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Destino - South America in Swallow Street W1

 Clifford Mould sampled the new menu

Destino, recently opened in Swallow Street, just off Piccadilly Circus, is the latest restaurant to occupy this historic site. In the nineteen twenties it was the location for the very first Spanish restaurant in London  when the building was decorated with Iberian tiles as a gift from the King of Spain. Very remarkable they are too, and they contribute magnificently to the Latino atmosphere of the place. The previous incarnation was called Down Mexico Way, which we reviewed most favourably when it opened as recently as 1999.

The new version occupies three floors. Downstairs is a bar and deli which will I imagine come into its own at lunchtime, or as a drop-in on the way home. On the third floor is a club with two bars and DJs who are guaranteed to get everyone dancing to tech-house-salsa - you know the sort of thing: lightly seared slivers of techno, flambéed in house, served  on a bed of saucy salsa. Which brings me to the restaurant sandwiched in the middle. It's a very attractive room, with a darkly romantic atmosphere.

The menu attempts to be authentically Central and Latino American, with all the usual tortillas, quesadillas and fajitas. Chefs Franz Conde and Mark Reeds have researched baroque recipes to come up with some lesser known delicacies. As soon as you are seated, out comes a platter of tortillas and a plank with little dips and salsas - it's a generous gesture of hospitality which I liked. 

We began with a shellfish ceviche which cleverly combined seafood soused in citrus juices with the fresh tang of green apple and mango. Guacamole is bashed by one of the chefs out in the dining room and comes to the table in its pestle and mortar. I had a very good tiger prawn quesadilla with melted mozzarella wrapped inside. I suppose they must have lots of buffaloes in Mexico. 

We tried a couple of the baroque recipes, including the Mixiote of lamb (I was glad it wasn't rabbit!). This was said to be "stewed in a banana leaf parcel with Mexican beer". It looked more like a filo parcel, but it turned out to be baking parchment, so don't try to eat it! The Pork Pibil, on the other hand, was served in a banana leaf, but its texture was not that of "slow roasted pork", more that of lengthy boiling, so that all its juicy succulence had vaporized.  Since it was a Sunday night, I wondered if a harassed sous-chef had muddled the recipes!

My advice is to stick to the tacos and fajitas, then  bop upstairs and chimichanga to the salsa or enchilada out at the bar to make room for some desserts. I tried the chocolate and chilli mousse, nice flavours but with the texture of a crème caramel rather than that of a mousse. There's also churros and chocolate ice, or tequila cheesecake on a base of crushed pecans and coconut.

Clifford Mould November 2003

The Cost of your meal:
Starters:       £4.50 - £7.50
Mains:         £9.00 - £12.50
Puds:           £4.50 - £6.00

DESTINO 25 Swallow Street W1 (Off Piccadilly Circus)
Tel: 020 7437 9895

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