For me, London tends to be a swift one-day affair for a day on set, back-to-back meetings or events across the city. However, last week my visit was a little different, I was to stay at The Gantry, a Stratford hotel, with dinner at Chino Latino, just south of the river.
To the eyes of someone with a packed schedule, staying almost an hour away from an evening destination might seem abhorrent. If this sounds all too familiar, let me explain why you need to embrace a slowing pace, and never overlook the joy of seeing one’s own country or city through the eyes of a tourist.
Arriving at The Gantry after morning meetings and a Central London lunch, the calm and space of this out-of-city hotel were more than welcome. From the vast lobby with its intriguing coffee table books, I passed earnestly curated art in each corridor, each item encouraging me further to pause. On entering the room, my eyes were drawn across an expansive bed inviting me to lounge languidly atop it, gazing out to a view of the teetering points of London Bridge, The Shard and The London Eye through floor-to-ceiling windows. Decorated in a polished mix of modern heritage – think leather with crisp cotton, an enveloping velvet sofa, copper light fixtures and herringbone wood flooring – the room also features a bathroom of honeycomb tiling with a concrete infinity vanity, and a rain shower of enviable square footage with a luxurious selection of botanical-based Grown Alchemist products.
The communal spaces across The Gantry are designed for meeting, sharing conversation, celebrating dining, exploring and lingering. As you enter, a sweeping staircase takes you over the coffee shop, Hermanos, with a suspended walk over Grappelli, an Italian dining hall and a market.
The stairs lead onto Coupe, an intimate space with a focus on sparkling wines, and beyond that into Union Social, a restaurant and lounge bar. Both spaces offer an indoor-outdoor covered terrace for warm days and balmy evenings of dining or sundowners (possibly with my summer obsession, the Limoncello Spritz – where have you been all my life? – or the stylish Basil Mezcalita with Olmeca tequila, bergamot liqueur and blue agave nectar). The best view in the house is on the 18th floor from STK Steakhouse, their vibey restaurant with a menu split between seafood and steak from across the globe, with weekend brunches and late-night DJs.
A drive south to dinner offered my companion and I the opportunity to catch up after our respective busy days. Before we knew it, we had zipped south on a beautiful tour of London by night to Chino Latino, the resident restaurant of Park Plaza, perched above the river on Albert Embankment in Vauxhall.
Now, when I say this venue offers a dramatic entrance, it really goes all out. Entering the lobby, you ascend double escalators flanked by double-height LED screens emblazoned with the black and red Chino Latio logo. You step through the all-black bar, low-lit in red neon and on to the restaurant that expands around you, showing off a floor-to-ceiling view of The Thames as it glitters with the evening lights.
High ceilings may potentially fall flat for atmosphere, but not here. Filled with a booming 80’s playlist and punchy graphics projected over the high walls, you are immersed in red and black with angular perspectives of backlit perspex and glass. It’s oh-so cool and serves as the perfect backdrop to the highly anticipated dining experience.
Having stood for over a decade, it’s a tightly-run ship with a menu that knows exactly what it’s here for: a Pan-Asian journey with Peruvian influence, created by Head Chef Ederson Bonasso. You could choose to spend your entire meal just exploring their small plates, from their delicate spinach-wrapped black cod with a zingy ponzu sauce to the Casterbridge beef taquitos. Their towering display of crisp masa cones is filled with dry-aged beef from the South West of the UK, its deep flavours met with aji panca – a smokey Peruvian red pepper – and balanced with piquant jalapeno and creamy avocado. Their ever-popular skewers are not to be missed either, served to the table over hot coals.
The basics are respected beautifully, notably a rich and umami-ful white miso soup and some of the most perfectly plump and juicy gyoza I’ve ever had. Other areas of the menu surprise and delight with unusual flavour pairings, such as the sea bass tiradito from their sashimi menu, a raw fish dish complemented by the spicy and sweet aji amarillo Peruvian chilli and saline and herbal borage flowers.
It would be amiss not to mention their considered sake and wine lists, with a stirring cocktail menu split between Asian and Latin flavour profiles. Our helpful server recommended the 2020 Embrujo Verdejo from Bodegas Verum, Spain, its dry and fruity yet citric flavour profile contrasting perfectly with our chosen dishes.
Despite a beautiful Wagu served Ishiyaki on a hot Himalayan salt block being whisked past us as we decided on mains, we decided upon sharing a creamy and fragrant green curry with aubergine and straw mushroom, sweetened with succulent lychees and served with delicate pickles and rice. Alongside, the punchy black bean tofu which came served atop a smokey sauteed cabbage steak (finished with an aji amarillo cream and a chive oil dressing) is a dish I feel could turn the most tofu-phobic of diners.
For me, the melding of two culinary cultures is something that should be done carefully, with a calculated discipline alongside creative flair – offering respect to each traditional ingredient and dish. Each item was looked at thoughtfully as it was recommended an unexpected twist of flavour, colour and texture. There is a direct link between having the vocabulary to express yourself and the ability to feel those emotions, and this meal opened my eyes to new ways to explore the unison of flavours.
What to do in North London
30 minutes from Stratford takes you to the Wellcome Collection, a museum and library of medical items collected by pharmaceutical entrepreneur Henry Wellcome (1853-1936). Including curiosities such as Napoleon’s horsehair toothbrush, his archive now forms the basis of Medicine Man, one of two permanent exhibitions which discuss the overlapping boundaries between medicine and science, life and art.
20 minutes from Stratford gives the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, by American sociologist and writer, turned art dealer, Eric Estorick. His work in the 1950s gave him the representation of clients such as Lauren Bacall and Billy Wilder at auction, and now, his personal collection developed alongside his wife Salome Dessau, is permanently displayed. Expect a strong interest in Italian Futurist works, featuring figurative art and sculpture from 1890 to the 1950s.
10 minutes from Stratford finds the Young V&A, formerly the Museum of Childhood, which uniquely curates its exhibitions through input from children, parents and teachers at every stage. In its creation, 2,000 objects were moved from South Kensington to their new Bethnal Green home, from a 2300 BC Syrian rattle, to film props like Christopher Reeves’s original Superman costume, surely of interest to children and imaginative adults alike. Their Japan Myths to Manga exhibit (from October 14th, 2023), is high on my list of anticipated openings, celebrating Japanese folktales and their centuries-wide influence on art, play, design and technology, from netsuke to Pokémon Happy Meal toys.