Located just off Kensington High Street, Zuaya brings a tasty slice of Latin America to west London with its sexy two-storey urban jungle. Headed up by Venezuelan chef Francisco Lafee of Barrafina and the one-time World’s Best Restaurant, El Celler de Can Roca, diners can look forward to plenty of flavour, fine ingredients and a stand-out selection of meats and seafood – but perhaps not the most authentic Latin American fare out there. If that’s no big deal, book a table and join the buzzing crowd of beautiful people from Thursday to Saturday night. It’s a great date spot or group venue for those with adventurous palates, large wallets and for anyone else who appreciates an exciting sharing menu.
There’s nothing quite like an overhead artificial rainforest and a playlist of salsa beats to get you in the mood for some exotic Latin American fare – and Zuaya knows it. The restaurant’s dense tropical foliage is certainly a draw in itself, but beneath it, an elegant ground floor set-up of velvet seating and marble tables doesn’t disappoint either. Nor does the Copacabana-inspired bar area, oozing sophistication with its stylish monochrome flooring. All in all the vibe’s a sexy one and there’s plenty of atmosphere to soak up. Bag yourself a banquette if you like to look around, otherwise head downstairs for a more subdued experience, or outside if you’ve got a doggo in tow.
Attracting a young crowd of stylish, adventurous diners, Zuaya is a solid choice for those in search of new flavours served up in a very Instagrammable setting. As for those who like their meals with a good side of people watching, the Zuaya clientele is a charming one too. Think handsome couples, well-dressed groups and many a chic west London-dwelling international.
With Zuaya’s vibrant design comes an equally colourful menu of small sharing plates. In the mix you’ll find Peruvian cuisine alongside Spanish, Brazilian and Mexican too – that’s everything from croquetas (£2.90 each) and empanadas (£4.75 each) to tacos (£4.75) and yucca fries (£6). Bar a few randoms including the likes of wagyu bao buns (£5.75 each), lemon chicken (£13.50) and tomato mozzarella salad (£9), it’s all predominantly Latin. But don’t get too excited if you’re after the regional classics you know and love… most of them come with a Zuaya “twist” that will almost certainly catch you off guard.
Here the ceviche (£14) comes warm with a scoop of sweet potato ice cream. The pork belly patacones (£4.75 each) feature a sweet, ripe plantain base in place of the crispy and savoury plátano verde original. And perhaps the most shocking offence of them all, Zuaya’s tacos come served atop spongy pancakes instead of traditional corn tortillas. Not a reinvention easily forgiven by the taco-lovers among us, gracias a Dios their tasty Moroccan-spiced lamb and yellowfin tuna toppings just about save the day.
Despite the poetic license taken throughout the menu, order well and you can certainly leave Zuaya feeling very content. The caramelised corncake served with a generous dollop of creamy burrata (£8) is a wonderfully dense little delight, and the chewy Brazilian pão de queijo – “cheese bread” with guava jam to you and me – make very moreish bites. As for the slightly larger dishes (two or three will do), the beautifully cooked grilled octopus with chimichurri (£16) and the Iberian pork with butternut squash puree and mojo verde (£18) are clear standouts.
As for tropical tipples, you’ll want to work your way through all three of Zuaya’s signature cocktails. They’re agave-rich and dangerously-delicious, blending pisco, tequila, Falernum, watermelon, lime and the likes into exotic concoctions you’ll wish you were sipping somewhere in Mexico.
In a nutshell
For those who love a cool atmosphere, a restaurant with personality and a sharing-style menu, Zuaya is a good pick. Visit on the weekend with someone you’d like to impress, then stick to the restaurant’s recommendations and you won’t go too wrong. Go it alone with the ordering and you might end up a little miffed with your final bill considering the quality, but a good cocktail or two will numb the pain. Prices are a tad inflated so expect to spend upwards of £50pp for a reasonable selection of the restaurant’s signatures. Buen provecho!
Zuaya, 35B Kensington High St, Kensington, London W8 5EB; www.zuaya.co.uk; 020 7938 3533; firstname.lastname@example.org