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Azucar review

Fliss Clarke Marks down an odd tapas bar, thingy, what not...place

Published on January 14th 2010.

Azucar review

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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7 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousFebruary 5th 2009.

love this place! go every Tuesday for my tea as I live in the city - have even seen Howard Marks on numerous occasions and one time we actually got chatting to him at the bar and he kindly put mine and my parters cocktails on his tab! Its now our official local!

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 24th 2011.

Indeed brewery wharf is excellent place to live and go out

louiselsFebruary 5th 2009.

Wish I'd read this spot-on LC review before going to Azucar. Instead I'd read a glowing review in a local paper and was very disappointed with the place after my initial high expectations. The cocktails are definitely good but the food leaves a lot to be desired..burnt potatoes, tasteless prawns and rubbery greasy chorizo. Paella was okay. We went on a Tuesday night (think we got some dishes half price or free as part of a midweek offer?) but the place was empty so the atmosphere suffered and we noticed that some of the furniture/decor was already looking a bit tired. Would I go back? Definitely not for food, but I could maybe be tempted by a summer cocktail on a night when the atmosphere is better...

AnonymousFebruary 5th 2009.

This place is awesome. Continually scoring top marks in reputable guides this place is on fire. Amazing cocktails, great food, excellent value for money, killer playlists and most nights Howard Marks somewhere. Whats not to love. Get yourself down terrace opens soon also.

AnonymousSeptember 24th 2011.

I dined here on tuesday 20 Sept 2011 around 9ish. I went in with a work colleague (both of us are barristers) I had three dishes, of which were lovely, given we were both up there for work, I paid £20.00 leaving in the folded wallet given to with the bill. I went outside to find my work colleague talking to a female, I told him, I thought £20 for three tapas dishes was a bit much, but the food was good. I then went onto my hotel. In the morning I caught my WC coming in, he then informed me that the restaurant manager on looking for me as he maintined I had not paid my bill, and insisting that he, (he didn't and the police were called and WC was arrested). I could only assume someone had taken the money, nevertheless, the RM had my barrister colleague arrested and making him pay the bill again. TREAT WITH CAUTION.

I have contacted the restaurant and have requested for them to view the CCTV and revert back to me, I report according once they have so as requested


2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 24th 2011.

Oh damn, why did your work chappie get arrested as surley if I understand your post, it was just you who ate food there? Have all your work friends being arrested at some point just for knowing you ? Haha

AnonymousSeptember 25th 2011.

I have been there when it was so busy, I am sure the staff did not know what was happening, also we had to wait 1 hour before our food arrived.

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