Heading into Camden to visit the Forge Cantina, my expectations were low, can a music venue and cantina offering an unfamiliar Latin American menu really deliver the goods?
I am clearly no architectural reviewer; as I entered the building, I thought this is quite austere and colourless for a celebration of Latin American music and food. Of course little did I know the building has won awards from RIBA and the civic trust for its elegant and sustainable designs. It uses a natural ventilation system and its own solar panels. The centrepiece 6.5 metre high wall of plants is undeniably impressive. It also hosts classical and jazz concerts as well so maybe the copacabana beach look might not be ideal for everyone. The actual cantina part upstairs is more vibrant with tropical prints and summery multi-coloured chairs.
Their head chef must be very well traveled or have one of the most extensive collection of Latin American cookbooks in London. How else can you explain a menu that contains Venezuelan arepas, Brazilian feijoada, Argentinian chimichurri steak sandwich and the cubano?
There were so many dishes I was salivating over, but my reviewer stomach told me not to overindulge. After watching the film, Chef last summer, I was heavily inclined to try the Cubano sandwich, but instead I opted for the pescado a lo macho. Seafood dishes are great for separating the angelic from the average restaurant. This dish was simply divine. Fish dishes are often overcooked in creamy sauces in the UK and taste rather bland. There was a fresh tanginess to the Peruvian tomato, onion and garlic sauce. The hake fillet just slides effortlessly from fork to mouth. Even the very best seafood restaurants in London might struggle to match this creation
As much as I wanted to order the very inviting cassava fries, my stomach refused to obey. The portions are generous here from the arepas starters to their main courses, which are appropriately named “big plates”.
They have a very extensive cocktail list, which is the ideal accompaniment to the Latin American food and music. You could go for an old fashioned if that is your style, but this really was a caipirinha or mojito kind of night. Alternatively, I would try their mouthwatering house special, the basilberry kick.
Dining is of course just half the story here, their world music nights give you a great cultural glimpse of the exciting developments around the globe. On the night of my review, it was Lapa in London: Clube Do Choro UK. Lapa is the cultural neighbourhood at the centre of Rio, where there is a great gathering of all types of music, arts, dance and culinary experiences. It’s a participatory evening, where people from the local community can perform alongside established artists. Interestingly I was asked to join in and perform on the night. Sadly for me, all the mojitos in the world couldn’t help make me play a musical instrument in tune.
If you promise yourself to try one thing outside of your comfort zone this summer, make sure you pay a visit to the Forge. It won’t just be about broadening your horizons, but a chance to sample some top quality Latin American food and take in some incredible world music.