Nuevo Latino: not a phrase I’m that familiar with or that keen on. Popping up on various restaurant websites and CD compilations, it seems to signify something that plunders what it fancies from arbitrary South American countries and offers that most iffy of things in return: a modern twist.
Sabor isn’t new but it is Latino, and we went round the countries on our brief visit. Empanadas to start, from Colombia, the Caribbean and Bolivia were variously meat, seafood and cheese filled, stodgy stop-gaps reminiscent of Cornish pasties and accompanied by box-fresh salsa. Mains were as remarkable as you’d expect for Upper Street and a hefty price: Argentinian steak dressed for dinner in a choice of rubs and as tender as the night while the Rabo Encendido‘s (braised oxtail) hidden slabs of succulent flesh were well worth the forkwork. Both came accompanied by plantains in various states of disrepute, crisped to high heaven but soaking the juices nonetheless.
As our sober January continued crushingly inevitably ahead I washed the whole thing down with an astonishing Lulo & Pistachio Licuado from Columbia, whose lime, cinnamon, pistachio syrup, egg white and honey jostled for my attention in every glug. It seems cocktails are this place’s speciality, although it’s the decor that really leaves an impression.
The whole room is the width and length of a canal barge, cluttered with screamingly garish plastic pink laminated tables, framed by a huge window encircled by Christmas lights and lit by a series of disco balls – part Tower Hamlets community centre, part teenage JLS fan’s bedroom in December. And that’s before we get onto the wall hangings. While the painted animal heads are understandable, the picture of two lemons making out in the gents’ and the framed review declaring the place “soulless” are baffling.
Sabor works better as a bar but, whether it was the time of day, the arctic gales outside, the waiter’s indifference as he fingered the card machine or that word “soulless” bouncing round my head, I left feeling vaguely depressed.
Music: Nuevo Latino (read: loungey versions of ‘Light My Fire’ from the Rhythms Del Mundo soundtrack)
Price per head: £25.81
Clientele: blandy glamorous and vaguely cosmopolitan