Don’t Pan Asian!
I didn’t expect much from the food at Chino Latino. I never do – not when a place looks as hip as this. The menu, at the London branch of the chain, showcased the current trend for ‘small eats’, with lots of dishes to share, but its ‘pan-Asian’ flavour worried me a bit. Isn’t ‘pan-Asian’ as odd an idea as ‘pan-European’? A mix of different Asian cuisines, playing off each other on the same menu – or even on the same plate – always makes me think of those all-you-can-eat buffets in New Jersey shopping malls. But street food has made us all more accepting of the way foods can work together. Maybe less prescriptive. And the waiter soon got us into the spirit of it all. He ended up recommending sashimi, a flight of sushi, followed by an appetiser and a main course or two. Relieved to have a road map, we (that’s Asian doyenne Gizzi Erskine and front-of-house legend Thomas Blythe) nodded eagerly. The selection of sashimi was straightforward enough. It showcased a range of texture and taste from silky yellowtail tuna to buttery scallop. But the sushi came with a surprise — REAL wasabi. Most restaurants use what the Japanese call “Western Wasabi,” a mixture of horseradish, Chinese mustard, a little cornflour and some green food colouring. I can now tell you — having eaten at Chino Latino — it doesn’t live up to the flavour of genuine wasabi, which is spicy hot at first, and then fades to sweet and vegetal. But it still has the same powers to clear the sinuses. Next came nigiri made from toro, the expensive, butter-soft underbelly of the tuna. A blowtorch sear on one side turned the fish into something quite delicious. The heat had melted the layer of fat under the skin, which is where the flavour is, leaving two textures and two tastes in one mouthful. It’s a trendy New York idea, but good for all that. The dessert list was a real treat – but very eclectic. The yuzu cream sugar bulbs with mini meringues and violet granita (above), and the strawberry mochi ice cream, with nutella and hazelnut were both pure Willie Wonka. They challenged the Western palate. Like the sweet AND salty hot yoghurt cake. After seeing the chic décor at Chino Latino I fully expected the food to be infected with the same sense of high-fashion. But it wasn’t. And I thought the service would be stand-offish. But it wasn’t. The Oriental greatest hits menu delivers plenty of good, sound flavours. Maybe they should think about getting a van?