There is a mystique to the inconspicuous entrance of Mira. It’s a rainy night and lanterns illuminate a narrow passageway. There’s a kind of Ziggy Stardust album cover feel to the walk-up. Upon entrance, an immediate tropical vibe; youthful, urban, hip. 80’s music streams, and all seem to be grooving to it. Have we entered a time warp? Or are we in Miraflores, the inspiration for this kitchen? This is the culinary progeny of Hanif Harji and Chef Stuart Cameron. As we’re guided to our high top table, it’s clear: there’s a pulse; a vibrancy; and we need a cocktail.
AW: Toronto needs a great Peruvian restaurant. It’s been attempted several times in recent years, but no one as yet has approached it the way Hanif Harji has done. I’ve asked him what the biggest challenge is to getting it right. “Ingredients,” he tells me. “They have such incredible ingredients there. Finding the right temperament of spice, and knowing our market place… We’ve put in a lot time, travel and research; we’re staying true to the core ingredients and flavours, and we’ve got a great chef.” The menu is certainly smart and conveys a wide palate of Peruvian influences.
SW: Their cocktail menu is a litany of Pisco Sours, each with their own infusions. That’s what they’re doing now in Lima. I order the Classic, and frankly, it’s the best Pisco Sour I’ve had in Canada. One day, I might taste them all: infusions of strawberry, apple cinnamon, rosemary, thyme, and coconut oil. By design, this small space demands conviviality, and since all the tables and banquets are high tops, casual dining, sharing and tasting is the order of the day. Formality has been kicked to the curb, and the focus is on brilliant flavours in food and drink.
AW: We begin with ceviche. There is a variety listed, but again, we opt for the classic: a Mira Ceviche of fluke, sweet potato, leche de tigre (citric marinade that cures the fish), criollo and concha corn. The texture is beautiful. The fluke is cut in cubes rather than sliced. The flavours are mild. I would prefer this to be a little more piquant, and yet I appreciate that the fish is not overpowered by the acidity. That takes a delicate touch. Tiradito Hiramasa is a buttery kingfish. Again, the texture—beautiful, voluptuous, and the dollop of rocoto jam teases a sweet note to round out the heat from the jalapeno.
SW: I love this Tostada Morado. A wafer thin purple potato tortilla is hand-ground in house, and we can crunch it up at the table. The non-GMO purple potatoes are from Ottawa. I would even be happy with this on it’s own. It’s all very pretty, and the jewels of spicy tuna with avocado and cilantro crema mix together mellifluously. Everything looks and tastes of good quality. So far this experience is very textural. Beautiful slender sliced hearts of palm in this Ensalada de Remolacha are crisp and delicious. The one-bite baby beets are adorable. Food as fun.
AW: Concha: this is a quintessential Peruvian dish. A must have on the menu. Plump Bay scallops shucked in house, and presented on the half shell luxuriate in “atomic butter.” What is that? Something that should be bottled and added to everything. It’s a blend of butter, lime, Parmesan, a sprinkle of pepper and a splash of Pisco. Half a dozen of these and I’d be down for the count. Again, the flavour is not over-powering, and could be bolder, and yet it just makes love to my palate.
SW: Chef Cameron leads us on a culinary journey. We have begun with mild flavours and each ensuing dish builds in intensity. The Arroz con Setas, a rice dish chock full of wild mushrooms, truffles, artichokes and huitlacoche (corn-smut with a woody, mushroom-like essence) is aromatic and earthy. There is a plethora of herbs, including thyme in the mix, and we are suddenly surprised that while the first courses were mellow, this dish is quite bold and intensely flavourful. The Salmon Teriyaki Anticuchos has a nice charcoal flavour, and what they’ve done here is they’ve speared it on three skewers set straight up, so that we can just lift them right off. It’s cooked medium, and it’s a very tasty rendition of salmon brushed with ginger, green onion, yuzu and soy beurre blanc. Anticuchos are popular marinated and skewered meats. The Costillas Anticucho of short rib topped with a spool of dehydrated sweet potato tastes of that charcoal grill that we expect from this delicacy. The flavours of the rocoto and huancaina are true to the heart of Lima.
AW: This Cerdo is the most tender expression of pork in Toronto. Slow cooked 24 hours in duck confit, it is addictively tender. Lacquered in a delectably sweet and savoury ramen glaze and rocoto jam, and crowned with a crunchy chicharrón, the contrast of textures is praise-worthy. Served on a bed of quinoa-fried rice, it is simply delicious, and has serious wow factor. I feel like there is a progression; a crescendo to this meal. This kitchen knows exactly what it’s doing. Tacú Tacú de Pato reminds me of an incredible dinner I ate at famed Chef Rafael Osterling’s Rafael in Miraflores. I am excited for this dish, and it does not disappoint. A generous portion of dry-aged duck breast is tenderly slow-cooked in duck confit for 24 hours, but it is the rice that steals the show. Cooked with dark beer and shredded duck, it’s a little too heavy-handed with the salt, but still intensely flavoured and textured, and chock full of goodness.
SW: We are surrounded by atypical colours and flavours, and everything fulfills the promise of its good looks. The sides of crunchy yucca fries dusted with wasabi salt and a choice of lime huancaina or jalapeno huacatay dips could easily become addictive. I’ve been so absorbed in these flavours and aromas, I haven’t noticed that since my feet are dangling and not touching the floor, my legs have fallen asleep. But my taste buds are wide awake and at attention.
AW: I don’t even like asparagus, and yet I could eat the whole bunch of these. Crisp and delicately flavoured with Brazil nuts and Parmesan, I am hooked. I must say, I’m a hard sell, but they’ve won me over.
SW: Desserts have a life of their own. Cachangas Peruanas looks like a decorative pizza of coconut ice cream, lulo sorbet, gooseberry sorbet, candied papaya and dragon fruit set on crisp pastry. Amor Con Coco (love with cocoa) comes as a scandalous three-way perfection of Peruvian chocolate. On a base of flourless chocolate cake, an array of decadent ingredients proliferates. Cubes and squiggles and swirls and crunches flow. Oh, the excitement. Be still, my heart.
AW: El Huevo Malo (the bad egg) is sinfully good. Our server sets a bowling ball size chocolate orb on our table, picks up her trusty hammer and applies a few good whacks. The orb cracks open to reveal a treasure trove of coffee ice cream, chocolate ranfañote, honey comb, yuzu marmalade and raspberry. This is a roundhouse kick to my taste buds, and a rousing conversation starter at the end of the meal. For me, the most impressive aspect of dining in Lima is the imagination of the chef in composing a dish. The wizardry of these desserts, prepared in-house by Chef Francis Kwon, encapsulates that spirit beautifully. Each of them is as lively to the eye as to the taste. No one else in Toronto is doing this.
Mira, 647-951-3331, 420A Wellington Street West
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.