Try some East-meets-Southbank fusion at Chino Latino on Vauxhall’s exotic Albert Embankment.
Chino Latino is an unlikely-named modern Pan-Asian restaurant situated on the ground floor of the Park Plaza Hotel on the Albert Embankment. Despite being so close to the river, its hidden ground floor location is not known for its dramatic views and overlooks a minimalist Japanese-inspired garden instead. Despite the naff name, the decor is neither Chino nor Latino, in fact it’s a modern blend of white leather, black lacquer and red glass, which works remarkably well making it fancy yet stylish at the same time. The neighbouring bar lounge is just as cool, dominated by a neon-blue bar, it’s surrounded by designer white leather banquettes and stylish bucket chairs. Tall ceilings give the room some well-deserved grandeur.
In the restaurant guests are welcomed by a sashimi bar where stripy aproned chefs carve the finest slices of raw fish to order. Towards the back of the room, a huge silk fringed curtain hides the less-than-glam view and gives a little chichi nod to its Eastern influence.
The first thing you notice about Chino Latino is that it doesn’t have the staid hotel vibe often found in modern hotels. You’ll get blokey guffaws from one end of the room to romantic giggles at the other. The clientele is generally a handful of pleasantly surprised hotel guests plus a whole host of south of the river foodies who know they’re in for a real treat. The staff are friendly and passionate about the food with each member eager to boast their favourite dishes. Faint jazz tootles in the background which adds to the lively upbeat tone of the place.
The food here is pretty damn good. The staff will happily guide you through the busy menu which is split into eight sections and includes dim sum, sushi, tempura and sashimi. The yellowtail sashimi (£14) is a fantastic dish, albeit quite a delicate portion for the hefty price tag. A lady-like fan of thinly sliced white fish, with each sliver decorated with a tiny ring of chilli and a feather of coriander. It not only looks beautiful but its delicate taste just smacks of the Indian Ocean. Next comes the crispy soft-shelled crab roll (£10), six wheels of seaweed-wrapped sushi each with a centre of warm crisp crab, drizzled in a pink spiced dressing. The taste of the warm cooked crab and the bite of wasabi are a perfect combination and a definite must-try for sushi-phobes. The Tanuki roll (£10) is a Chino Latino favourite and it’s easy to see why. Three types of fish; sea bass, tuna and salmon are rolled with avocado and rice then sprinkled with tempura, giving it a crunchy yet different texture to regular sushi. The creamy spiced dressing adds just the right amount of zing making this sushi roll heartbreakingly good.
The main courses all look fantastic and each have a uniquely Asian-inspired twist. The char grilled sirloin steak on hot rocks (£24) is literally just that. Half a dozen shiny pebbles hauled from the sea are heated to form a unique cooking medium for this beautiful slab of meat. It’s char-grilled, sizzling and sliced wafer thin, then a hot wasabi and ponzu dressing is poured over the meat causing even more of a sizzle. The dish has a remarkable flavour and is worth every single penny of the £24. The crispy sea bream with chilli lemon grass and cherry tomatoes (£19) is also delicious, however it pales into comparison when compared with its meaty companion. Although any of these dishes would be wholly enjoyable on their own, the coriander and lime rice and baby pak choy make excellent sides and complement both dishes perfectly.
Just when you think you can’t squeeze in any more heavenly food, the short dessert menu arrives and before you know it a pistachio brulee and an almost indecent chocolate fondant (both at £6.50) have been ordered. Both are executed to eye-rolling perfection, with the pale green pistachio creme being deeply flavoured with a rich creamy texture. The warm plumpness of the chocolate pud is perfectly cooked and the rich deep cocoa flavour combined with the cool vanilla ice cream lulls you into a comfortable sated state.
Hotel drinks menus are notoriously scary, however here at Chino Latino it is merely surprising.
The house wines start at £17 a bottle and the Touraine Sauvignon Blanc being a really good match for the Japanese cuisine. For £40 you can order a reasonably fine St Emilion Grand Cru and bottles of fizz start at £27 for a Prosecco. The most expensive wine on the menu is a relatively tame £72 for a Chateau de St Cosme, which may disappoint those on an expense account. There’s a good selection of beers available including draught Asahi at £3.80 a pint. For that real Asian experience try some sake with your meal (from £14 for cold and £8 for hot).
The Last Word
Despite the naff name Chino Latino serves up some exceptionally tasty food. The lively atmosphere, ultra-friendly staff and beautifully presented cuisine ensures that it’s a real highlight of south of the river dining. Recommended.