Restaurant check: Asia de Cuba

BACKGROUND

Chino-Latino restaurant Asia de Cuba is located on the ground floor of the 204-room St Martins Lane hotel in London’s Covent Garden.

In May, after 15 years as the first boutique property from Morgans Hotel Group, it was given an extensive facelift and a new cocktail lounge called Blind Spot.

The restaurant was also given a new look, and a revamped menu from Cuban-born executive chef Luis Pous. 

THE BAR

Although it was a lovely sunny evening and I should have been outside, I retreated to dimly lit, windowless speakeasy Blind Spot, hidden behind a secret door in the lobby, to see what it was like. (I decided it was a chic, moody space great for a nightcap.)

Although I had a reservation, staff were too busy with other customers to seat me, so I found a table near the back and waited to attract someone’s attention and ask for a cocktail menu. After a few minutes, someone bought me a glass of water, and after another seven minutes or so, came back to take my order.  

Mixologist and bartender Andrew Loudon, who managed Bethnal Green’s Satan’s Whiskers and Islington’s 69 Colebrooke Row, has devised a range of concoctions using unusual ingredients such as citrus sherbet, tea syrup, warm cider cordial, cashew milk, caraway seeds and peony flowers.

I ordered the Flame Nettle Fizz, which combined Cabeza tequila with Flame Nettle and peppermint tea syrup, Maraschino, fresh lime and soda (£12.50). It was zingy and refreshing – and went down far too quickly. For those who are peckish, tasty Asian bar snacks such as spring rolls are available.

THE RESTAURANT                    

Positioned just off the lobby, with friendly staff on-hand to welcome you, Asia de Cuba has quirky interior design, apparently inspired by Havana, which has “one of Latin America’s oldest and largest Chinatown neighborhoods”. It has an electic, homely look with a nod to the property’s original designer Philippe Starck’s fetish for chairs – square, marble-topped tables are surrounded by mismatched seating.

Chunky curved columns are covered in monochrome portraits or wrapped in bookshelves. There are wooden floors and lighting that is warm and golden, making the atmosphere convivial. It’s still, somehow, a hotel restaurant though. Service is swift, with chatty, lively staff that are keen to make sure you sample all the best things.

THE FOOD

According to the PRs, the new menu “represents chef Pous’ interpretation of what Asian-influenced Cuban food would be today if Cubans had been able to innovate and evolve their cuisine over the past 50 years”. My waiter was keen to emphasise that the result is not “Asian fusion” but “Chino-Latino. I am not sure what the difference is but the second certainly sounds snappier.

Staff encourage you to share plates, a trend that you can rarely avoid in London these days, but the benefit it that portions are reasonably generous and you get to try lots of different flavours. You might prefer to keep your eating exclusive, though.

If you fancy something light, there are six different types of ceviche (£10-£16) to choose from (red snapper, grouper, scallop, shrimp, cobia and calamari) with a blend of Asian and Latin ingredients (Thai chilli, plantain, ginger chimichurri, wasabi, miso vinaigrette). A party on your tongue, with all that umami, zest and spice.

You can then move on to small plates such as shrimp churros with sesame, jalapeno and coconut curry to dip them in (£10), or salads such as spicy beef crudo with almonds mandarin orange, Napa cabbage, radicchio and baby sorrel (£16).

The black bean and plantain empanadas with a sweet and sour sauce (£9) are great to nibble on – just be careful as they can be hot inside. Meanwhile, the crispy calamari salad with banana, chayote, cashews, hearts of palm and orange sesame dressing (£15) comes highly recommended.

Next up are wok-fried dishes – we ordered the Mojo duck confit with brown rice, Thai basil, chilli and poached egg (£16), although this was a little disappointing as was more rice than anything else. Alternatively, you can order larger grilled (plancha) plates – I loved the meaty chipotle glazed tofu with Asian greens, green papaya salad and calabaza chips (£21).

I wasn’t going to have dessert but after the waiter persuaded us to share the freshly made mini Mexican doughnuts with caramel and Thai chilli chocolate sauce (£8), I had no regrets forcing something sweet down. They were divine.

VERDICT

The presentation of colourful food in big white bowls and elegant platters was pleasing to the eye, and the combinations of flavours and textures a tantalising to the palate. The experience isn’t formal or pretentious, which I think is a good thing, but you can rack up quite a bill if you aren’t careful.

Some dishes are over-priced and not all live up to expectation, which is a shame. That said, I would be tempted to go back to relive some of the others. Choose well, and you will have a really good meal. It’s a good option for business people but be aware that the “sharing” concept might not work so well with people you don’t know.

  • OPENING HOURS Blind Spot: Open Mon-Thurs 4.30pm-3am, Fri-Sat from 4pm, Sun 4.30pm-12am. Restaurant: 7am-11.30am, 12pm-2.30pm, 5pm-12am Mon-Wed (until 12.30am Thurs-Sat, until 10.30pm Sun)
  • PRICES Ceviche £10-£16, small plates £9-£16, salads £12-£16, wok £16-£55, plancha £21-£33, desserts £8-£10
  • CONTACT Asia de Cuba, St Martins Lane hotel, 45 St Martins Lane; tel +44 (0)20 7300 5588; morganshotelgroup.com

Jenny Southan


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