I recently was given the opportunity to tag along with Tasha Miles of the 'Food I Fancy' blog (which you can find here: http://www.foodifancy.com/ ) to a review meal at Chino Latino, Vauxhall. I always love spending time with Tasha as she is brilliant fun; effusive, enthusiastic and wickedly funny, so when she asked me, the answer was always going to be a yes! We were given the opportunity to sample the 'Tasting Menu' which normally would cost £48 per person.
The ethos of the restaurant is providing Pan-Asian food (with a definite bias towards the food of Japan, in my judgment), with an emphasis on sharing food sociably. Hence many of the dishes are developed with ease of sharing in mind, and are generally a little smaller to facilitate this process.
I love sharing food, so I have no issue with this whatsoever. I often try to work out, when eating with others, what we are each ordering, so that we get to try the widest selection of the menu. Dishes are then put in the middle of the table and picked from by everyone, with no hang-ups whatsoever. There are some people who will not completely approve of this, and they are welcome to order and eat their own food. Their loss. Really.
The restaurant is housed in the Park Plaza Riverbank Hotel, on the Albert Embankment, just across the river from the Houses of Parliament. The restaurant space itself is spacious, with dining parties not sitting too close to each other. The lighting in the room itself is sparing, to allow for chat, but with small very directed spotlights so that the food is nicely illuminated. The decor is more in keeping with a trendy cocktail bar or club, all dark walls and leather panels, but it is not in your face, and I liked the black matte tables; it brought out the best in the presentation of the dishes, in the same way as it does at Hakkasan or Plum Valley.
Drink wise I went for a Chino Mojito to begin with. Made from Havana Club Añejo Especial rum shaken with limes, mint, sugar, lemongrass and coconut milk, it may not sound appealing on paper. The potential for the coconut milk to be overdone, creating a heavy and very filling cocktail was great. However, the mixology is handled with deft hands here and the subtle lemongrass and zingy lime flavours were allowed centre stage. Very refreshing and pleasant indeed! Tasha opted for the Kiwi Loco, which she reported was very enjoyable. Thereafter we had wine, opting for the Sancerre La Fuzelle, Adrien Marechal, 2009.
So, what about the food? Well, here goes:
So, what about the food? Well, here goes:
Crispy soft shell crab California rolls
This is a spin on your typical sushi, with battered, fried soft shell crab as the filling to the sushi rolls. Rolled in tobiko (fish roe), you get the lovely salty explosion of the eggs in your mouth as you chew, adding texture and balance to the flavours. It was served with generous amounts of garnish (I always find I never get enough of the pickled ginger which is one of my favourite things about sushi!) meant we had plenty incendiary wasabi to add bite! The soft shell crab was perfectly cooked, not doused in claggy batter. It was light and was crunchy on the outside yet yielding on the inside. A favourite item from the meal for me.
This dish is one of the hidden gems of the menu. It doesn't sound like much from the description above, does it? But these little towers made of circular layers of marinaded beetroot, fried won ton papers for crunch. topped with microherbs are a real treat. Somewhat difficult to pick up with chopsticks, which is a shame. Tash's idea is that these are served on the little Chinese style China spoons, so you can put a whole tower in your mouth in one go. I think this is a superb idea, which would make this dish perfectly easy to eat as well as well presented.
Seared white tuna
White albacore tuna wrapped in white asparagus, which was cooked to perfection.
Our second 'little dish' was large and meaty scallops served with a topping of microherbs and crushed wasabi peas. This was food heaven; really well prepared, cooked and presented.
Pork, crab and glass noodle samosas
The combination of ingredients used for the filling are typical of Vietnamese style Spring rolls. However, I am not sure they worked so well with Indian Samosa pastry. For me, it's all about the ratio of filling to skin. There was too much pastry here. And the filling itself wasn't a good enough balance of the three ingredients used. The crabmeat's flavour and texture was swamped. Ideas for dishes which involve a fusion of the ingredients or techniques from different nations are not something I am against per se; they can work, and work well, but in this instance it was a fusion for the sake of it. Had the far thinner Spring roll 'pastry' been used, it would have been far more effective. The dip was a lime and coriander yoghurt sauce, which could have done with a little chilli kick to it to lift it.
Sirloin steak on hot rocks 180g
Marinaded steak cooked on oven baked rocks, topped with fried garlic, chives and sesame seeds. The steak is then drizzled with a soy and mirin glaze at the table for a moment of pure theatre, as it fizzles and sputters. The steak is done medium rare, and you leave it on the rocks for as long as you wish, depending on how you like it. Care is required, as it can cook rapidly! We were informed that the extreme heat of the rocks is achieved by baking them in the oven for a full day. I found this dish to be full of flavour. But any overcooking is entirely down to the customer - vigilance is needed! This should be the signature dish of the restaurant; bravo!
Black cod spicy miso
A generous black cod chunk, marinaded in spicy white miso, cooked and served with a piquant sauce, blending sweet, spicy and sour flavours. This is a good dish.
Passion fruit cheesecake: with a mildly ginger flavoured base, the creamy passionfruit cheese hid a secret chamber full of passionfruit flesh. This was very tasty indeed, but the baked filo pastry topping is strictly for decoration; it was far too dry and powdery to be palatable. This is more of a warning than a criticism!
Fruit selection: presented like the skyline of Tokyo, Hong Kong or Shanghai (towering skyscrapers of cut fruit), this should have been a highlight. Melon, mango, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, starfruit, rambutan, dragon fruit, unfortunately much of it was not ripe enough, leaving a sour tang. Perhaps other, less tropical fruits could be offered early in the year?
Roulade of mousses wrapped in rice flour matcha flavoured 'marzipan': the mousses themselves were pleasant, but not typically Pan-Asian. The marzipan was a very interesting innovative idea; the matcha flavour was detectable, tasty yet subtle. The marzipan was the most effective part of this dessert, however, after all the other courses, was perhaps too much for me. It was good to see Asian ingredients used in a ground breaking way.
The food was generally very, very good. Care was taken over preparation, the cooking very skilful and the presentation full of colour and drama. I really enjoyed my meal. The restaurant gets a lot of trade from the hotel it is housed in, yet I wonder how many of these guests realise how difficult it can be to get truly tasty Asian food. Chino Latino doesn't really combine South American influences with the Pan-Asian ones in its food, but really the food speaks for itself.
Snigdha would like to thank Tasha and Chino Latino for letting her come to dinner as a guest.
18 Albert Embankment
020 7769 2500