“Latin culture by definition is very inclusive, because it draws from so many places and other smaller cultures – it doesn’t matter where you are from, it’s all about sharing [that] passion,” says Jose Luis, a Londoner of 15 years who hails from Venezuela and is one of the brains behind Carnaval del Pueblo, a festival which was the second-largest of its kind – behind Notting Hill – before funding cuts and the shutdown of its venue last year.
The Carnaval is set to return though, bigger and better, starting with a warm-up day on Aug 11 at Coronet in Elephant & Castle, a taster for a 2014 fiesta in Burgess Park.
Afro-Colombian: Luis Lema and his band
DJ and events specialist Luis, who runs the Latin UK Awards and La Bomba for Ministry of Sound, is calling the del Pueblo preview with Local World Arts a “showcase of things to come”. Above all, it’s “a really fun day that’s all about the music and food and culture. If you’re not Latino in the blood, you can still be part of the culture,” he says. “Come and have a good time, a little dance and some fantastic food – we are always wanting to share what we have.”
Along with music and art, live acts featured at the LWA Festival include Combe, a soulful London-based Latino band, and Los Niños Vallenatos, an 11-piece Colombian folk accordion group revered around the globe.
Musician and performer Luis Lema is singing from the same hymn book as Luis. Lema, who’s lived in the UK for 20 years since coming here from Colombia, will perform as part of the Latidos Latin American Festival, another colourful celebration at Coronet on August 18.
Vibrant: London-based Latino group Combe
Latidos is focusing on different, specific aspects of Latino culture, and how they relate, with music, art, dance, workshops and a 10 DJ-strong afterparty until late.
From 1pm there will be music on the main stage from Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Mexico, the Andes, Cuba and Colombia, wrapping up with Luis Lema and his Colombian Band 1600.
“My folk music is exposing the Afro-Colombian music you don’t see very often here,” he tells us proudly. “It’s very tropical, it’s very, very fresh…” He pauses for a moment. “It’s like oranges.” Who could deny themselves that? “It’s upbeat, like Carnival, and puts people into a holiday time. Free flowing – perfect to dance and feel it.”
Folk: members of Los Ninos Vallenatos
You can also learn various Latin dance styles at the event to ensure you do Lema’s work justice.
If Lema sounds proud of his own music, he’s even more enthusiastic about sharing his and other cultures as a team with his fellow Londoners.
“It’s amazing to be able to bring all of these cultures together as one and bring in our new friends too,” he says.
Following the live programme is an after party featuring the gamut of Latino styles across three rooms. So what are you waiting for? Get a taste of some Latin flavour.
Ceviche – Soho
This brilliant little Soho spot serves Peruvian small plates (above) and pisco (Peruvian grape brandy) cocktails, with a special focus on Peru’s favourite national dish, ceviche (raw seafood marinated in citrus juices). Be warned, you’ll want to order everything, and with dishes averaging at about £8 you can rack up quite the bill (but it’s worth it). The menu has a grilled skewer section if you’re not a seafoodie.
£10+, Mon-Sat, 12pm-11.30pm;
Sun, 12pm-10.15pm 17 Frith Street, W1D 4RG
Tube | Tottenham Court Road
Sushisamba – Liverpool Street
This swank fusion eatery blends Brazilian, Peruvian and, er, Japanese flavours to create a unique cuisine that first found popularity in NYC and has since gone on to take Miami, Chicago, Vegas and London – in the City’s tallest building, Heron Tower, no less. Wrap your tastebuds around mongrel dishes including wagyu gyoza, yellowtail taquitos and sushi ceviche. Big yum.
110 Bishopsgate, EC2N 4AY
Station | Liverpool Street
Hamlet de los Andes – Barbican
Flex your brain cells at this production that takes Shakespeare’s Hamlet and transports the action to Bolivia, with a company of three actors and a musician playing 15 characters. This politically charged interpretation tackles the plight of the thousands of Bolivians who leave their rural homes for the city in hope of a better life.
£16, Oct 2-3, 7.45pm
Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS
Tube | Barbican
Floridita – Soho
This chic Cuban bar is based on the original El Floridita, the legendary drinking hole which opened more than 150 years ago in Havana. Currently offers a boozy gelato bar alongside Latino food, drink and live music.
£9.50+, Tue-Wed, 5.30pm-2am;
100 Wardour Street, W1F 0TN
Tube | Tottenham Court Road
Sabor – Angel
This colourful spot serves ‘nuevo Latino’ cuisine, representing the best of the countries’ dishes (empanadas, quesadillas, ceviche, melt-in-the-mouth steak, etc).
£6+, Tue-Sun, 6pm-11pm 108
Essex Road, N1 8LX
Tube | Angel
Camden: Made in Brasil
Camden’s Brazilian beach bar has live music most nights, from DJs playing funky party tunes to bands banging out Brazilian reggae and samba and bossa classics. Also serves traditional food and various fruity flavours of caipirinha.
£5.95+, Sun-Thur, 12pm-1am;
12 Inverness Street, NW1 7HJ
Tube | Camden Town
Buen Ayre – East London
We heard whispers of “better than Hawksmoor” from fellow diners the last time we visited this exceptional Argentine grill on Broadway Market (above). And it should be incredible – chef John Patrick Rattagan was born in Buenos Aires.
Treat yourself and try the truly monstrous parrillada mixta – probably a challenge for three, never mind two – which delivers a sizzling grill piled with various steaks, Argentine-style pork sausage, black pudding, provolone cheese and mushrooms with pesto – for an uncommonly reasonable £20.50 each.
£13.50+, Mon-Fri, 12pm-3pm & 6pm-10.30pm;
Sat-Sun, 12pm-3.30pm & 6pm-10.30pm
Broadway Market, E8 4QJ
Tube | Hoxton
Santa Maria Del Sur – Battersea
A neighbourhood Argentine grill, this eatery also serves up regular nights of Argentine live music – mostly tango-worthy guitar.
£14+, Mon-Sun, 12pm-3pm; 6pm-12am
129 Queenstown Rd, SW8 3RH
Tube / Station | Clapham Common / Queenstown Road
Salsa! – Charing Cross
Bring your best moves to Salsa! on Friday and Saturday nights, when live bands play Latin music for you to salsa, merengue and lambada to. Got no clue how to bring the snake hips? There are dance classes every night – including the Friday and Saturday – with some offered for free and others costing a fiver. Check the website for class times, as they cater to beginner, intermediate and advanced.
£5, Sun-Thur, 5pm-2am; Fri-Sat, 5pm-3am
96 Charing Cross Road,WC2H 0JG
Station | Tottenham Court Road
Guanabara – Covent Garden
There’s a party at this legendary Brazilian club/ restaurant/ bar (above) every night of the week, with DJs and live bands playing Latino tunes, plus live acts at the weekends showing off their capoeira (a Brazilian hybrid of martial arts and dance), samba and even circus skills. Some events are free, while others will charge £5-£10 after 9pm. There are also loads of happy hour deals.
£5+, Mon-Sat, 5pm-2.30am;
Sun, 5pm-12am Parker Street, WC2B 5PW
Tube | Covent Garden
Forgery – Camden
This regular Friday club night at The Forge & Foundry (free entry) sees DJ Patrick Forge play Latin and Afro tunes to fill the dancefloor, blending jazz, Brazilian and soul into the mix to create irresistible rhythms and seductive grooves. Don’t bother turning up if you’re not pumped to dance.
Free, Fridays, 10.30pm-1am
3-7 Delancey Street, NW1 7NL
Tube | Camden Town
Down Mexico Way – Bethnal Green
Mexican writers Juan Pablo Villalobos (Down The Rabbit Hole) and DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, above) host an evening at Rich Mix, reading excerpts from their new works, sharing the music that inspired them and maybe even shooting a tequila or two. Not likely to be a stuffy literary event, Moshi Moshi Records guest DJ on the night.
£4, Sep 6, 8pm 35-47
Bethnal Green Road, E1 6LA
Tube | Shoreditch High Street
Rodizio Rico – Fulham
Grilled meat is sliced straight from skewers onto your plate the traditional Brazilian way at this eatery, with beef, lamb, pork and chicken all on offer. Pay £25 and scoff as much as you want – flip over a card when you can simply stuff yourself no more.
£25, Mon-Thur, 5.30pm-11.30pm;
Fri-Sat, 12pm-4pm & 5.30pm-midnight;
Sun, 12pm-11pm 11 Jerdan Place, SW6 1BE
Tube | Fulham Broadway
Floripa – Shoreditch
Sunny Brazilian ‘beach shack’ bar with food, cahaça cocktails and dancing on tables.
£7, Tue-Thur, 5pm-1am;
Fri-Sat, 5pm-2am; Sun, 1pm-midnight
91-93 Great Eastern Street,EC2A 3HZ
Tube | Old Street
Lima – Fitzrovia
Another posh Peruvian joint, Lima is making a case for Peru as the gastronomic capital of the Americas. Ceviche, Amazonian fish, lamb shoulder with pisco and suckling pig all feature.
£16+, Mon-Sat, 12pm-2.30pm & 5.30pm-10.30pm
31 Rathbone Place, W1T 1JH
Tube | Tottenham Court Road
The Cuban – The City
Rum and mojitos are a speciality here, it’s happy hour 5pm-8pm every day and there are salsa classes most nights. There’s tapas too if you’re not looking to pig out.
£6.95+, Mon-Fri, 10am ‘til late City Point,
1 Ropemaker Street,EC2Y 9AW
Tube | Moorgate
Cuba Libre – Angel
A lively little spot among the throngs of bars and restaurants on Upper Street, Cuba Libre serves Latino tapas and more hefty Cuban cuisine, plus plenty of rum-drenched cocktails. The brightly painted walls and tiles, hanging lanterns and drifting Latin music really do transport you from the traffic-packed streets of Islington, plus there are happy hour deals all week.
£7+, Sun-Thur, 2pm-11pm;
72 Upper Street, N1 0NY
Tube | Angel
Barrio East – Shoreditch
A slice of sunny paradise on Shoreditch High Street, Latino-themed Barrio East (above) has a formidable cocktail list (split into new releases, remixes and greatest hits), plus a daily ‘Amigo Hour’, where classic cocktails are £4.50, bottled beers are £3 and there’s £5 off selected bottles of vino.
To keep the happy holiday vibes flowing, it’s on every day between 4pm and 8pm. Score. The decor is so bright and inviting it’s like being handed an instant vaycay.
£8.50+, Mon-Fri, 3pm-2am;
141-143 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6JE
Station | Shoreditch High Street
Photos: Buen Ayre Argentinian Grill; Facebook; Ronald Batalini; Valentino Saldivar; Sarah Lee; richmix.org.uk