Zuaya – Latin American Restaurant in Kensington.
With the lifting of lockdown, it has been liberating to get back to eating out, revisiting old favourites as well as exploring the new. Zuaya is one of London’s top Latin American restaurants and an old friend.
Nestling in an alley just off Kensington High St in a little side street (opposite T K Maxx!) the kitchen focuses on the food culture of Latin America; Peruvian, Mexican, Argentinian and Brazilian cuisines with a dash of Japanese emigré ‘Nikkei’ influence.
The interior reflects the lushness of the Amazon with a verdant green canopy of vegetation. There’s also a rather sexy basement – known as The Jungle – full of discrete corners where you can be curtained off for privacy.
Chilled house music plays as we check out the cocktail menu. As well as a list of classics there are several Zuaya signature cocktails. The London to Lima was really a perfect take on a Pisco Sour. A blend of Pisco, Falernum liqueur – the botanical infused sugar cane spirit – lime, agave for a hint of sweetness, and frothed up egg-white, it was perfectly balanced with a few drops of Angostura bitters on top for added bite. The Brazilian Caipirinha brought together Cachaça, another sugar cane spirit with lime and sugar to create a lively, refreshing mouthfeel without overdoing the sweetness.
Zuaya has changed its menu since I was last there and the new offer is based around a Latin American tapas concept. However, since Chef Francisco Lafee was still in the kitchen I wasn’t too concerned. Tapas starters, signature toasts (cured meat or sashimi on homemade toast), fish and seafood tapas, meats tapas, vegetables, salads and sides offered plenty of options for most dietary requirements. Sea bass ceviche with wild berries and ‘cooked’ in Tiger’s milk was a super-fresh tasting combo with a light chilli heat and a slight hint of mango contrasting with the coolness of the chunks of fish.
A tuna and avocado taco was a contrast to the previous dish with the gentle blend of avocado and tuna given a lift by a hint of coriander.
Helping to mop up our cocktails was a deep-fried Brazilian bread stuffed with melted cheese, Pao de queijo, topped with guava jam – very moreish! We moved onto wine at this point. A crisp-tasting 2018 bottle of Azumbre, Verdejo from Rueda in Spain. It was flinty and lemony cutting through the variety of flavours perfectly.
A wholesome quinoa and pomegranate salad came studded with pomegranate and halved cherry tomatoes but a highlight for me was a fabulous smoky plate of tender grilled octopus tentacle with sweet potato served with a lovely potato cream. I could eat a plate of this every day!
Tarted up by a piquant red pepper sauce, the chicken empanada had a crisp crust and was stuffed with tender, juicy chunks of meat. New to me was a Peruvian corn cake; its rich flavour and fluffy texture was perfectly complemented by the coolness of the creamy Italian burrata perched on top. This was a great combo!
Deep-fried fluffy cassava chips with a Huancaina cheese sauce came out hot and crispy from the fryer. I love a meal where the side dishes aren’t just bit players in the drama.
Juicy grilled chicken was deliciously drenched in lemon from its marinade.
I can never eat too many crème brûlées. The Zuaya version was suitably eggy with a crisp top and the gorgeous acidic sweetness of passion fruit adding zest. Dulce de leche and coconut flan needed a touch more caramel for my liking but was slathered with a generous portion of coconut cream.
I love the intimacy of Zuaya and the food, drink and charming service are delivered at a really high level. If you’re already a fan or want to explore Latin American cuisine in a glamorous Kensington location, then it’s a great bet. In even better news they have extended the Eat Out To Help Out programme. Visit Zuaya Monday-Wednesday through September and receive 50% off food and AF drinks up to £10 per person.
35 Kensington High St, Kensington, London W8 5BA