The Cuban in Bristol was my daughter’s choice of venue for dinner as I visited her and met her boyfriend for the first time. Maybe she just fancied something a tad different but maybe laid back and relaxing was just the ticket for this occasion, in preference to stiff and formal – and the Cuban is anything but stiff and formal.
On the home page of its website, the full intent of the Cuban credentials are laid out:
Welcome to The Cuban Bristol!
Never been to Cuba? Then don’t despair! Visit us for a true Cuban experience! We’ve visited the beautiful city of Havana and brought home the true spirit of Cuba. We stock over 150 rums and produce the tastiest Mojitos using only the finest & freshest ingredients. After sampling some of the most delicious foods available on the island, we hope we’ve done Cuba justice, by borrowing some of their delicious recipes to produce our extensive list of tapas and traditional Cuban dishes.
The Cuban atmosphere is certainly on the walls, heard in the music, engrained in the staff and drunk in the rums. Never having been to Cuba myself to date, this appears as close as you could reasonably expect on Bristol harbour side (which includes a very large mirrored sphere of unknown function) to an authentic Cuba look and feel, the best part of which was the live music from a duo who certainly bore a passable Cuban appearance on a small stage right by our table.
The service is worthy of note – it was at all times slightly eccentric but very friendly and fun. We were amused too by the waitress who tried to offer us the dessert menus before we had received our main courses, but to give the staff credit they did go out of their way to make us feel welcome.
Meanwhile the menu, handed to us by a waitress with a dazzling smile, is a double-sided laminated affair. A vast array of rums and cocktails occupy one side and food the other. Sadly I was driving back to Cheltenham so my intake of tasty West Indian beverages was limited, but a vanilla mojito went down very well, and reminded me of drinking a freshly-made mojito on the steps of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas while waiting for the Bellagio fountains – blissful!
Daughter was in the mood for passion fruit, so sampled and was very impressed by their Cubanita, a concoction made from said fruit, rum, melon and more, but nothing remotely like this Cubanita recipe. Boyfriend stuck to tapwater, which may have been unwise given the quality and variety of the drinks on offer, but maybe he had other things on his mind.
The “Kitchen” section of the website declares:
Cuban cooking is one of the most diverse cuisines found in the world, influences include Spanish, African, Chinese & Portuguese cultures. There are two very distinctive styles of cooking: “the classic” method whose techniques & ingredients have been in use for centuries across the island, or “the new”, more commonly known as ‘Nuevo Cubano’, which uses a variety of fresh herbs & spices from other worldly cuisines.
I’d have said the grub bears much evidence of these influences, plus some Mexican, American and Italian thrown in for good measure. We chose a selection from the tapas section as shared starters, one of which (the Italian) was very good (arancini – risotto balls with a nugget of cheese fried in breadcrumbs), one (Spanish) was quite reasonable without being outstanding (albondigas – meatballs in tomato sauce), and one (Jamaican) which disappointed slightly (fried green plantain and sweet potato – exotic vegetable crisps would have been a better description.)
For mains the younger members of the group both went for (American) “slow-roasted pulled pork” – a dish that always tempts Lindsey every time it appears on a menu. Pulled pork has become fashionable in recent years, to the extent that supermarkets are now buying it wholesale and doing strange things with it – such as the pulled pork burgers I recently encountered at one such. This version was as just as strange as the burger, and as odd as the chicken curry lasagne I saw on a hospital canteen menu lately: “pulled pork layered with potatoes and béchamel sauce, oven baked with cheddar cheese. Served oven hot with house salad and dressing.” Is that recipe a Cuban speciality? Sounds dubious – more like a porky moussaka without the aubergine! It also proved heavy on the béchamel and light on the pork. Is it just me, but if (a big if) you are making fresh pulled pork, then surely you serve it simply with some home-made BBQ sauce, fries and salad, say.
Meanwhile, I chose what on the face of it was a variant on a French rustic dish – seafood cassoulet. At least, that’s what the menu said. A cassoulet, you will recall, typically consists of a base of haricot beans layered with a robust French sausage, bacon, confit duck and vegetables, stewed til tender and often served with a topping of crisp and succulent breadcrumbs. The dish I ordered was nothing remotely like a cassoulet; it masqueraded in the form of a reasonably tasty whitefish and shellfish (crevettes, mussels, prawns) stew with a decent broth, served with a few slices of grilled bread to soak up the soupy juices. Not bad and reasonable value at £12.95 though not quite what was expected.
On other tables people had burgers and paella with apparent success. A beef and chorizo burger sounded moderately interesting and slightly different, though on closer inspection some of the more authentic Cuban titles proved to be fairly standard restaurant fare – not necessarily a bad thing but perhaps not quite as zingily Cuban-specific as they might have been. Judicious use of the herbs and spices advertised on the website might have made a difference.
The consensus between the three of us was this: the Cuban scores a little higher for atmosphere, service, drinks and entertainments than it does for the food, but it’s definitely worth visiting as an entertaining night out. Do take your hearing aids because the buzz of ambient sound is on the high side, and I couldn’t find a volume switch anywhere. Whatever, it was still a really fun night and compared to many restaurants that is a big plus.
And in case you’re wondering, daughter’s boyfriend is a delightful chap, and I wish them both every happiness! Now where are those Cohiba cigars…