In case you haven’t heard, sharing plates are very much in vogue on London’s culinary scene. So what makes Zuaya any different? Millie Walton discovers
I had seen a lot of South American restaurant Zuaya before walking through its doors. That tends to happen these days — Instagram, in my view, has rather spoilt surprises, but nevertheless, I was still impressed. The interiors are themed around the Amazonian rainforest, which could be gimmicky and easily overdone, but somehow it isn’t.
Lush greenery covers the ceiling with low hanging fringed pendant lights, zig-zag black and white floor tiles and stylish velvet chairs whilst an exotic soundtrack plays in the background at just the right volume. The tables are small, but tactfully positioned so that you can speak freely without the fear of eavesdropping — the only slight issue is finding the space for sharing plates, but we’ll come to that — and there’s a small cluster outside on a cobbled walkway just off High Street Kensington. Even though its a warm evening, we choose to sit inside where it feels more special and decadent.
We kick off with two Pisco sours to get in the mood and order a selection of dishes with a Colombian and Peruvian influence. The menu is succinct with small plates, grill options and rather surprisingly, a selection of stews. First to arrive is the quinoa caprese salad and the mango tiradito. The salad is a solid option with fresh, good quality ingredients but the quinoa is a little on the grainy side.
The mango, on the other hand, is an intriguing and delicious balance between savoury and sweet with thin slices of green mango basking in a tangy citrus sauce. The salmon tiradito is another unusual combination with a hint of smokey truffle flavour added to the tiger’s milk (a traditional Peruvian sauce of lime juice, sliced onion and chillies), but our favourite from this section is the tuna tartar with avocado, sesame, spring onion, seaweed and the most gorgeous, slightly sweet dressing — we actually fight over mouthfuls it’s so good (in retrospect, my recommendation would be to order this dish for a grand finale, or maybe even bookend it with one serving to start and one to finish).
The squid black tacos aren’t quite as stuffed full as we’d like and the shells are soft and a little too doughy, but the flavour is still good with a basil chimichurri sauce. We can’t decide which cerviche we like best — the stone bass or the sea bream — both are excellent, light and totally unique.
The sea bream comes with sweet-potato ice cream, which is a perfect pairing both in terms of the sweet flavour, texture and the refreshing coldness, whilst the stone bass with cherry, raspberry, orange and pink grapefruit is delightfully fragrant. We finish by sharing a rich, creamy dulce de leche, which like all the other dishes comes beautifully presented and nicely compliments the light zestiness of our previous courses.
We sit for a while after the plates are cleared, sipping large glasses of wine and planning a return visit. ‘It would be a good date place,’ my dining partner suggests and I have to agree. Zuaya impresses without trying too hard; the atmosphere is relaxed and refined, whilst the menu is pleasingly innovative with options to suit most tastes. Best of all, you leave feeling satisfied without needing to unbutton your jeans.
For more information on Zuaya, see here.
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