One of my latest “discoveries” was Sabor, a South American restaurant on Essex Road that is only a few minutes walk from home in Islington! I have walked past Sabor countless times, but only recently did Dr G and I go in to try its Nuevo Latino cuisine.
In the 1990s U.S.-based Latino chefs, inspired by global cuisine and a fresher style of cooking, began to blend European and Asian elements into their dishes, in adventurous combinations of flavours and ingredients. This lighter, healthier style became known as Nuevo Latino, and was immediately popular.
We met Esnayder Cuartas, Sabor’s owner and one of the most influential voices on South American food and culture in the UK. Colombian by birth, Esnayder has lived in London for nearly 20 years. After a successful career in Finance, he travelled the entire length and breadth of South America, collecting over 400 different recipes and many stories along the way. On his return to London, he decided to take the plunge and open Sabor.
The restaurant is stylish with plain white walls decorated with bright coloured animal masks, elegant tables and chairs and trendy artwork. On the evening we visited, the restaurant was nearly full and buzzing, despite it being a Tuesday.
The drinks menu is well priced with most cocktails costing around £6. On our visit, Dr G and I tried “Mora Caipirinha” @ £5.75, Brazil’s national cocktail but made from Mora, an Andean blackberry, and “Lulo & Amaretto Sour” @ £6.50, an Amaretto di Disaronno sour flavoured with Lulo, a Colombian fruit tasting like gooseberry.
The food menu offers a melange of South American specialities reflecting the many culinary influences in that continent – from Incas, Mayans and Aztecs to African slaves and European immigrants, it read well and I was torn among various choices. I enjoyed the snippets of information on each dish giving its provenance and a brief explanation of how the dish was prepared, as well as details of the more unusual South American ingredients.
To kick off proceedings, we had “Empanadas Paisas” @ £6 – traditional cornmeal patties of the Antioquia region of Colombia. The empanadas were filled with beef and potato and served with aji (a fresh relish of tomato, onion and jalapeno chilli). Unlike other empanadas I have tried, Sabor’s version had a crispy pastry which gave it an interesting texture. They tasted delicious with the accompanying aji.
Next was the “Ceviche Peruano” @ £7.90 – slices of fresh cod fillet, marinated in lime juice with chilli, ginger and coriander and served with sweet potatoes, red onions and toasted corn. Dr G and I were very impressed with the authenticity and fresh zingy flavours of this dish, with the toasted corn adding other layers of flavour and texture.
Despite the many tempting options on the menu, my main course choice was already made before I walked into the restaurant – “Moqueca de Peixe” @ £14 is a classic dish from coastal Brazil, a delicious stew of red snapper, swordfish, prawns, mussels, tomatoes, coconut milk, and seasoned with chilli, coriander and dendê oil (Brazilian palm oil, bright red in colour with a very distinctive flavour). Sabor’s Moqueca was delicious and tasted just like the ones I had in Brazil. It was the best I have ever had outside its native home.
Dr G had the “Conejo en Salsa de Chocolate” @ £15 – a dish of slow-cooked rabbit in a spicy Inca chocolate sauce, served with papas a la huancaina (Peruvian style potatoes baked with a cheese sauce, flavoured with turmeric and cayenne pepper). The sauce had a slightly bitter chocolate flavour which was pleasant, but the rabbit was alas a tad dry.
The wine list is also reasonably priced with many options below £20. Wines on offer are primarily from Argentina, Chile and Spain and in my opinion missed a couple of Brazilian choices – Miolo and Casa Valduga would be good additions.
I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Sabor and meeting its owner Esnayder Cuartas. We chatted for a couple of hours, and I was completely captivated by his knowledge and passion for South American cuisines.
Cost: The London Foodie was a guest of Sabor. I estimate that a 3 course meal will cost around £25 per person (excluding drinks).
Likes: stylish décor, great quality food at reasonable prices, excellent cocktails and well thought-out wine list. Friendly service. Informative menu featuring many classic South American dishes and unusual ingredients. The Moqueca de Peixe is a winner.
Dislikes: the wine list could be improved by featuring a couple of Brazilian options.
Verdict: Sabor is an authentic South American restaurant serving classic dishes with a modern interpretation in a stylish setting. Reasonably priced, delicious food and drinks in the heart of Islington. Highly recommended.
Written by Luiz Hara. You can read more of his restaurant reviews and articles on food in London at The London Foodie.
You can find some of the best places to eat Latin American food in London in our Latin American Restaurant Guide.