Tel: +44 (0)20 7437 9895
Address: 25 Swallow Street, W1B 4QR
Cuisine Type: Latin American
nearest tube station Piccadilly Circus

Apparently, Food is at the heart of the Destino experience. Billing itself as “Nuevo Latino cuisine”, Destino serves nouvelle cuisine tapas. The food was truly excellent – unfortunately the service wasn’t.

When you come to Destino, I’d suggest that you don’t book on the day. I booked on the day, and was told on arriving that “bookings on the day are for the first available table”. In our case, the first available table took about 45 minutes, and we were shunted into the ground floor bar, which was actually rather nice. It was dimly lit (but not too dimly lit), busy (but anyone stranded in the middle of the room was quickly rescued by a waitress who found them somewhere to prop themselves) and buzzing (the atmosphere was one of convivial conversation, notwithstanding the surprisingly good house DJ).

Once we had eventually moved upstairs to the restaurant, we waited for about 20 minutes before a waiter took our wine order – disappointing, but it gave us a chance to argue over the exceptional (and not pricey) wine list. We had the Chilean Carmen Gewurztraminer, which was outstanding at £19.50 a bottle.

On a Saturday Destino entertains all sorts of people – very elegant middle-aged couples, groups of young professionals and, well, a whole load of hotties. The restaurant was rammed, and the waiters were way out of their depth. It’s not just that the restaurant was understaffed (it was) but that the staff were flustered and not particularly efficient.

The menu needs a little explanation. It claims to offer a “grazing experience”, and the majority of dishes are between £6 and £9. We found it difficult to guess how many such dishes we ought to be ordering, and started with two. When the first set arrived, we quickly revised our estimate (and our order) upwards – a mistake, as it turned out.

The food is spectacular. The first dishes to arrive will confirm that you are in for a treat. I kicked off with the ‘Fire and Ice’, an iced dish of tuna in lime and ginger sauce, which was served in a coconut and was as delicious as it was good-looking. My guests’ selection was similarly picturesque, comprising various ceviches and brightly-coloured soups.

The second wave started to suggest that our extra orders may have been premature – while the soups, ceviches and skewers all come in starter size, the flatbreads, rellenos (“stuffed materials”) and the unequivocally-named “proteinas” are heavy-duty indeed. This is not to suggest that they weren’t also excellent… it’s just that two dishes (one from the first half of the menu, one from the second half) are likely to suffice. From a selection of great food, I’d single out the Crispy Cuban Pork as deserving of particular praise.

Three dishes left us too stuffed for desert, which sounded a bit rich in any case. Churros and Chocolate Ice Cream must surely be for braver souls than mine.

If you have the time, I’d suggest getting into the restaurant early, and ordering one dish at a time. The waiters will, no doubt, hate you for clogging up a table but I think this is the sort of place where you will be grateful for a bit of space to enjoy the strong flavours and outstanding presentation of your food.

Come for the food, mid-week (Saturday was a bit much). Come for the (very) trendy crowd on a weekend. With three remarkable dishes each, and a lot of wine, we still came in under £45 per head – it felt like the meal ought to have cost more.