7 May 2009
Riverbank Park Plaza Hotel
18 albert embankment, SE1
Billed as Asian Fusion food I felt it fitting to take along my Asian friend The Toy when reviewing Chino Latino Brasserie. After passing through the bright foyer it all changed into mood lighting, dark reds and blacks.
Fortunately we were placed by the large window otherwise I would have problems reading the menu. Unfortunately most of the remaining daylight was blocked out by an ugly, empty 50s office block. A shame as the hotel is right on the Thames and the restaurant would benefit from better views. And that is my only moan about Chino Latino. After those initial impressions the only way was up.
The Toy is a non-drinker so we eschewed the wine list and went straight for a Japanese Asahi Beer for me, which was as refreshing as the current warm weather, and Voss Norwegian water for her, which came in a bottle that was better designed than the vase I pull out at home whenever someone buys me flowers.
The menu was mouthwatering. I wanted everything on it but chose just the sashimi and left the rest of the ordering to the expert knowing she would get something I hadn't tried before. That came in the form of edamame - soy beans with rock salt. As the bowl hit the table I immediately put one in my mouth.
Bit stringy, I thought. My dear friend then informed me that the beans should first be taken from their pods. Oops! I could not believe that something so simple could be so delicious. I'll be up Chinatown this week tracking some down to do at home. Our waiter, Jordan, explained that all the dishes were meant for sharing then brought five of the best chilli prawns I've had for a long time. How can you share five?
They having a laugh? Never mind bringing people closer together with sharing, caring dishes, it almost caused a fight! The next dish was easier to divvy up: two scallops grilled to perfection.
The Toy had a Miso soup where she was amused to find the tiniest of mushrooms. Jordan, obviously well schooled in the menu, told her these were Nameko mushrooms. I made a start on the Prawn Tempura which landed next. Now, I know the chef is ex-Nobu (Jordan told us) but it was evident he had cheated on this dish as those prawns were not cooked here but definitely deep-fried in Paradise. I can't remember ever tasting a tempura so light and so crispy.
A passion for such pleasures to the palate (or Greed) took over and I realised I was rushing them down as she tucked into her Miso in order to get the bigger share. I managed to get a grip of myself by sitting on my hands while patiently waiting for the sashimi, a dish my dining partner does not like so it was mine, all mine, ha ha ha ha!
It arrived on a bed of crushed ice and grated diakon (Chinese radish) looking like it was prepared for an Emperor. There were three fish: salmon, sea bream and yellow tail, and not in the regular sashimi style you find wrapped in sticky rice on a Yo! conveyor belt. This was just slabs of raw fish. I felt like a grizzly bear in the middle of leaping salmon.
I just picked it up, slapped it in the dip and ate it. Grrrr! Stunning. Exceptional. I think, though, that at least one of those fish was still alive because it attacked me. Well, that's my excuse for getting all sauce down the front of my shirt! As for the Latino bit of the title, that's just a reference to the rum-based cocktails and salsa music in the lively bar.
Jordan told me the minty shiso leaf that accompanied the fish helped digestion. So did the lager.
The lighting dimmed in stages in direct proportion to the light outside and became quite intimate.
To compensate my non-sharing sashimi The Toy had Crispy Soft Shell Crab Roll, which she let me have just one of. They were very, very good. She said they were the best she had ever had, and she is not one for rash statements.
And so to dessert. Jordan said the Dark Chocolate Fondant was unmissable, so that was me sorted, and the Lady went for Pistachio Crème Brûlée. Jordan had other ideas so, out to impress, the desserts arrived on a large platter with an array of fresh exotic fruits on crushed ice with coconut foam, mango sorbet and white chocolate ice cream. That young man certainly knows how to impress. The fondant simply oozed with liquid Heaven, as did the Crème Brûlée.
Chino Latino is a place where you could quite easily spend a lot of money: an impressive wine list carried some expensive labels and there were XO brandies at £21 a glass. But you could just as easily dine very well for a reasonable amount.
On the drive home The Toy was so overwhelmed she told me six times that it was a very good meal before I had to tell her to stop. She then changed tack and brought up our trip to Arments a couple of days prior when she came along to watch me eat. 'Much better than pie and mash,' she said. More fighting talk!
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