The epitome of pre-Millenial cool when it opened back in 1999, Asia De Cuba was once known for hosting chauffeur-driven car loads of celebs to feast on the the innovative Cuban-Chinese fusion food before misbehaving at the hotel’s Light Bar. As we moved further into the 2000s and other hotel restaurants began to up their game, Asia De Cuba found itself a little neglected, serving up overpriced breakfasts to tame tourists rather than Bloody Mary brunches to big-pupilled film stars.
Nearly two decades on, and the restaurant has undergone a mild refurbishment to try and win back some of the gushing media attention they received in the days before iPhones. They’re revamped the space, brought in Cuban chef Luis Pous to jazz up the menu, and the once debauched post-dinner cocktail spot of Light Room has become The Blind Spot. This is Asia De Cuba: The 2015 Edition, but can it compete with London’s best hotel restaurants?
Although we arrived mildly fuzzy from a champagne breakfast launch at The Langham, the Philip Stark designed interiors of St Martin’s Lane hotel were enough to kick us into clarity. As in the 90s heyday, the restaurant is reached through the slick, modern lobby, featuring lemon-yellow armchairs, golden stools and gigantic vases, all illuminated by clever spotlighting. While on paper this might sound like a dystopian nightmare, the overall impression is of contemporary luxury with a kooky twist.
The restaurant itself has undergone some minor changes, adding a gentleman’s club-esque colour scheme of teal and burgundy while keeping the old book-lined pillars and mismatched chairs. The effect is a little bemusing, but relaxing nonetheless. It feels like somewhere you could drink too much wine and spill secrets in a corner booth, which is always a great asset in a restaurant.
Asia de Cuba was originally inspired by Havana’s Chinatown, hence the name, and new chef Luis Pous has maintained this while putting his own spin on the menu. After training at the National School of Culinary Arts in Havana he went on to work for various diplomats and foreign dignitaries, before becoming Executive Chef of renowned the Little Palm Island Resort & Spa.
His new menu for Asia De Cuba brings traditional Cuban cuisine together with a modern approach and Asian cooking methods, and while fusion food isn’t as innovative as it was back in the day, this new offering is still as varied and bold as it was under Jeffrey Chodorow. Like pretty much every new restaurant in London it’s predominantly made up of small plates and sharing dishes, so for the sake of diversity we eschewed most of the mains in favour of gorging on a selection of seafood and ceviche.
And what a selection of seafood it was! Tender scallop ceviche with grapefruit and crispy bites of pork crackling; creamy, indulgent lobster boniato mash; crunchy calamari with hearts of palm and orange vinaigrette; fiery shimps with sesame and wonton…a veritable ocean of food with face-slapping chilli and ambitious flavour combinations. The shrimp churros were a little dry, with too much jalepeno masking any subtlety of taste, but the wok-fried chilli-rubbed scallops more than made up for any shortcomings.
The menu is very heavily focused on meat and fish, which perhaps might have been hard for a less carnivorous diner, as although the edamame and grilled corn salad with black rice and tofu was an excellent accompaniment to our spicy seafood feast, it would have seemed rather plain when served without.
The cocktail list is heavy with rum due to the Cuban influence, and offers a very summery selection with plenty of lime and fruity additions. The ‘Floradora On Holiday’, with aviation gin, hibiscus, lime and fresh ginger soda worked well as an aperitif.
The wine list was concise but well chosen, and we shared a bottle of 2012 Chilean Sauvignon Blanc on the recommendation of the waiter, which paired nicely with the selection of seafood.
Having only been open again for a few months, Asia De Cuba are still establishing their position but with such ingenious fusion cuisine and stellar seafood, it’s a must-visit spot for scallop and ceviche fans with money to spend. Whether they will reach the heights of Berners Tavern et al remains to be seen, but if chef Luis Pous continues to bring his skills to the menu, they’ll certainly give them a run for their money.
A meal for two at Asia De Cuba costs around £100, excluding drinks.
Where: 45 St Martin’s Ln, London WC2N 4HX