Asia de Cuba in Covent Garden: Complex and colourful Chino-Latino cuisine
Nestled within the luxurious five-star interiors of St Martins Lane Hotel, Asia de Cuba first opened its doors in the late 90s to a host of rock royalty, Hollywood superstars and ordinary folks looking for a slice of the sparkle. The hotel underwent a major renovation in 2015 and the restaurant’s revamp left some of the original features remaining, keeping a lot of the venue’s heritage and charm intact. The newly designed menu also pays homage to the place’s legacy but intentionally moves the dishes forward to cater to a more modern palate. With Cuban-born and trained concept-chef Luis Pous at the helm, the cuisine presents an exciting fusion of Cuban traditions with Asian dishes that echo the cultural complexities from the Barrio Chino quarter of Havana.
As we arrived through the hotel doors, the restaurant seemed a world away from the contemporary designs of the lobby. Whether you sit in the large rectangular dining room or opt for the adjoining mezzanine level, simple white tablecloths and candlelight nicely set off the deep red, cobalt blue and mustard yellow of the colourful Latino wall art. Bookcase pillars and carefully selected photographic portraits added to the quirky decor and the air was heady with jazzy, salsa beats that compliment the restaurants eclectic aesthetic.
Baptising our evening with intoxicating cocktails, we began with one of the restaurant’s signature recommendations, El Dictator. The description promising a sour blend of rum, Martini and apple swirled in crushed ice and muddled limes, we were surprised to find the aperitif rather on the sweet side, and ended up pushing it aside for some of the fruitier options.
The drinks menu also offers six carefully chosen cocktail and ceviche pairings, and to start our meal we decided to try one of the ceviche plates for ourselves. Our server recommended the spicy Cobia as a perfect introduction to the riot of flavours used consistently through the menu. The dish was awash with tasty shredded ribbons of Thai mango salad and drizzled with a fiery rocoto miso vinaigrette. Additional sprigs of fresh coriander and flecks of basil really complimented the taste of the delicate fish.
We also sampled Tunapica Tartare, opting for the vegetarian version with beetroot. Two large, colourful taco-style wontons reached the table, brimming with meaty Spanish olives and sweet sun-drenched currants enveloped in creamy avocado. The crunchy almonds and flakes of exotic crispy coconut were a lovely addition and we mutually agreed we could have happily ordered more.
Next, we tried the Black Bean and Plantain Empanadas, their piquant, hearty filling contained in four mini Cornish-style pasties which we easy quaffed in seconds. We were recommended to try the Ducknuts, which arrived as two savoury doughnuts. These were unfortunately doughy and over-hyped, and we preferred the generous Crispy Calamari, which was an instant hit. Crunchy, perfectly seasoned coils of calamari were wonderfully balanced with a lovely zesty salad bouncing with orange-glazed cashew nuts.
For mains, we chose a hearty lamb shank and replaced the Chilli-Rubbed Scallops with a tofu substitute. A mini cauldron-style pot contained the meaty dish, the lamb so tender it literally fell off the bone. Whole Shimeji mushrooms added a wonderful Asian twist and soft pieces of aubergine filled out the plate, keeping the carb-free course full and robust. The vegetarian dish with black rice, beans and roasted cauliflower oozed a wondrous, smoky chargrilled taste, whilst the tofu provided a much-needed blander balance.
Time for dessert, kicked off by a Guava-whipped Layered Cheesecake that arrived simply begging to go on Instagram. Shards of pretty dehydrated tropical fruit shone atop the cake, although we found the thick, slightly sickly consistency of the cream far too rich, welcoming instead the Mexican Doughnuts with two dunking options – chocolate and caramel – which we devoured happily with sugary lips.
With its colourful palette and lively buzz, sharing plates and ceviches well-designed for group bookings, and with so many high-end dining options around the area, Asia de Cuba provides an upscale experience without any of the usual stuffiness.
Photos: Cristiana Ferrauti
To book a table at Asia de Cuba, 45 St Martin’s Lane London WC2N 4HX, call 020 7300 5588 or visit their website here.