“I love Latin-American cuisine and I love the culture, but it is not something we decided to build a restaurant around,” explains Alberto. “We wanted to deliver an experience so we designed a Latin American fusion, with the aim of delivering a cool experience in the jungle.” As I look around the space, I can see they’ve succeeding in creating their shared vision. The lighting is low, gentle Latin beats are playing and the ceiling is a topsy-turvy canopy of lush green foliage. Succulents line the stairs to a downstairs seating area, which is peppered with dark mirrors, while the in-house DJ works his magic from within his own mini jungle, complete with swinging monkey sculpture and pink feathered flamingo lamp. It’s sexy, vibrant and alluring – but why Zuaya? “It doesn’t actually mean anything, but there was a reason for that,” says Alberto. “It’s something completely new, and we didn’t want a name that could be referred to anything already existing.”
With that idea in mind, I start with something completely new to me – a delicious bright green soft salmon taco, which comprises Scottish salmon, chalaca sauce, sweet cucumber and coriander dressing and wasabi peanuts, which provide a welcome crunch. “Our menu is very innovative. There are some things that are completely unique from a presentation, texture and taste stand point so those dishes are the ones I would recommend the most,” adds Alberto. I also sample the signature Ceviche Zuaya, which is another triumph for the taste buds. Fresh stone bass intermingled with crisp blueberries, raspberries, segments of orange, pink grapefruit and physalis, adding a welcome bite of sourness to this incredibly juicy bowl. It’s tied together with ‘leche de tigre’, a spicy Peruvian citrus-based sauce that I’ve never tried before, but would love to eat again.
The Zandis (pictured below) grew up in Madrid before attending schools in London and America for the rest of their education. After temporary stints in Dubai and Italy, they’ve brought their experiences back to London. “I would say that London is our home right now, but wherever we are, we can call it home as long as we are together,” says Arian. Having immersed themselves in so many cultures, it’s no wonder that they wanted to tie those culinary influences together at Zuaya.
“At Zuaya, we are all about creating a jungle experience with great service and a brilliant fusion of several different cuisines – with flavours gathered from Mexico, Peru, Argentina and Brazil,” explains Arian. “When we came up with the concept, we took a risk but seeing people experience it for themselves makes me happy.” It is this that is so apparent when dining at Zuaya. The passion for immersive experiences and fresh, delicious food is evident in every dish and inch of décor. For the main course, I opt for a tantalising tentacle of octopus, perched atop a bed of potato mash, yellow aji, chimichurri and garlic, as well as red mullet with stir-fried asparagus. The dishes balance each other out perfectly – while the octopus is incredibly rich and almost creamy, the red mullet is fresh and delicate. For a little bit of additional indulgence, I enjoy a side of chunky cassava with a hot Huancaina salsa, which is utterly delicious. Throughout the meal I sip a glass of spicy 2014 Chono Carmenere from the Colchagua Valley in Chile, which packs a gentle punch. It’s the perfect punctuation to a meal with such a wide variety of flavours.
I’ve spent the entire meal diving head first into exciting new combinations, each dish using a number of ingredients that are new to me, but nothing is so surprising as dessert. The team at Zuaya certainly know how to create a finale. Though I’ve ordered a simple and familiar dolce de leche, I’m presented with a fluffy, pink cloud of candy floss. It surrounds a cocoon of fluffy Greek yoghurt with a delicious dollop of banana sorbet at its core, all sitting atop a generous layer of dolce de leche. Around the outside are dots of guava jam and Greek yoghurt. While initially mysterious, it’s a sumptuous and sweet journey of taste and texture that is the perfect way to round off the meal.
So what’s next for this unique venture? “We have immediate plans to expand Zuaya globally. We’d like to take our concept with a strong Latin-American DNA to cities like New York, Paris and Dubai,” says Alberto. “Opening in May on Fenchurch Street, we will be launching our brand-new, grab-and-go Latin-American concept: MAS,” adds Arian. “MAS will bring Londoners plenty of healthy, colourful and tasty dishes.”
There is an elegant liveliness at Zuaya that is tough to perfect, but the Zandi brothers have managed to inject the restaurant with their personal brand of vibrancy – perhaps because of their motto: “If you love your work, and if you enjoy it, you're already a success”. Achingly trendy and delightfully mysterious, it’s a spot not to be missed.