Asia de Cuba is a hotel restaurant, located in a corner of the lobby in the St Martins Lane Hotel. As the name suggests, it aims to combine elements from Asian and Cuban cuisine.
The dining space is broadly divided into two levels, the lower onedisappointinglyin shadow even though the sun was high and bright in the sky outside during our lunch time visit. Up a few stairs, seats near the window afforded us a little more light, though heavily filtered by semi-opaque windows and large blinds.
Decor is simple – fat cylinders hung with tightly packed old portraits or lined with bookshelves or covered in padded leather; pale wooden floor and chairs; white linen, walls and ceilings.
The menu is divided into four sections, plus sides. The first lists Ceviches and Tiraditos, which our waitress recommended as ideal for a pre-starter nibble. From there, a more traditional list of starters, mains and desserts.
Smoked salmon on crispy spring onion pancake, reposado tequila, lime and green peppercorns, sprout salad with agave dressing (£14)
We decided to share a ceviches and tiraditos dish, but realised when it was served that it could only be described as a nibble if 4 or more people were sharing. Still, it was delicious, with soft oily salmon, a thin crunchy pancake and topped with a pleasant and well-dressed salad.
Pan seared jumbo sea scallops, sweet sour plantains, habanero corn crema (£16.50)
The two scallops were certainly large, though very steeply priced at £8.25 each. They were well cooked, soft inside and perfectly pleasant. Though the flavours of the dish didn’t make them sing, this was a decent dish.
Honey-rum glazed pork belly, plaintain maduras, Shanghai bok choy and enoki mushrooms (£21)
When the pork belly arrived, we were convinced we’d been sent a main dish by accident. Certainly it was more generous than similar dishes I’ve been served as mains elsewhere. But we were quickly assured that when the dish was sold as a main recently, it was two to three times bigger! The portion was wildly at odds with that of the scallops starter. Personally, I’d halve the portion and, more crucially, do the same to the price.
On the other hand, the dish itself was fabulous. The pork yielded to the lightest pressure of the fork and was beautifully flavoured – strong, sweet and savoury, fatty and delicious. There was plenty of sauce in the bowl, along with mushrooms and leaves. I’d have liked the bok choy in larger pieces, certainly I detected none of the usual wet crunch I associate with it. The plantain crisps added a contrasting texture, yet didn’t match that well with the pork; they felt superfluous.
Cuban coffee crusted rib eye, mandarin orange and gingered sherry butter, yuca mojo fries (£39)
Our waitress did warn us that this dish was quite generous, and perhaps best to share. But as we both fancied different mains, that wasn’t an option. Again, the menu seemed more suitable to groups of at least 4.
Plating when it arrived was sloppy and unappealing. Casual styling is one thing, but this looked as though it had been sliced and thrown onto the plate. And sat on the side for a while, as it wasn’t as hot as it should have been.
On the beef, our opinions were divided. I liked the taste and texture of the coffee crust, but my friend most definitely didn’t. The flavoured butter was nice, but should have been plated when the meat was hot, so it melted nicely over the beef.
The yuca (cassava) chips were undercooked inside, far too hard and chalky. Our waitress suggested this is how they were meant to be, but I’ve had and really loved cassava chips before. Yes, the texture is quite different to potatoes, but these weren’t right. The mojo (garlic) didn’t come through well either.
Free range Cuban BBQ chicken, Thai coconut sticky rice, avocado cilantro fruit salsa, tamarind sauce (£24.50)
A decent portion, but then it had to be, for £24.50. The chicken was moist and with good flavour. Unfortunately, the sticky rice was woefully overcooked; I love coconut sticky rice but when cooked properly, it should be sticky without turning into a stodgy solid lump.
Mexican doughnuts, sweet brioche donuts rolled in cinnamon sugar filled with butterscotch sauce £12)
Told that a handful of the desserts were available in half portions, we sensibly selected from that shortlist.
Odd to see both the American and British spelling of doughnut in one menu item.
These doughnuts tasted great, but the texture made us wonder if they’d been cooked earlier and reheated in a microwave. Perhaps not, but certainly they didn’t have the lightness of freshly fried doughnuts. Apparently, they are wildly popular with Asia de Cuba regulars, though.
Cuban opera, rich chocolate cake layered with milk chocolate butter cream, coffee mousse with coffee-brittle ice cream (£12)
Perhaps two chocolate lovers should have known better than to order a fancy chocolate patisserie, though neither of us are snobby about our chocolate.
Sadly, the cake was dry and far too sweet and one bite was enough for each of us. The ice cream was far better – a delicious, creamy and crunchy scoop with a pleasant balance between caramel and coffee flavours.
To end the meal, my request for a weak and very milky latte produced a super strong dark brown coffee, far too strong and bitter for me.
So, a meal that was decent in parts; the salmon and pork belly were tremendously better than the rest. Such a shame that it went from excellent to good and ended with mediocre. At a lower price point, you could forgive some of the failings, but with starters from £14.50 to £22.50 and mains from £21 to £56, we really expected more.
The Asia de Cuba concept of sharing seems to be an excuse for inconsistent portion sizes, with some a little miserly for the price and others far too large. If you’re dining as part of a group, this probably evens out across a selection of dishes, but for a party of two it makes it awkward to order dishes that appeal to two potentially different palates.
Kavey Eats dined as a guest of Asia de Cuba restaurant.