Cubana
48 Lower Marsh
Waterloo
Lambeth SE1 7RG
17/05/2011
I cried that summer. Really hard. As hard as I could. So hard in fact, I had temperature when I got off the plane. It was June 1995; one of my last family holidays. I cried for the sun, for the first feeling of independence, for the dolphins I saw with my dad, for pinacolada. Probably for a summer fling. I promised the entire world Cuba was where I wanted to spend the rest of my life in, no matter what. Almost ten years later, I sighed. On the same plane. I sighed for my mojito and “cuba libre with wodka instead of rum because it tastes better” said a local. I cried for the beautiful grilled lobster at $8, for the fried plantain and riso y moros, for the cigar that almost chocked me and for salsa danced in the street. Possibly, I sighed because I got older and lost the desire of living there. I lost the dream. And here we are now: forced to return there, albeit metaphorically, for a food review. Surprisingly, I found myself thinking “I don’t want to go”. I simply couldn’t face mock-uban cuisine. The idea of butter coated-deep fried-over-ripe bananas, Heinz beans and boiled rice, nachos and guacamole (yeah like they are Cuban…ha-ha), I just couldn’t bear it. But then I saw the colours, the lights, the glasses full of lime and fresh mint and I knew everything was going to be fine. Choosing was easy; Edo had Croquetas de Boniatos Y Chorizo con salsa – chorizo and sweet potatoes croquettes with tomato salsa followed by Ropa Vieja – shredded beef with fried plantain and rice. Andrew (by the way, thanks again for the support!) had Pincho de Pollo, Chorizo y Guayaba – chicken and chorizo skewer with chilli, guava and peppers followed by Camarones Criollos – king prawns with orange zest and fresh cilantro rice. I had Pincho de Gambas y Mango – grilled prawns and mango skewer, marinated in guava, ginger, honey and lime followed by Garbanzo Criollo – chickpeas stew with sweet potato, chillies, peppers, tomato, potato, cilantro and garlic served with arepa (corn bread). For the table: plantain crisps with lime, riso y moros and platanos fritos. Beer, wine and water. Coffee.

Yes, the arepa I like it better grilled than fried; yes, riso y moro is usually soupier, yes, no grilled lobster at $8, but the rest of the food was rather good and authentic. Nice, tasty, juicy and also light at the same time. Edo, who is a big fan of platanos fritos, said they were the best in town and he was glad to have found a place that could satisfy his cravings! The atmosphere was nice, the staff very attentive and switched on, the blender in the background was mixing cocktails non stop – a bit nosy but more than acceptable. I would have liked to stay longer for a sip of rum or a spin at the rhythm of salsa, but now I’m sure I’m happy on the island I’m on right now and there’s no need to fly to that one anymore.

I think the total was £85 for 3, but we drank a little more than usual and had plenty of food.

  • Food: 3.5
  • Ambience: 3.5
  • Service: 3.5
  • Value: 3.5
  • Overall: 3.5
Monica
What a pleasant night. Our friend Andrew joined, now for the fourth time (we’ll offer him to be a guest writer at some point). The restaurant is yards away from Waterloo Station, very close for us. It is at a corner, with a bit of outside space that gets very lively in the warmer months. The crowd are young, the music is Latin, the inside is very crowded and a bit messy but pretty. The yellow and green walls are decorated with the usual stuff you’d expect: Cuban flags, portraits of Che Guevara, etc. it is all very young, colourful and lively. This is a fun place to go for drinks and an easy meal with friends.

The bar apparently makes terrific mojitos and I am not surprised, having seen them being made. We did not try mojito as I was more in a beer mood. Our waitress was very kind and informative, service was timely, personal and efficient.

The fried plantain chips starter with salsa was highly addictive, very lightly, crisp, tasty. Excellent.
Croquetas de boniato y chorizo, sweet potato and chorizo croquettes, were good and tasty albeit not exceptional. They were basically some OK croquettes with well chosen ingredients.

Ropa Vieja. This is a shredded beef dish with rice, and a proper Cuban specialty. It was delicious because the beef was good and it was cooked marvellously, very moist and tender. Again, I did not want it to end.

Fried plantain Cuban style. I love fried plantain in all its forms, however the way they make it in Cuba is by far my favourite. They do it soft and sweet, almost chewy and caramelised, and it is among my favourite foods in the world. I had not found it prepared this way since I had been to Cuba, so I was delighted to have it brought to our table exactly the way I had dreamed of it. I could go back just for that.

Monica and Andrew seemed to be equally satisfied by their various prawn skewers, chickpea stew, etc.

On the whole this is a cute, lively restaurant with a buzzing atmosphere, a young crowd, excellent drinks, and food that is much, much better than what they could get away with. Also, let’s face it, Cuban food is not exactly like Chinese or French in terms of richness, variety and complexity; however at Cubana they really make the best of it by offering a good choice of authentic specialties, delivered to very good standards.

We spent £75 for three people, including fairly significant amounts of booze, which I thought was excellent value for the meal we had. Will definitely go there again.

  • Food: 3.5
  • Ambience: 3.5
  • Service: 3
  • Value: 4
  • Overall: 3.5
Edo
CUBA