Having spent three months in Jamaica a few years ago, I’ve eaten my fair share of Caribbean cuisine. From meaty dishes like jerk chicken/pork, brown stew chicken, goat curry and salt cod to meat-free options like callaloo, ackee and festival dumplings, there weren’t many Jamaican dishes I didn’t get round to tasting. Next week, I’ll be returning to the Caribbean for Grenada Chocolate Festival and I can’t wait to eat my body weight in chocolate and tasty Grenadian cuisine. In the meantime, however, I was lucky enough to get my Caribbean food fix when I was kindly invited along to The Cuban restaurant, Bristol recently by Socialight.
When I heard that the restaurant owners had made a point of visiting Havana so they could capture the essence of Cuban cuisine and bring some of the best dishes back to their restaurant in Bristol, I couldn’t wait to visit The Cuban for myself.
Arriving at The Cuban on a Sunday lunchtime, the restaurant was a little on the quiet side, although the ’30’ glitter confetti dotted around our table and on the floor suggested that it attracts a busy evening trade.
Pink flamingos, plush vintage armchairs and a colourful wall mural reading, ‘Cuba’. If you didn’t know any better, you might think you were dining in a restaurant in Havana. Maybe.
The à la carte menu offers several classic Cuban choices like cassava chips, seafood cassoulet and pork, with plenty of Spanish and Latin American influence in dishes like black paella, boquerones and ensaladilla rusa (potato salad). While I was expecting more of a focus on traditional Cuban cuisine – there wasn’t a Cubano sandwich in sight, not to mention picadillo (a Cuban staple of ground beef and tomato stew) or ropa vieja (Cuban shredded beef) – the benefit of this is that if you happen to be dining with any fussy eaters, there’s bound to be something they’ll like.
Those with a lighter appetite can share an extensive selection of hot, cold and fried tapas dishes, sipping on a rum cocktail or two.
On the subject of which, I opted for The Cuban restaurant’s signature cocktail, Last Day in Cuba (£7.95) – a punchy combination of brandy Cointreau, strawberry syrup, sugar syrup and lemon juice. Served in a champagne glass dusted with icing sugar, this was beautifully presented, although I was constantly licking my fingers to stop them from getting sticky!
A starter of aubergine roulade (£4.95) left us feeling a little disappointed; thinly sliced grilled aubergine marinated in garlic and basil, and wrapped around a slice of tomato, was far from what I was expecting from a roulade.
Luckily, our disappoint was short-lived as a serving of hot, crispy queso frito (£6.95) soon put the smile back on our faces. Made using twelve-month cured Manchego cheese and infused with honey, this had a moreishly crispy coating and a soft, creamy centre. Cuban comfort food at its finest!
One of the options in the grilled section of the menu, polla a la parilla (£14.95) was a typical Cuban chicken kebab. 24-hour marinated chicken thighs were cut into chunks and skewered with seasonal veg, before being grilled over charcoal to produce a scrumptious smoky flavour. Hot, golden fries and celeriac remoulade were the perfect match.
When it arrived at the table, my guest’s main course of belly pork (£14.95) was covered in an awe-inspiring ceramic cloche (dome) and, once lifted by the waitress, it billowed with smoke. Smoked in-house using beech wood and slow-cooked sous-vide for 36 hours to allow the natural fats to melt slowly and baste the meat underneath, the succulent pork belly was served on a bed of fried cassava and teamed with silver skin onions, soya beans and salty Spanish chorizo. The dish was finished with a sweet ginger glaze, helping to offset the smoky flavour of the pork and cassava.
Although I expected the menu to include more typical Cuban dishes, we had an enjoyable experience at The Cuban and we wouldn’t hesitate to return in future, perhaps during the evening when the atmosphere is a little livelier – next time, I’ll be ordering the belly pork!
For more information about The Cuban restaurant and to place a booking, please visit the restaurant website.