Libre elevates Colombian gastronomy to art form and beyond

Chef Alejandro Gutiérrez's
Chef Alejandro Gutiérrez's "mambe tartlet" at Libre. Photo: Richard Emblin

Having made Latin America’s 100 Best Restaurants list last year with Salvo Patria, chef Alejandro Gutiérrez has earned his place at the table with the region’s gastronomic greats. From his beginnings in a Chapinero Alto venue and signature dishes inspired by the country’s coffee culture, Gutiérrez was also a pioneer in sourcing local, from produce cultivated by sustainable farmers to specialty ingredients that infused his cooking with nostalgia and unique flavors.

But Salvo Patria needed an open kitchen to showcase Gutiérrez’s innovation and experimentation, and given his meticulous approach to food, a beautifully renovated brick house in the same neighborhood would become the ideal setting for a revamped Salvo Patria, and the latest addition to the chef’s gastronomic undertaking: Libre.

Now, Libre, as its name evokes, is a free spirit in Bogotá’s crowded dining scene, and a gastronomic experience that could only have been achieved 12 years after Gutiérrez launched his Salvo Patria. Libre’s 25-table dining room overlooks the indoor garden of this historic house, and while Salvo Patria bustles, the ambiance in this reserved space of what once was a family home, is more nuanced, from the warm lighting to the center-piece stone workstation where Alejandra Cubillos – Libre’s head chef – meticulously adds the final touches to the restaurant’s nine-course menu.

At Libre, guests can either go for the full course tasting menu (COP$170,000) or select from the same menu, individual dishes. The tasting menu also comes with the option to pair with carefully selected wines (COP$320,000) available only through the restaurant’s specialized distributors.

Even though Libre is about experimentation and pushing sensory boundaries, this high-end eatery is as much about the ingredients as it is about technique. And even though each dish is complex, the dining experience is consistent. Meticulous. Refined, yet unpretentious. This is precision Bogotá dining. This is gastronomy as an art form. Gastronomy beyond gastronomy.

Libre’s iconic rabbit cappelletti. Photo: Richard Emblin

Gutiérrez reinvents his menu depending on what is in season, or ingredients he can scout out in local markets. So, if you read this review, certain dishes may no longer be on the menu, but rest assured, any addition will celebrate the chef’s trusted relationships with farmers, fishermen, harvesters, and other food partners. Each dish is also part of Libre’s food narrative, which covers Colombia’s rich biodiversity, including the Amazon and Orinoco basins, Andean highlands, and Pacific and Caribbean coasts.

Our evening at Libre begins with an Amazonian cacay nut mole, served in a black Chamba soup bowl, garnished with fresh greens and a roasted chili reduction. This dish was paired with a Muscat Blanc wine from Hungary, a 2019 Tokaji Sarga Moskotály. The next dish was a filet of thinly-sliced tuna in a green apple sauce and garum bisque. This unique creation was paired with “Sofi”, a white wine by Franz Haas in the Italian Dolomiti.

After a soft landing at Libre with sweet dessert wines that enhanced flavors from the Amazon and Pacific, Gutiérrez’s opus No.3, or “mambe tartlet”, is one of the nine dishes that crowned the evening. This dish, served in a dry tartlet shell of ground mambe (coca leaf) with avocado, fennel, and Amazonian honey, is deserving of Michelin-star recognition. In time…for sure. To offer a 360 experience of the tartlet, the dish was paired with a charming northern Italian, a red Mosole Rofosco.

With a seemingly contradictory slate of ingredients, such as Guaviare chocolate and Pacific-cultivated plantain as desert (No.9), or his rabbit cappelletti with Elizabethan grapes, chef Alejandro “Alejo” Gutiérrez is far removed from Bogotá’s ostentatious and cliquish restaurateurs, preferring to shine for talent, and his team’s work excellence. On a final note, two more dishes deserve a “shout out” on this page: the crab with green pepper and “macambo” fruit (No.5); and the guayaba triangle with sweet chili and cucumber to polish off the final notes of a fortified plum and blackberry Porto Silvestris from a Catalunya vineyard.

I could end by drawing parallels between fine gastronomy and cultural expressions, such as the chef’s Cundiboyacence take with a yuca arepa, beans, shitake, and farmer’s cheese (No.4); or his homage to Santander with a braised lamb and cubios (No.7); but whichever dish you decide on, Libre delivers exceptional food, creativity, and use of the highest quality seasonal ingredients. Beyond the exploration of flavors, Gutiérrez and crew, also share a passion for the kitchen, making guests feel welcome to explore a common culinary space. And above all, Libre has restored my faith in Colombian gastronomy, and this is truly liberating.

Libre / Cra 4 Bis No.58-60

Reservations on IG: @librerestaurante

Libre’s yuca arepa with shitake and farmer’s cheese. Photo: Richard Emblin