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You can eat very well in Cartagena. It isn't cheap but there are some excellent restaurants to take your pick from.

Here's my top 5.

 

NO. 1 | LA PERLA

This contemporary Peruvian specialist has established itself as one of the first stops for gourmet visitors taking in the romantic charms of Cartagena's Old town. As well as the culinary delights of Peruvian chef, Carlos Accinneli, the drinks menu is as piquant and fresh as it's ceviche.

La Perla earned its reputation for its tiraditos- thin strips of fresh tuna or sea bass cured in tiger milk, the Peruvian marinades that come with a Capiscum or yellow chilli kick, or the 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.

There's no shifting the stars of the show though with 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, showing any signs of going out of fashion any time soon.

The owner's passion for cocktails comes through in La Perla's impressive selection of worldly-wise creations with the bar staff taking advantage of Colombia's rich variety of fresh fruits to add a new twist to some staple South American tipples.

Stand out 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 oodles of Passion Fruit citric goodness.

 

No. 2 | DON JUAN

You don't work for three restaurants with nine Michelin stars between them without learning a thing or two about how to cook and Cartagena's most illustrious chef Juan Felipe Camacho has earned a repuation for serving up Basque-influenced gastronomic delights fit for the president of Colombia when he comes to town.

Camacho's celebrated mentors - Martin Berasategui, Pedro Subijana at Akelare and Juan Mari Arzak - made their names creating a new breed of Basque cuisine that's all about being evolutionary, investigatory, and avant-garde, Camacho has created his own style with a gentle touch that presents the natural flavours as they should be. Don Juan's designer setting stands toe-to-toe with the elegance of the food.

The menu includes seven starters, thirteen mains and four desserts, with the chef's insistence on using only the very best quality ingredients reflected in some pretty punchy prices.

There are plenty of musts on the menu but if you're losing your Don Juan virginity then I would recomment that you start with the grilled octopus - one of Cartagena's stellar starters - follow it up with the crayfish and lobster risotto, or the Entrecote and finish off with a chocolate mousse made with dark chocolate and black truffles.

 

No. 3 | MAREA BY RAUSCH

One of the best seafood restaurant in Cartagena, Marea By Rausch, boasts a sensational sea view and inspired fare shaped by Colombia's most famous culinary double-act, Jorge and Mark Rausch.

Top of the Rausch Brothers' list little box of surprises is Marea by Rausch's signature dish, the Mojarra Frita, a main that at first glance appears to be a simple, well-executed version of the fried fish Cartagena staple.

A plate of Caribbean perfection: a whole golden fried fish, presented in swimming position accompanied by patacones, coconut-flecked rice and tangy hogao sauce. The most remarkable thing about this delicious dish is that the brothers de-boned and re-packaged it perfectly into its original form, taking all the hassle out of one of the Cartagena's quintessential culinary experiences. Perfect for executives in town to meet with the president at the Centro de Convenciones.

Other highlights from the menu include a Peruvian-style seafood rice infused with turmeric, an amazing Entrecote and pretty much everything on the dessert menu will satisfy sweet-toothed visitors.

 

NO. 4 | FM RESTAURANTE

Owner Francisco Montoya used to run the Charleston Santa Theresa and his love of good food and a healthy passion for the arts comes through in every detail of this upmarket restaurant on Plaza Fernandez de Madrid.

FM's urbane host took over the lease from a local artist and friend and converted it into a sophisticated stage for a creative group of friends that includes Julio Parra Grondona, an architect-by-day and pianist-by-night and a long list of painters and photographers who have hung their work on the restaurant's 300-year old walls.

In terms of food Montoya keeps it simple with Mediterranean herbs and oils used sparingly to accentuate the natural flavours of the predominantly locally sourced ingredients.

Culinary highlights include the sautéed lobster in browned butter, sea bass dressed in olive oil and lemon juice, marinated shrimp served in a subtle, olive oil vinaigrette and any of the home-made pasta dishes.

 

No. 5 | KARIB RESTAURANTE

This place doesn't get the credit it deserves for getting truly creative with some very traditional Colombian platters. The owners of the Arsenal Hotel Boutique called in the big guns to draw up a tapas-style menu for their standalone restaurant, Karib. Diego Camacho gave a very creative, culinary twist to the menu to set it apart from its seafood-centric neighbours on Calle Larga.

With a central location, not far from the Cartagena Convention Centre, Karib caters to hungry visitors to Cartagena, especially those that are looking to taste their way through the gastronomic delights of Colombia with a menu that won't break the bank or bust a gut.

Each of the tapas starters comes in 100 grams portions -even the cutest little Bandeja Paisa you have ever seen- In terms of price even the lobster tail doesn't cost more than COP$10,000 which encourages sharing and means you probably won't spend more than COP$20,000 a head. Eat your way through the starter menu.

Would recommend the Corvina Ticuna, a sea bass fillet prepared in banana leaves and served up with the fruity and fiery tucupí sauce, a taggy temptation shipped in from Colombia's Amazon region.

Karib mains worth discretely loosening off your belt for include the oven-roasted red snapper fillet with coconut rice and salad and tenderloin steak al Tiesto between thin layers of arepas, an invention every bit as Colombian as songstress Shakira or the Sombrero Vueltiao.

Another interesting thing about this place is the blending of Colombian food with international wines. Camacho has handpicked specialities from all over the world. After you've eaten would thoroughly suggest a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or a Colombian espresso upstairs in the Hotel's rooftop pool bar with a privileged view of the bay of Cartagena.

Special Thanks to: Kiko Kairuz and Tico Angulo for their photos

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