For those of you that didn’t get the memo, it’s been pretty darn warm outside. But there’s no way I was going to take shelter in my personal oven poky London flat. Instead, I scanned the city for restaurants that not only serve up incredible grub to satisfy my growling belly but also allow me to pretend I’m on a faraway holiday, where this weather is usually synonymous. Enter, Zuaya in upmarket West London.
Around the corner from bustling Kensington High Street, this gorgeous, two-floored wonderland impressed me from the get-go. As you stroll inside, the first thing you’ll see is the luxe bar area, decked out like a tropical island with lush green foliage and hanging plants. But rest assured, this is not a faux Rainforest Café kinda deal, it’s much more classy Aztec jungle. The pink and green velvet seats propped punters up at the bar, but it’s downstairs where our table was for the evening, nestled in a cosy little nook. Here, vintage tasselled lights hung from the ceiling, while peacock feathers and huge mirrors added to the chic, sexy vibe. The attention to detail is absolutely everywhere, from draped curtains to the real-looking moss in the exposed brickwork. Oh, and the air conditioning was very much appreciated (you wouldn’t get that in the Amazon, that’s for sure).
As amazing aromas drifted in from the kitchen and samba tunes adding to the sensory adventure, we kicked things off with Zuaya's signature cocktails. Decanted into an elegant copper martini glass, the London To Lima (£12.50) was a heady mix of pisco, falernum and agave syrup, with a fun frothy top courtesy of the whisked egg white. The tequila and grenadine-laced Black Forest (£13.50) gave us an instant sugary hit of wild berries with lychee, plus the beautiful petal decoration and Mayan-style vessel was a nice touch.
But you wanna hear about the food, right? The three-course tasting menu (£45 each) draws influence from Peru, Brazil or Mexico, and is served as soon as it’s freshly cooked by the chefs. The simplistic yet lip-smacking starter of guacamole and sweet potato chips took me back to lazy beach days in Tulum, whilst the salty, slightly charred padron peppers gave us all the summery Spanish feels. The duo of tacos, one with lamb and the other with cured tuna, pleased my date with the combination of zesty lime and flavoursome meat, intricately packaged in a purple wrap. He devoured it in one go. The quinoa dish arrived next. Now, normally, I eye-roll at the thought of a salad, as in my opinion they generally don't offer much, but this plate exceeded my expectations as it was delicately splashed in tangy vinegar, dotted with Mexican crumbly cheese and the crunchy poppy seed and radish was a lovely texture combo.
I’ll be straight with you, this is very much a carnivores paradise, but I’m glad to say that it wasn’t a problem to swap out a meaty main for a veggie. And this turned out to be my favourite meal of the night. The burrata, served on a Peruvian corn cake bed, beautifully married gooey cheese with a soft, light base. Simply delicious. My date’s juicy and succulent Iberian pork was cooked perfectly pink, and the mopping up of the butternut squash purée and mojo verde was done in record time.
By this point, the restaurant was packed with sophisticated birthday meals and groups of friends. The atmosphere was fizzing, and I half expected the celeb-like popping of bottles of bubbly and lighting of sparklers to be going off soon. Thursday is the new Friday? It had that spirit. We closed our culinary romp with two punchy desserts, the crème brûlée and dulce de leche flan. Staying true to the exotic theme, the former was drizzled in passion fruit and beneath the crisp topping lay a smooth, rich underlayer with hints of vanilla. Its coconutty companion had the right amount of wobble and the shards of pineapple, syrupy apple alongside the generous helping of cream was a decadent finale.
The DesignMyNight Digest
Forget backpacking in Brazil or taking a gap year in Guyana, you can easily step into a lavish other land right here in London. Having opened in 2018 to massive fanfare, it’s clear to see why Zuaya is so popular, and that’s before you’ve even sat down to eat. The tasting menu was short but filling, and the globe-trotting dishes allowed us to experience tastes beyond our usual palette. Make sure you order the corn cake though, please?
💰 The damage: £90 for two, including a signature cocktail and glass of house wine each.
📍 The location: just off Kensington Palace and Hyde Park.
👌 Perfect for: starting your night out in style.
⭐ Need to know: ask for a table downstairs at the back for a more private dining affair.
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