Ode to the un­usual at Chile’s top diner

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION LUXURY - CHRISTINE McCABE

Chile’s No­bel lau­re­ate Pablo Neruda was fond of pen­ning odes to com­mon­place foods but San­ti­ago’s an­swer to Noma might have stood out­side his culi­nary purview. The trail­blaz­ing Bor­ago is re­garded as Chile’s best restau­rant. Owner and head chef Rodolfo Guz­man di­rects a team of 200 for­agers who scour this ge­o­graph­i­cally di­verse coun­try for na­tive in­gre­di­ents, tak­ing their cue from the in­dige­nous Ma­puche and Pe­huenche peo­ple.

The restau­rant is lo­cated in af­flu­ent Vi­tacura, the room is pared-back and Scan­di­na­vian in style with ce­ment floors, bare tim­ber ta­bles and sheep skins; the crowd is chic and the suits sharp. There are at­ten­tive floor staff com­manded by an ea­gle-eyed maître-d’ and a wall of glass looks into the busy kitchen, set­ting the scene for an evening of food the­atre. For this is wild fare for­aged from the very edge of the world and its pre­sen­ta­tion is rooted in na­ture, served on stone slabs, in flower pots or sus­pended in the branches of bon­sai trees with sauces gath­er­ing in rocky wells. The ta­ble wa­ter is col­lected in Patag­o­nia.

My first dish, wrapped in a hes­sian nap­kin, com­prises wild mush­rooms picked near Quin­tay south of Val­paraiso, and served in al­mond milk. Then comes chef’s ode to the wild Chilean coast (and this is where I wish Neruda were my din­ner com­pan­ion), a so-called Rock Se­quence be­gin­ning with a small fil­let of Lisa fish (or mul­let) rest­ing on wild coastal sor­rel and puree of na­tive horse­rad­ish, wrapped in a skirt of foam ren­dered from the fish skin, the lot sprin­kled with del­i­cate sea star flow­ers, which pack a de­li­ciously salty punch.

Next a med­ley of in­ter­tidal flavours — crab salad, a bar­na­cle called pi­coroco that tastes a lit­tle like a gritty scal­lop, puree of sea kelp and a de­li­cious wild sea chard. The se­quence con­cludes with a hand-hewn stone bowl so hefty it ap­pears to have been re­cently jet­ti­soned from a vol­cano. In the cen­tre is a satanic black eye en­crusted with a baked-on puree of sea veg­eta­bles. Around this orb floats a thin ebony broth of kelp or kolof roots cooked for two days. Noth­ing is added, not a sker­rick of salt, but it tastes like the most re­fined miso imag­in­able.

Now we head in­land to Par­ral for veal cooked in its mother’s milk, with milk crisps and al­falfa. The paired wine is served in a cow horn. The unc­tu­ous­ness of this dish stands in coun­ter­point to our next des­ti­na­tion, the Ata­cama Desert, where un­til 1971 it had not rained for 400 years. A se­lec­tion of bit­ter bites flavoured with desert herbs and flow­ers is pre­sented as a se­ries of mini gar­dens, ac­com­pa­nied by a dark ale made us­ing wa­ter trapped from fog in the Li­mari Val­ley. A tiny ball of ice cream in- fused with the flavour of the rica rica nes­tles in the plant’s branches in a tiny Ja­panese gar­den. I swiftly dip it in syrup, made from the cha­nar tree, pooled in a hole in a rock. Next comes a lit­tle desert gar­den cradling an ap­ple cuchu­fli (a Chilean, ci­gar-shaped pas­try) coated with the del­i­cate pink pe­tals of the “rose of the year”, a plant that flow­ers in­fre­quently. The rose flavour is so in­tense it tastes of Turk­ish de­light. Fi­nally we have an ex­trav­a­gant flower fash­ioned from the new­est su­per food, the maqui berry, a maqui sheep’s-milk ice cream coated in maqui jelly, sit­ting on a maqui cake.

A mush­room ice cream with wal­nut praline and pine candy is my fi­nal course, be­fore a play­ful af­ter-din­ner mint wreathed in liq­uid ni­tro­gen is whipped to the ta­ble. It’s has me breath­ing minty smoke from both nos­trils.

Din­ner at Bor­ago is a six or 10-plate de­gus­ta­tion af­fair and very rea­son­able by Aus­tralian stan­dards. Chef Guz­man over­sees a large work­room and lab­o­ra­tory up­stairs where com­pli­cated menus are scrawled on black­boards. “We have our own bio­dy­namic farm 30km from the city and fresh milk is de­liv­ered daily for our ice creams,” he says. “I have large teams for­ag­ing in sea­son in the An­des where we find fruit avail­able only for two or three weeks a year. We pick mush­rooms in the forests and ex­per­i­ment with in­gre­di­ents com­monly used by the Ma­puche.”

He keeps prices down to make the restau­rant ac­ces­si­ble to Chileans. But since making San Pel­le­grino’s best restau­rant list in 2013, busi­ness has ex­ploded, Guz­man says, and some 70 per cent of his clien­tele are now in­ter­na­tional. Guz­man served a stint un­der An­doni Luis Aduriz at Spain’s Mu­garitz and a sci­en­tific back­ground brings a Blu­men­thal-like rigour to his cook­ing. His pi­o­neer­ing use of in­dige­nous in­gre­di­ents is catching on. “You’ll now find many of th­ese things in restau­rants across San­ti­ago,” he says. But only Bor­ago pro­vides an im­mer­sive voy­age across the dra­matic Chilean land­scape.

Christine McCabe was a guest of Qan­tas and Ac­cor Ho­tels. • bor­ago.cl • qan­tas.com.au • ac­corho­tels.com

Bor­ago chef Rodolfo Guz­man, above; lo­cally for­aged in­gre­di­ents fea­ture in the restau­rant’s dishes

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