Anthea Gerrie finds delicious tastes of Latin America at Zuaya, London
A “fusion” menu melding the flavour profiles of more than one country can too often result in flavour dilution when the national dishes of countries like Peru, Brazil and Mexico known for their distinctive cuisines are mixed and matched thousands of miles from home. But Zuaya is a triumph, perhaps because the cocktails, where every exotic London meal starts these days, are authentic to their countries of origin, and the dishes so delicious it doesn’t matter that some cross continents, let alone borders.
Finding this attractive restaurant and bar with a playful jungle vibe is the first challenge; its address may be Kensington High Street, but it actually sits in an alley virtually opposite Kensington Palace beside other casual eateries.
The second challenge is space; there are only a few tables inside and out at street level, where the bar is situated and the décor most lavish, with its wealth of jungly planting. There’s a much larger dining area downstairs, enlivened by music on the nights DJ’s play live decks.
Zuaya restaurant is owned by twin brothers Alberto and Arian Zandi, and opened in 2018 as the first address in what has become a mini-empire of ethnic food designed to attract diners to the most affluent corners of London’s restaurant-land (nearby Zuaya is Como Garden, aiming to evoke the vibe of the Italian lakes, while El Norte in Mayfair is Spanish).
What we most wanted, with memories of happy imbibing in the bars of south and central America, was a great pisco sour to be followed by that all-too-elusive libation, an authentic margarita. Too much to hope for? Not at all – we got both, and actually, while the signature London to Lima (£14) is actually Zuaya’s own take on a pisco sour with the additional of Falernum, it’s indistinguishable from the real thing apart from being a bit of welcome added body to the party. I did not want agave syrup in my margarita, even if it’s now too often added in Mexico itself, but the barman whipped up a perfectly proportioned mix of nothing but tequila, triple sec and freshly-squeezed lime juice, served in the proper glass with a salt rim, and even more properly, straight up.
A good margarita demands to be accompanied by a big bowl of guacamole and chips (£9), and here the cross-cultural influences start to creep in. It’s a generous bowl of avocado dip, though somehow not very Mexican, and the chips are made of deep-fried sweet potato rather than corn tortillas – actually, deliciously crisp and incredibly moreish. We were glad a refill of chips was graciously produced.
There was the de rigeur plate of grilled and salt-sprinkled Padro peppers (£7.75) no self-respecting Latin-themed restaurant can dare to leave off the menu, and starters were completed with two tacos(£8.50 each), the first so popular it has never been taken off the list of offerings since the restaurant opened. This is the one filled with shredded slow-cooked lamb, and I couldn’t take issue with the principal seasoning being Moroccan ras el hanout, because it produced such an incontrovertibly tasty filling. A second taco(actually a small flour pancake) filled with tuna and avocado transported me back to a favourite Lima ceviche parlour – it tasted more like a tiradito, that staple of Nikkei cuisine introduced to Peru by Japanese immigrants, but there is an actual tiradito on the menu, no doubt even more interesting.
One of the signature main courses we were served was pure Spanish – a superbly-cooked piece of Iberia pork, the prized presa cut served suitably rare, adorned only with a few blobs of mole verde and a few more of butternut squash puree. A side of quinoa(authentically Peruvian) and pomegranate (distinctly Middle Eastern) salad was slightly underwhelming, but the other main course we shared packed a real punch – confit duck and shiitake mushrooms shredded into wild rice, with a fried egg on top. Mad but delicious, but as for the origins? The duck is apparently Peruvian, ditto the shiitake(China’s influence on Peru’s cuisine), while the egg and rice are inspired by Colomobia. In other words, as eclectic as much of Zuaya’s menu.
We could hardly manage dessert, but of those we tried, the dulce de leche flan paid tribute to Argentina’s favourite condensed milk sweet treat, while the passion-fruit Brulee was an attempt to improve on the British original (burnt cream was invented by mistake in Cambridge) which didn’t quite work, the fruity topping proving a tad too tart. Fusion doesn’t always work, but diners are recommended to visit Zuaya for the almost universally-delicious tastes and authentically Latin American drinks (yes, there are caipirinhas too) and not to worry too much about the national inspiration for what will prove a highly eclectic supper.
Tell Me More About Zuaya
Zuaya 35b Kensington High Street (actually Kensington Court)
London W8 5EB
T: 020 7938 3533