Peter Morrell goes on a unique voyage of culinary discovery.
From the moment that you arrive at Asia de Cuba you know that this is going to be something special. The restaurant, which is located in the elegant St Martin’s Lane Hotel, exudes a sense of occasion, something that very few places seem to achieve these days.
The greeters are charming and the multi-level dining space, designed by Philippe Starck, is minimalist but punctuated with collections of stylish photographs and book shelves on large round pillars giving the room a warm and comfortable feel. The fellow diners, a surprisingly important ingredient of an enjoyable night out, are smart and sophisticated.
Our first taste of the East meets West signature style of cuisine is the bowl of large prawn crackers and deep fried plantain which we nibbled while taking a look at the menu.
As well as the traditional starters, mains and desserts there is a new ceviche and tiradito section. For those of you that have not come across ceviche it is a raw fish salad which has been cured in citrus juice. Tiradito is similar but the fish is more thinly sliced with a citrus dressing so closer to sushi and on the menu are choices like hamachi (yellowtail) and scallops.
There were four ceviches featuring salmon, kingfish, grouper and prawns with snapper. Choosing which one to have was made much easier with the guidance of the charming waiter who helped us through the menu for the entire evening.
The best and most economic option is to select any three of the four on offer. These dishes had some very pleasant surprises in store, first up was the Scottish salmon dressed with lime, coconut milk and birds eye pepper. Surprise number one was the scoop of salted avocado ice cream on the top, a beguiling taste. Second dish was the grouper with Seville orange, yuzu and holy Thai basil which had on it a mouth tingling aji Amarillo. Yellow chilli. The final ceviche was prawn and snapper with garlic, Viertnamese red chilli and shaved coconut. Nestling in the bottom of the bowl was what looked like tuna sushi but was in fact a slice of watermelon which had been cut under pressure and the juice forced back into it which produced the most intense flavour.
I could have eaten these three again, they were fresh, fragrant and were an intriguing combination of tastes and textures that you look for in a truly enjoyable meal.
Ceviche as a appetiser is more than adequate but if cured fish is not to your taste then there is an inventive list of starters. Again the East / West fusion was evident, a couple of eye-catchers were the crispy octopus with caramelized garlic and sake pickled lychee and the honey-rum glazed pork belly plantain maduros (fried) with Shanghai bok choy and enoki mushrooms.
The mains are equally as enticing with Wagyu char siu beef short ribs and miso cured black cod both looking attractive. But with the waiter as our guide we chose one main to share, the Mai Tai giant prawns in a red Thai curry, rum and coconut cream sauce with crispy bok choy and boniato chips and a side of lobster boniato mash, boniato by the way is sweet potato.
There is a well considered drinks list, the cocktails had Latin favourites like mojito and caipirinha and there were some interesting signatures, the Havana cigar manhattan being one. The wine list is a mix of old and new world with a good show of South American varietals including the rarely seen aromatic Argentine Torrontes. Prices start from a reasonable £22.50.
There are a number of wines by the glass, my wife chose the Chilean central valley sauvignon blanc 2010 which had some powerful tropical fruit and citrus flavours, I went for the 2007 Rioja crianza Rivallana with strong red fruit and spicy notes.
The portions of the first two courses were large so a pudding was almost beyond us. Although the Cuban coffee brownie and Mexican doughnuts looked enticing we eventually shared the Asian pear bread pudding. This was enhanced with some delicious cheesecake ice cream and was a fitting climax to an unforgettable culinary adventure.
The clue may be in the name of the restaurant but it still leaves you unprepared for the sheer inventiveness of the food, so it’s congratulations to executive chef Paul Whittick and his team who have cleverly married the best of Asian and Latin cuisines. The staff are charming, the atmosphere is sophisticated and relaxed and the food offers up some unexpected and very pleasant surprises.
Treat a work colleague to a meal at Asia de Cuba to say a big thank you or spoil your partner, whatever the reason for going they will love you for it.
Expect to pay around £65-£70 per head including wine and service.
Asia de Cuba
45 St. Martin’s Lane
Reservations 020 7300 5588
For the Asia de Cuba web page click here…
Review date 1st May 2012