasks, they were placed inside and the door shut. Then, smoke was piped in to give the alcohol the perfect balance and flavor. This was topped off with the most fascinating round ice cubes that Nic made in another device. This presentation had the whole restaurant sneaking a peek — and even though I’m not a big bourbon or whiskey drinker, the resulting cocktail was nothing short of sublime!
Moving onto the meats, the beef was served with aji panca, a Peruvian red pepper, corn and more native potatoes.
This was an interesting take on a lamb pita sandwich, served on a soft flat bread with raita, pickled radishes and a spicy paneer sauce in an homage to the Palestinian population and influence here.
I knew it was coming! “Cuy,” as they call it in Peru, is a staple in many South American diets (it’s also eaten widely in Chile). Thankfully, this one was not served as you usually see it, with the whole unfortunate animal spread out on the plate and very obviously rodent looking. This was just a small piece of seared meat, served with a tarwi puree, parmesan cheese and huacatay sauce.
Chocolate & Apricots
For dessert we were presented with two delectable dishes: a chocolate presentation made rich and savory with coffee, cardamom, raspberry and pistachio; as well as beautifully poached apricots with a tres leches ice cream. This was served with a little flask of limoncello alongside. The perfect cap off to the evening!