Received wisdom tells us that all good crime barons own a bar. It's a classic tradition in the long line of fictional criminality (see The Wire, EastEnders, Bugsy Malone) and is typically a dim-lit dive with sexy ladies, hunched suits and fugs of smoke. Now, Azucar, the latest addition to the Brewery Wharf area, is nothing of this sort, not in image or underhand criminal dealings. It is, however, the bar famously part-owned by Howard Marks, former international drug dealer, aka Mr Nice.
Although entering Azucar you'd be hard pressed to make the connection, being a few thousand miles away from what I'd imagined Marks' bar to be. It's not even so much a bar, it's a colourful South American tapas restaurant from the people behind Viva Cuba and Oracle.
The first impression was a blur of uniformed waitresses hurrying amid red walls and booths, pot plants and a smart black and white checked floor. A smiley host greeted and seated us on one of the few uninhabited tables. It was full on a Tuesday night, probably due to the all-you-can eat paella deal but still, it boded well and gave the place a lively chattering buzz.
The menu is tapas with a Latin American slant, so there's the usual suspects (chorizo, king prawns et al) with the odd mini-version of South American, Caribbean or Mexican dishes. We ordered with abandon, the dishes being roughly £4 a pop, and plumped for a Veramonte Reserva Merlot (£15.50) from the good-sized wine list.
As my dining companion and I enjoyed the rich spicy Merlot, we puzzled over what Azucar is actually all about. Take the music for example. I'm not saying restaurants need to embrace their cuisine theme down to a note but the too-loud 1990s Shine compilation (Happy Mondays, Oasis, The Charlatans, it was all there) was an oddly bland choice. It also jarred with the footage of a sweaty Elvis performing on the big plasma screens.
Our graze banquet of little dishes arrived, which in terms of taste and quality was a bit patchy. Xim xim (£4.25), a Brazilian curry of chicken, prawn and peanuts was a delicately spiced texture-fest of juicy chicken and prawns complemented by crunchy nuts. The stuffed aubergine with a sweet herby tomato sauce and cheese (£3.95) and fried potatoes chunks with skins, topped with a kicking chilli (£3.95) were both enjoyed.
Others weren't great. The chorizo and mushrooms in red wine (£4.25) was an affront on proper chorizo, being gristly, oily and devoid of bite. The smoked fishcakes with lime mayo (£4.25) were crispy potato croquettes with a faint fishy taste and the calamari (£3.95) had a fine salt and pepper batter but underneath was undercooked rubber.
As she cleared the pretty average dishes away, I asked our cheery and generally super waitress about the Howard connection. “He's one of the owners, he's usually down here having a drink actually”. Did he have much to do with the development of the place? “I'm not sure... I think he's the face of the business”. Hmm, well he's certainly the face of the loo. Images of the main man's face beam from a one-wall patchwork shrine of posters, interviews and book covers. It's a strange thing to be confronted with as you dry your hands.
The dessert menu is pure ice cream so in the interests of interest we went for a cocktail. Ex-Mojo's Robert “Skippy” Jupp has created the menu which features South American classics, those with a twist and some Latin-flavoured originals. The herbaliser (£5.50) was a fresh um bongo with a pinch of rum while the capirinha (£5.50) was a well executed classic with a sharp balance.
Drinks seem to be where Azucar performs best, with its wine, cocktail and exciting international beer menu. Otherwise though, the amalgamation of dull music, average food and heavy branding make Azucar feel like a standard chain restaurant offering rather than the characterful independent bar it could be. The ingredients are all there, but sadly at the moment the only real personality about the place is Marks. And he was missing – at least in the flesh - on our visit.
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sorry last few visits the food was very dissapointing need to do better than one free glass of…Read more
Cool post very informative. I just found your site and read through a few posts although this is my…Read more
This is another good reason to travel. This restaurant is a place to go to. Nice chinese restaurant…Read more
Malaysian tea? I know that India and China are known for that, but I suppose that places like…Read more