Asia de Cuba at St Martins Lane:
No sooner had I been to the Allan Pickett residency at Sanderson Hotel than I was invited to another of the Morgans Hotel Group venues. The restaurant at St Martins Lane, Asia de Cuba, gained popularity at the turn of the century when it was somewhere to see and be seen, in addition to offering a menu of fusion cuisine, at a time when many of London’s foodie community were still in nappies. It was hip and trendy, though I only remember eating there once before, at a time when I was far too busy with whoever was the man of the moment to concentrate on the food. As the London food scene gained momentum, Asia de Cuba seemed to come to a standstill and by 2010 it had lost its cachet. So, a relaunch with a new executive chef seems no bad thing. The whole place has been refurbished, though if I’m honest, I can’t remember what it looked like last time either…just that the lobby is still much the same.
The original concept hasn’t changed. A fusion of Chinese and Cuban food, new executive chef Luis Pous seems particularly well placed to make the most of that concept. Having grown up and trained in Cuba, he has developed a menu that combines his own heritage with Jeffrey Chodorow’s vision for the original Asia de Cuba. Home to one of Latin America’s oldest and largest Chinatowns, the political situation in Cuba resulted in a situation where the Chinese community became increasingly reliant on local ingredients. Now, of course, that is changing and Chef Pous has created dishes that leapfrog the last 50 years and make use of the full range of global ingredients.
Ceviche is a fine way to start a meal and our two dishes, of red snapper ceviche with thai chilli, red onion, coriander and plaintain and of grouper ceviche with mojo amarillo, sofrito crudo and radish both had that wonderful palate cleansing effect. My favourite, the grouper ceviche which was just a little fresher and more citrusy.
Next a trio of dishes. I’m not convinced I tried all three and I certainly didn’t take a photo of the crispy calamari with banana, chayote, cashews and orange sesame vinaigrette. Since we’d arrived for dinner after an afternoon of food sampling at Taste of London, that may actually be just as well. I do however, remember the Tunapica Tartare, which looked like tacos filled with tuna tartare but were actually crispy wontons. A great fusion dish, with spanish olives, currents, toasted coconut, almond and avocado ceviche sounding like unlikely partners to the ultra fresh tuna.
There’s a menu of small plates and sharing dishes, followed by ‘wok, plancha and salad’ options. Everything is designed to share, everything has that ‘dive in now’ look.
Main courses were all visually stunning. I particularly liked the comforting dish of seven spice chicken and it would certainly be on my re-order list if I get the opportunity to return.
Rocoto glazed black cod with orange mojo and avocado poblano puree was an almost classic dish with the sourness of the orange mojo nicely offset by the spicy avocado chilli puree.
By now I was quite full and didn’t actually try the veal vaca frita. Probably a wise move since dessert was a dish of mini mexican donuts with cinnamon sugar and butterscotch sauce. Who could resist?
While on paper, the menu is not cheap, portion sizes are generous enough to make dining at Asia de Cuba a reasonable option. The half chicken, at £25, would easily have served 3 people and, while the ceviches, priced between £12 and £16 are not cheap, they are genuinely large enough to share. And, the location makes Asia de Cuba a perfect place to enjoy a bite to eat pre or post theatre without the mayhem and queues of Soho.