Zuaya: a taste of the rainforest on Kensington High Street
Alberto and Arian Zandi explain how they brought vibrant Latin American flavours to their London restaurant
On a narrow, cobbled alleyway off Kensington High Street lies an unlikely refuge - a little patch of South American rainforest in the heart of the West End.
With dense foliage on the walls and a variety of exotic ingredients on the menu, Zuaya is a bright new arrival on the London restaurant scene. Its creators are equally fresh-faced: a pair of 22-year-old twins, Alberto and Arian Zandi, who arrived in London via Madrid, Peru, Mexico and Colombia.
Their culinary style blends Latin American and European traditions, drawing inspiration from street food outlets as well as fine dining establishments. Truffle salmon tiradito is typical of their offering, combining sashimi-like slices of raw fish with truffle-spiked tiger milk, the citrus-and-chilli marinade used in ceviche.
Fresh seafood - both raw and cooked - feature heavily, but the meat is worth exploring too. Wagyu beef picanha (a cut from the rump), served with pepper-rich aji sauce, is a tender and flavoursome feast.
Picanha, tiradito and aji all hail from Peru, but the presa Iberica has both Venezuelan and Spanish roots. The Iberian pork shoulder is served with guasacaca, an avocado-based sauce that’s a close cousin of guacamole.
The dishes exemplify the Zandi brothers’ bold approach to flavours and textures, which they recently explained to Portfolio:
What inspired each of you to go into the restaurant business?
We love the hospitality industry and saw a gap in the market, for a multi-sensory luxury dining experience which delivers on unique design, service, gastronomy and ambience. When we came up with the concept, we took a bit of a risk, but it’s been really rewarding introducing a new concept to customers - seeing how people react and watching it grow. Zuaya is all about taking diners on a journey, a rounded dining experience. We want people to have a lot of fun and feel like they’re truly in the jungle – a world away from the stresses and business of London life.
Were you always both certain of what you wanted to do, or did one have to convince the other?
It was very much a collaborative process - we’re lucky as twins to each bring something different to the table. It’s been very special working together on this project as brothers, kicking off our hospitality careers at the same time.
How do the restaurant scenes compare in London and Madrid?
The two cities have very different customers. London is international and fast-paced - there is a real mix of cultures and a lot of people are here for a limited period of time, whether for work, study or travel, which means we can tap into a large market of people who are open to exciting experiences whilst they are here. Meanwhile in Madrid, there is large demand for local cuisine, both from tourist and locals. Owning a restaurant in London is of course challenging, due to competition with existing high-quality restaurants and new openings, but also very promising in terms of the number of people who are open to trying new things.
Although you grew up in Spain you have been influenced by Latin American food. What made you look in that direction?
We experienced a lot of amazing food whilst on our travels through Peru, Mexico and Colombia, and when we saw a gap in the market for a luxury Latin American offering, we jumped at the chance.
British diners may know less about food from these countries… What makes it distinctive, and what would you recommend we try?
The cuisines of Latin America are pretty diverse and vary from nation to nation. It’s an area of the world that is rich in tradition and great quality ingredients, from tacos and tiraditos to desserts such as dulche de leche and drinks like hibiscus tea, coffee and cacao. At Zuaya, we’ve gathered traditional recipes from Peru, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, giving them a modern twist, with hints of Asian and European cuisine. Many of the dishes on our menu, you can only get in Zuaya - like our warm ceviche, which combines warm smoked wild sea bream and sweet potato ice cream. In one mouthful you get sweet, salty, warm and cold. You wouldn’t tend to pair fish with ice cream so that’s an amazing combination I’d urge anyone to try! The lamb tacos are another of our favourites, getting their colour naturally from Peruvian purple potatoes and paired with delicately spiced lamb, pineapple and coriander.
How have you adapted recipes for South American street food to make them work on Kensington High Street?
We’ve made sure the recipes are robust and that each dish is innovative. Many are completely unique from a presentation, texture and taste standpoint. We worked with our chef Francisco Lafee to design each dish with finesse and clean lines. Prime ingredients are also key, as well as creating an authentic yet contemporary atmosphere through interiors, background or live music, and warm service.
Now that Zuaya is up and running, what are you working on next?
We are looking to expand Zuaya globally, to other cosmopolitan cities: we’re hoping to launch one in Dubai next year. In other news, we’re set to launch a new grab-and-go concept on Fenchurch St in June, called MAS, which will have really strong Latin American DNA. Meaning “more” in Spanish, MAS will bring Londoners plenty of healthy, colourful and tasty dishes that are fast and affordable - think salmon tacos and vibrant salads.