Restaurant: Asia de Cuba
45 St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4HX
020 3544 0352
From the outside St Martin’s Lane Hotel, home of Asia de Cuba, doesn’t look like much. No visible signage, windows shaded – if it wasn’t for the doorman, it could be the entrance to an office block.
Inside, however, it’s a different story. Asia de Cuba, located at the rear of the vast hotel lobby, is quirky and interesting. Large columns decorated with photos, books and plants dominate the room, while a drinks cabinet and a series of very high tables create an informal bar.
On our visit the restaurant was busy, comprising a mix of business and social diners. Our waiter explained the menu: select one or two small dishes each, he advised us, and then share a main as they’re so big. Follow his advice and we might still have room for dessert at the end, he added.
It took a while to decide what to eat, in part because it was difficult to work out whether a dish sounded nice or whether the chef was trying too hard – Scottish salmon and salted avocado helado with coconut milk and bird’s eye pepper, for example. Fish with avocado ice cream and chilli? Really?
On the whole, it was an exciting menu. The ‘ceviche and raw’ bar offered various cold dishes, such as prawn with watermelon, or scallop tataxi. The starters sounded more familiar: crab croquetas; honey rum-glazed pork belly. For mains, there were a range of meat and fish dishes that, as the name of the restaurant suggests, fused Asian and Latin American food. Vegetarians hardly got a look in, with just one main and one starter on offer.
In the end we had spicy Japanese hamachi from the raw bar; oxtail dumplings from the starters; and for our main, Gambas Gigantas Mai Tai – giant prawns with red Thai curry – with lobster mash.
They did not disappoint. The hamachi offered a great contrast of textures: smooth raw fish, crunchy plantain, and a sweet and sour sauce that had just the right amount of kick. The dumplings were soft and tender; the prawns cooked to perfection. However, while the velvety curry sauce tasted delicious, it was incredibly rich and sat slightly uncomfortably on the stomach afterwards. The lobster mash, on the other hand, was fantastic.
For dessert, we had the coconut explosion. Sweet, gooey and moist, it was as much fun as it sounds.
Asia de Cuba is a little on the pricey side: our meal, which included champagne, cost just over £200 once the hefty 15 per cent service charge had been added. However, with great-tasting food, excellent service and a convivial atmosphere, this is
a great choice for a special occasion. ?