It’s the hottest new place in town. Or rather, the hottest old bar in a new part of town.
Eternally popular late-night salsa bar and tapas restaurant Cubana has upped sticks from its 14-year base on Trippet Lane to what was Platillos in Orchard Square, a huge, two-floor venue.
But did it take with it that sultry, crazy, deliberately down-at-heel Latin-American vibe? Si, holler the regulars, now packing the ground floor every weekend night to drink and dance to the band.
Up on the first floor restaurant on a Tuesday night, I’m not so sure. Much has been done to create more intimacy; an open-plan staircase has been closed in and the soaring ceiling blackened to make it seem lower. A Cuban villa scene built along one wall reminds me a bit of the old Mama Amalfi’s upstairs at Meadowhall Oasis. Not in a bad way.
It seats 120 and of a weekend all those tables are in big demand (dine until 10.30pm, then drink til 2am to the sounds of the sax player). But on our visit we felt distant from other diners. Maybe grouping folk together on a quieter night would help.
The atmosphere picked up considerably, though, when our waitress revealed the most wonderful Spanish accent. And a guy name of Lee Myers began to play Spanish guitar so beautifully, I wanted to take him home. (He’s one of the posse of musicians performing at Cubana every night of the week).
The menu combines classic Spanish-style tapas dishes with South American flare and flavour. There are several new additions, inspired by dishes sampled in London’s best Latino bars. Fabian Cruz, head chef since Cubana began, is in the kitchens.
There is page after page of tapas dishes, priced £3.95 to £7.25. Where to start? All sound delicious. The easiest, and we had reckoned up, the cheapest option was a set tapas menu at £19.50 or £23.50,
We went for the 11-dish deluxe version and the Latin orgy began simply, with toasted warm ciabatta and a black olive tapenade and then a wedge of potato tortilla that would have been so much nicer served hot. Just a fork in, though, and a man who looked just like Wagner off the X Factor was covering our table with plentifully laden plates of garlicky, tomatoey, smoky little feasts. Tortilla forgotten, we stuffed ourselves silly. Favourites? New dishes mozzarella cheese balls baked in parma ham, and champinones con queso de cabra, mushrooms and spinach in white wine sauce, baked with a thick slice of tangy goat’s cheese, old favourites hunky albondigas meatballs in rich, paprika-infused tomato sauce, the roasted vegetables, the prawns in garlic and chili oil and, of course, the chorizo. The only dish not up to scratch was some rice accidentally cooked to a crisp.
With a £4.10 Portuguese Sagres beer and two £3.95 glasses of Montepulciano, we paid £59.