Great food and great cocktails are a rare thing indeed, and yet Zebrano Carnaby manages to pull it off with aplomb.
Even though Zebrano Carnaby is just off the world-famous Carnaby Street, it is inconspicuous at first. A tiny outdoor patio area – this is Soho, after all - and a modestly-sized room past the entrance door do not prepare you for the venue’s large basement, with its dim lighting and sultry decor.
In the club, deep red walls with black floral motifs decorate a split-level drinking area. Just past the entrance there is the main bar, long and attractive thanks to deep red lights and a classy bottle display. A smaller second bar is tucked away at the end of the dance floor, average in size but grand in popularity.
In the sultry darkness you may not notice the shiny ceiling and wood paneling (the venue takes its name from the African wood used on the walls), but the overall impression is one of class without any snobbishness.
The oxblood and wooden decor is also prominent upstairs on the ground floor bar but it doesn’t have the same success - here the old wooden floor, non descriptive square tables and mix and match of chairs clash with the contemporary wooden paneling on two walls. This is a minor flaw, though, as overall the venue looks great without emanating pretentiousness from every corner.
If the downstairs is definitely a club, the nature of the ground floor is somewhat indefinable: part bar, part restaurant, the loud music does not belong to either but somewhat introduces you to the large underground den.
Central London venues are notoriously full of tourists, office parties and those new to town, often over or under dressed for the occasion. Zebrano Carnaby is no exception and if glittery, skimpy dresses worn with sandals in winter are less evident in the club, they can be very noticeable in the bar and patio areas while the exact opposite is true for the occasional fleece jumper with trainers. However, Zebrano rightfully attract some Londoners in their late 20s and early 30s, and they’re not lairy party animals - this crowd is engaging and pleasant. In fact, the atmosphere in the club is somewhat perfect and it is very easy to enjoy yourself.
If the music in the bar-restaurant is a bit too loud, in the club it is more than acceptable and you will not need to shout at the top of your voice to order drinks. The chart-topping selection will get you moving and the dancers in sexy outfits strutting their stuff on the tables add a dash of extravagance that make nights out worth remembering.
What surprises about Zebrano Carnaby is the astonishing quality of the food. Perfect presentation, high quality ingredients and a good variety at decent prices secure the popularity of a venue which would do well regardless.
The menu doesn’t lavish lots of hyperbole on its descriptions so when it arrives it’s a pleasant surprise. For light bites (£4-£6), the wild mushroom bruschetta is a tasty introduction to the exquisite presentation of all the dishes. Served on a large square plate, a thin slice of toasted bread with a layer of pesto is buried under a tower of vegetables. Plenty of warm mushrooms are stacked with grilled peppers and cooked cherry tomatoes, with a garnish of Julienne salad and a single line of balsamic dressing. The goat’s cheese salad with rocket, cherry tomatoes and croutons is just as delicious; the contrast between the sweet vinaigrette and the goat’s cheese works very well and there are plenty of vegetables to bulk up the dish.
For mains (£7-£10.50), you can choose from grilled salmon with roasted vegetable cous cous, Cajun chicken with Caesar and bacon salad and many others. Otherwise you can opt for a platter (£11-£13.50) to share, which are particularly popular here. The grilled platter includes a variety of meats of excellent quality. The ribs are exceptionally tender and literally fall off the bone. The honey and mustard sausages are very good and so are the tasty mini burgers. The jerk chicken skewers are generously seasoned and for this reason could be too spicy for some people, although they make up for it by being cooked to perfection. The vegetarian platter, instead, offers roasted cherry tomato and mozzarella balls skewers, dips with fresh vegetables, roasted vegetable skewers and falafels, which are slightly dull in taste and very crumbly. Everything is presented on the same large square plate, which hardly fits on the table.
The desserts (£3.50-£4) are presented to just as high standards. The chocolate truffle cake with strawberry coulis is soft and hard to resist, whilst the fresh fruit salad is freshly prepared and works well to refresh your mouth after your meal.
On the ground floor you can choose from a handful of cocktails (£7 or £20-£22 by the jug) and a good selection of Champagne bottles (£25-£195). They also serve a dozen wines (£13.50-£28.50 by the bottle or £3.50-£4.80 by the glass) to go with your meal as well as bottled beers (£3.25-£3.40), soft drinks, coffees and teas (£1.50-£3). Even a banal tea shows quality here, since the mint tea is made out of a generous handful of fresh leaves.
When it comes to serious drinking, downstairs is where you want to be. The cocktail list is much longer and includes short and long drinks, Martinis (all £7), Champagne cocktails (£8-£9), mocktails (£4.50), shooters (£6) and everything else that’s available at the bar on the ground floor.
The cocktails are prepared with care, and presentation plays an important role. The Carnaby Caipirinha (fresh raspberry, blackberries and strawberries with Sagatiba) has plenty of fresh fruit, left whole for you to see it is not frozen. The Zebrano (apple and cucumber vodka, passoa, fresh cucumber, passion fruit, fresh apple juice and ginger ale) not only looks great but it has an interesting new flavour from the mix of the sweet passion fruit and the distinctive cucumber.
The Last Word
The cocktail bar and club in the basement are Zebrano Carnaby’s biggest selling point, so it is perhaps a little surprising that they go to so much effort to produce such elaborately-presented food. It is to their credit that they strive to produce such quality food and drink and this combined with the unpretentious and friendly atmosphere makes Zebrano Carnaby a great place for a night out.