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Overhead view of an array of colorful dishes on a metallic table surface, including a whole grilled and steamed fish, a burger, two giant prawns coming out of a bisque, and more.

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La Royal Is an Ever-Changing Celebration of Peruvian Cuisine

The new Cambridge restaurant from the team behind Somerville’s acclaimed Celeste debuts in February 2022

A spread of dishes at La Royal in Cambridge.
| Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

La Royal is equal parts a homecoming and an evolution. The Peruvian restaurant, opening February 22, 2022, at 221 Concord Ave. in Cambridge’s Observatory Hill neighborhood, is sibling to the acclaimed Celeste in Somerville, but co-owners Maria Rondeau and JuanMa Calderón got their start right around the corner at their home on Royal Avenue.

Prior to opening Celeste and later the experimental Vermont restaurant Esmeralda, Rondeau and Calderón — respectively an architect and a filmmaker — hosted dinner parties at home under the name Kriollo Real. Celeste is essentially a continuation of Kriollo Real; its intimate space makes diners feel like they’re at one of those dinner parties in Rondeau and Calderón’s home, and Calderón’s menu is inspired by home-cooked Peruvian recipes he learned from his mother.

Now, after several years of local and national acclaim for Celeste and Esmeralda, the team is opening La Royal steps from where it all began, and some things are the same. Several of La Royal’s employees have been with Celeste since day one, including Joselin Saravia, who started as a dishwasher and is now bartender and cocktail program director, and Isa Santacruz, who started as prep chef and is now production chef for both Celeste and La Royal.

Also the same: The open kitchen is at the heart of both restaurants. (“It’s a performance,” says Rondeau, “and it’s as much an excitement for us as it is for anybody coming in to be part of this whole spectacle.”) Like at Celeste, there is ceviche, although La Royal’s version is from northern Peru — “a little more elegant, more simple, and a lot of lime juice,” says Rondeau. And of course, there’s plenty of pisco.

Smaller details carry through, too; La Royal will soon have a bullet curtain by Chilean artist Daniela Rivera as one of its art pieces, just like Celeste. “We like to work with a lot of the same people over and over again because it helps us keep growing and always roots us back where we started,” says Rondeau.

Interior view of a long, narrow restaurant by day, with lots of sunlight streaming through large windows and lots of exposed brick and metal beams.
La Royal is about three times as large as Celeste, with twice the capacity. A lot of original features of the space are preserved, including three large beams and the transom windows.

The roots are strong, but La Royal is undeniably growing, too, physically and conceptually. There’s twice the capacity of Celeste and more space for kitchen gadgets, so Calderón is able to dig into regional cuisines of Peru beyond his mother’s Lima-based home cooking. “This is a much more varied and ambitious menu,” says Rondeau, from arroz con pato from the northern Peruvian city of Chiclayo to chupe de langostinos from Arequipa in the south. There’s a bit of Chifa cuisine as well — Chinese-Peruvian food — a nod to Calderón’s background.

Rondeau and Calderón talk a lot about the ever-evolving nature of their projects; the duo finds beauty in ephemera. (They originally planned to close Celeste after five years, or at least leave it to the team and move onto new projects, and that sense of temporary experimentation gave them the courage to open the doors in the first place.)

Five different cocktails are lined up on a metallic bar with silver shakers and plants in the background.
“We are very serious about piscos,” says Rondeau; pisco is featured in quite a few cocktails at La Royal. But drink enthusiasts should also be sure to try the matacuy from Destilería Andina, a spirit made with 55 Andean herbs, available neat or in a cocktail. La Royal also has about 50 wines available, many of them South American.

La Royal’s space, an early-1900s building that once housed a printing press, is the physical embodiment of that sense of change. Natural light is always shifting through the restaurant, thanks in part to the prismatic transom windows. One of the focal points of the space is a large pothos plant creeping up through a chandelier; monstera and xanadu plants also catch one’s eye. “The plants will continue to evolve and take over,” says Rondeau. “All of the elements in the space will change over time. The copper changes; the metal takes another sheen.”

On a smaller timescale, too, Rondeau and Calderón are planning for change. “We were thinking of making this a space that transforms throughout the day,” says Rondeau, “much like an Italian piazza.” While La Royal serves only dinner to start, lunch service will begin in a couple months, including sandwiches and coffee. Further down the line, the duo hopes to use part of the space as a little shop during the day, selling goods sourced from artisans in Peru and Guatemala (a nod to Calderón’s and Rondeau’s roots, respectively).

Restaurant interior features lots of exposed gray brick and natural light. An Art Deco-style podium sets off one dining area from another.
One side of the dining space can be used for private dining, set off with a marker such as this 1930s Art Deco podium, but there’s still a strong visual connection with the rest of the dining room and open kitchen.
A green vine-like plant creeps upward from an industrial-looking cement planter suspended around a chandelier.
La Royal has two massive planters that were designed in the 1960s by the late Swiss furniture designer Willy Guhl; this one holds a large pothos. Its clippings fill the small vases throughout the restaurant.

La Royal is meant to be a collaborative project, featuring an array of talented friends, producers, and artists in various ways. La Royal’s pastry chef Serena Fix, for example, had her own at-home dinner party series before Kriollo Real existed. When planning La Royal, Rondeau and Calderón approached her to see if she would be interested in collaborating somehow, and now she’s blending Peruvian ingredients with French techniques, making desserts for the restaurant like a roulade with the Andean fruit lucuma.

Author and food scholar Darra Goldstein is involved with the cocktails, consulting on a series of macerations, such as pisco macerated with hibiscus and pomegranate. La Royal’s coffee comes from Cape Cod-based Snowy Owl Coffee Roasters, whose co-owner Manuel Ainzuain is Peruvian and sources direct-trade coffee beans from Peru. And the restaurant’s hamburger buns come from Hi-Rise Bread Company, right across the street.

As for the art, visitors will have to wait a bit longer to see some of La Royal’s planned pieces, but they’ll include the aforementioned bullet curtain by Rivera; a concrete, brass, and glass mega-scale depiction of Cusco, Peru’s famous 12-angled stone in the form of 20 interchangeable frames by Ishmael Randall Weeks; and a huaco, a contemporary version of an ancient pre-Incan bust, by New York City-based Peruvian artist Ana De Orbegoso.

Hit play on the restaurant’s Spotify playlist to get in the mood, and then keep reading for a look at some of La Royal’s dishes.

A bright yellow broth topped with red onions and lightly fried shrimp is served in a cocktail glass displayed on a white plate with black speckles.
The popular Peruvian dish leche de tigre is the essence of ceviche in drinkable form. La Royal’s features fried shrimp; the deep fryer is also used to make the Peruvian fried seafood platter jalea (which won’t be available on opening night but will be available soon).
Overhead view of thinly sliced mushrooms arranged in a circle topped with thin carrot ribbons and radish rounds.
Tiradito de hongo, Nikkei-style portobello sashimi, is one of several vegan-friendly dishes on the menu at La Royal. (Nikkei cuisine combines Peruvian ingredients with Japanese techniques.) The restaurant also serves a (non-vegan) tuna tiradito.
A potato terrine is topped with a thin slice of avocado and a pile of crab salad, served on a dark plate on a metallic tabletop.
Causa de cangrejo — potato terrine with crab salad — is one of two causas on the menu; the other is a vegan option with potato and onion. (Celeste also serves causas but presented differently.)
Overhead view of a round corn cake topped with ribbons of carrot and scallion and surrounded by alternating dots of green and yellow creamy sauces.
Pastel de choclo de carne o vegetariano — a baked round of Peruvian corn polenta, served with aji amarillo and either ground sirloin or cheese.
A whole grilled and steamed fish is presented on a plantain leaf and surrounded by yucca pieces and lime wedges.
La Royal’s take on patarashca, a dish from the Amazon, features local black sea bass that is grilled and steamed in plantain leaves and served with Amazonic condiments.
A pile of yellow rice is topped with thick slices of medium rare duck and sliced red onions.
Arroz con pato (rice with duck) is a popular dish from Chiclayo in northern Peru featuring duck breast, cilantro rice, and salsa criolla (onion tomato salad).
A cheeseburger sits on a white plate with dark blue speckles. The burger is accompanied by thick fries, and there’s a glass of beer in the background.
The hamburguesa La Royal (with a wink to Pulp Fiction) is a blend of beef, lamb, and alpaca, topped with queso fresco, served on a bun from Hi-Rise Bread Company across the street, and accompanied by yucca fries.
A yellow stew sits in a white bowl with a deep red margarita to the side.
The cau cau de hongos is a vegan stew of wild mushrooms, mint, and yellow pepper.
Two giant prawns curve around the edge of a creamy orange soup.
Chupe de langostino is a prawn bisque with yellow pepper, lima beans, rice, cheese, and poached egg. It comes from Arequipa in southern Peru.

Here’s the menu, but note that La Royal will be starting with a smaller selection of these dishes, ramping up to the full menu in the coming weeks.

To start, La Royal is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday; reservations are available via Resy, but walk-ins are also welcome.

LA ROYAL

221 Concord Avenue, , MA 02138 (617) 909-9855 Visit Website
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