"Isn’t Asia de Cuba a little passé?" asked Tom, my veritable man about Soho. While Tom and I have different tastes in terms of style and fashion (it’s questionable whether we have any sense of either), I saw where he was coming from.
I mean, there is no doubt that in its day Asia de Cuba and the Light Bar in St Martin’s Lane Hotel were THE places to be seen. But that was back in the early noughties. I recall queues out the door as Armani-suited doormen waved supermodels through the velvet-roped entrance whilst lesser mortals like me waited for our chance.
But that was then and this is now. On a warm Friday evening there were no queues at the door, and more than a few spare tables in the restaurant.
The surprisingly hostile front of desk woman – "I’m sorry, you’re late so we’ve cancelled your reservation" – fortunately proved an exception to the friendly and charming waiter and maitre d' who escorted us to our table. The interior of the restaurant still feels modern if a little bit clichéd – the black and white pictures of Cuba’s great and good, and the book shelves that adorn the pillars feel a bit forced. However its light, spacious and modern interiors give it a restaurant, rather than hotel feel.
The food – as you might expect – is that mix of Asia and Latin American that the likes of Sushinho and Sushi Samba have reintroduced to the market. How would the old pro against the new contenders? Their menu options tick all of the boxes. Eight ceviche options, twelve starters and nearly the same number of mains. Smoked salmon on crispy spring onion pancake reposado with tequila, lime and green peppercorns; and scallop tataki and dragon fruit aged soy were our pick of the ceviches. They were as tasty as they sounded, albeit the presentation was a little careless. It looked as if the salmon had just been dropped on the plate. The ‘ropa vieja’ of duck confit, and jumbo scallops with plantain, looked as good as they tasted. The pan seared ahi tuna served rare with wasabi mashed potatoes and crunchy peas and served with cilantro chimichurri sauce was the pick of the mains.
With the mains ranging from £25 - £49, you might feel entitled to get perfection on a plate. And I’m not sure that we got there. The dishes went from good to very good. But that’s all.
Asia de Cuba still has the charm, service (front of house excepted!) and allure of a great restaurant. But the execution did not quite live up to our expectations. Unlike dear Tom, I would not call it passé. But with a host of new contenders on the block, it'll have to fight if it wants to reclaim its number one spot.