Peter Wolinski kindly reviewed Vivo Latino for Quench.
An annoying culinary trope is the use of the pan- prefix. The worst application is pan-fried, primarily used instead of deep- or shallow-fried to tart something up that otherwise sounds rather boring.
Masterchef are seasoned offenders: “Barry is serving pan-fried boeuf with twice cooked potato strips.” Translation: Barry is cooking steak and chips.
Close behind is pan-[insert continent], normally a synonym for having an oversized menu. Wagamama, for instance, is often described as being pan-Asian. It’s usually indicative of the place being somewhat mediocre. Far better to do one thing well than to do a lacklustre job at everything.
Consequently, when someone referred to this restaurant as pan-Latino, I groaned a little inside (but booked in anyway – I’d wanted to go for a while).
Vivo Latino’s exterior – a massive tricolour flag painted above a taverna-style wooden frontage – is a welcome splash of colour on Canton high street. I wonder, though, if anybody has told them that what is emblazoned on their façade is actually the flag of the French speaking, West African nation of Guinea.
Inside, an abundance of wood, exposed brickwork and a broad colour palette give an unerringly South American feel. Artisanal murals decorate the walls, as does a mounted bull’s head staring ominously down on bar dwellers. Impressive touches that make for a lively and vibrant atmosphere.
Upon entering, we received an enthusiastic welcome, were shown to our seats and given an explanation of the à la carte. Exemplary service continued all night, even through a kitchen disaster and subsequent trio of extremely stressed waiters.
The menu is simply overkill – two whole sides of A3 featuring Brazilian, Mexican, Cuban and others. Surely no chef could be proficient in this many cuisines? We decided to stick to Mexican.
To kick things off we shared a pan of nachos. Cheese, soured cream, a spicy salsa; it’s hard to go wrong with nachos really. Our only gripe was the guacamole, which bore an uncanny, dull-green resemblance to the ‘guacamole-style’ squeezy sauce found on a supermarket aisle.
Next up for me was a chicken quesadilla, the highlight of my meal, albeit not perfect. Chunks of chicken breast within were first rate: moist and basically falling apart. There were slices of pepper for sweetness and a coronary helping of cheese. All positive. It just didn’t taste very Mexican.
Meanwhile, my partner had been tackling a duo of veggie tempura tacos, one of which was left for me to try when my own pair, baja fish and barbacoa beef, arrived.
The baja and tempura were clearly straight out of the fryer. Hot, crispy and well drained of their cooking oil, they joined a piquant salsa sat atop in being thoroughly enjoyable.
There were things I was not so keen on, however. Firstly, large chunks of vegetables (whole cherry tomatoes, even) have no place within my ideal taco. There was also a lack of soured cream and yet another shortage of Mexicanness.
These are entirely forgivable offences: the beauty of tacos is that anything can go in them, and my preference for smoke and soured cream comes on account of me being a bit of an Old El Paso philistine.
A less forgivable offence is that, despite the warm fillings mentioned above, cold shells and salad resulted in an overall tepid temperature. With the barbacoa, the entire taco was cold. Had they come out while the shells were still hot, they would’ve passed.
Rounding off, we shared three chocolate filled churros with a pot of dulce de leche. I can’t say these weren’t tasty, but I’d be surprised if they were made on site. The dulce de leche was thinner than the plot of a shark themed horror movie.
Our bill came to about £55, which included a cocktail, a beer and a chimichanga eaten by my partner but untried by myself.
As overall experiences go, Vivo Latino was a positive one. From the Guinean flag through to the smokeless tacos, they swung and missed at being properly South American – perhaps the curse of pan-continental cuisine has struck again. But that said, service and surroundings were excellent and the food was mostly okay. It’s just a shame the tacos weren’t warm.
P.S. I actually like Wagamama.