BORN-and-bred North Londoners, like myself, never felt the need to walk along the Albert Embankment. The south side of the Thames, between Vauxhall Bridge and Westminster, was just a vista to glance across at en route to Tate Britain but now there is a very good reason to cross the river for a short Lambeth walk – Chino Latino.
Chino Latino is in a hotel but, after a short escalator ride whisks you up and away from the lobby, you stand at the entrance to what feels like an artfully attired aircraft hangar. Dimensions are super large, from giant anglepoise lamps to huge plate glass windows almost brushing against the plane trees on the street pavement outside. It’s time to focus: ignore the dining area tucked behind a sushi counter and head for the long bar before ensconcing yourself at one of the four window tables you’ve hopefully bagged when making a reservation.
The Thames flowing past outside can just be discerned through the greenery that envelops the windows while, over to the east, you can just make out Victoria Tower, with Big Ben to its right and the Post Office Tower to the left. A unique perspective on three iconic London structures.
The Pan-Asian food at Chino Latino is as aesthetically pleasing to look at as it is to taste and even your humble taquito (‘little taco’) arrives in a set craftily posed on a dainty metal spiral. The extensive menu would suit a sharing extravaganza and there are enough single-meal plates, from Thai chicken to 300-gm-sirloin on hot rocks, to suit the ravenous. This is not a venue for a quick meal; come here for a whole evening of food, fun and live music.
Mandarin food critics enjoy being sniffy about chain restaurants but Brasserie Blanc is celebrating its 21st birthday and the Southbank branch showcases its adulthood with aplomb. Proximity to the National Theatre and Royal Festival Hall makes it popular early in the evening but arrive after 7.30pm and a proper air of calmness allows for the casual enjoyment of French food. The windowless, low-level and acoustically muffled space provides insulation from the vehicular and human traffic around Waterloo without inducing claustrophobia and with wine available in 175ml or 250ml glasses being here is easy on the eye and alcohol consumption.
Brasserie Blanc’s spring menu will assuage Francophile longings for bouillabaisse and chateaubriand but the season suggests lighter food: tempettes (paddling bread in an olive tapenade with saffron garlic mayonnaise); escargots de-shelled in a herby sauce; a chicken and green papaya salad; or a medley of piquillo and pardon peppers, aubergine, beans, sultanas and pine nuts in a classic summer salad – food for the pleasure of the good life.
Ginza Onodera, a new kid on Mayfair’s opulent block, is all about luxury Japanese cuisine and the show begins with Japanese-inflected cocktails in the swish and spacious bar area that you enter from the street. Dining and wining is downstairs in a boldly designed low-slung area where a grand wine cabinet grabs your attention and little wire boxes lined with rice-paper cast light over the tables. The food is adventurous and novel: one of the signature appetizers features ‘cactus-fed’ turbot – never before seen on a London menu (and I’ve never seen it in Japan either) – decked with the golden-coloured fish roe called bottarga in Italy and lightened with the aromatic herb hojiso.
For novices of Japanese dining, an attraction of the restaurant is the proffered pairing of sake with food – the alcohol-enhanced Daiginjo complementing sashimi in preference to the relatively crude Junmai – and suggested wines to accompany the teppanyaki range and the seafood and meat choices cooked on a robata grill. Style and substance does not come at bargain-basement prices but, notwithstanding, Ginza Onodera is a contender for the best Japanese restaurant in town.
An ongoing expression of the capital’s restless demand for new sensations on the palate is the profusion of Peruvian eateries and the popularity of innocuous-looking pisco sours – so no surprise that Coya has opened a second restaurant in London. A downside to the location, in Angel Court near the Bank, is the early-evening presence of City suits who noisily use the bar as their local for quaffing pints of lager; luckily, there is comfy sofa seating away from the tumult and here you can relax and google some of the headings on the menu: tiraditos, para picar, anticuchos, cazuelas.
Coya has created a pleasing dining space, away from the bar, with huge black and white prints of Peruvian scenes on the walls and a busy-busy atmosphere. You can play safe with standard poultry and meat plates or imaginatively seize the menu as a food lottery and randomly pick a host of sharing dishes for a mini feast of Peruvian delights. Each of the spiky ceviches and tiraditos comes with a cooling counterpart, like asparagus or gazpacho, and the baby squid is cooked in a soothing ocopa sauce from Peru’s deep south and with just a merciful sprinkling of quinoa on top. Pleasurable food is the hallmark of Coya and the gratifying aftertaste will linger long after the noisy chatter of City workers has drifted away into the ether above Angel Court.
Belgravia, where property is probably more expensive than in any other London neighbourhood, may not lend itself to impromptu dining but a meal at Michelin-starred Ametsa at COMO The Halkin is a pleasantly casual affair. The first surprise is the fragrance of turmeric as you step into a restaurant dedicated to fine food from Spain’s Basque region. The explanation lies in the ceiling where thousands – yes, thousands – of test tubes, filled with a variety of spices, occupy every inch of space. At ground level, the décor is minimalist by comparison and window tables look out on a placid garden scene.
Ametsa at COMO the Halkin’s menus (a la carte and tasting ones) are guaranteed to arouse interest given their blend of traditional Basque elements with unexpected additions from other parts of the world. One starter features kataifi, a cheese pastry from the Middle East, and scallops are prepared with hemp seeds and come adorned with palatable little flowers. An exquisitely tasteful tuna dish comes tucked under a huge inedibl leaf and Iberian pork is paired with peach. A trufón dessert rounds off the culinary adventures on a perfect note.
by Sean Sheehan