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Floridita - Cuban chic comes to London's Soho

Bars - Cigars - Cocktails - Dining - Dancing - Singing
More than a little Cuban excitement rubbed off on Clifford and friends 

Feel like an evening out? Let your hair down and be a bit over indulgent even, but still stylish? Extroverts can take to the floor and salsa straight away. The rest of us can join in after we've had a few cocktails. Don't think of Floridita as merely a restaurant - it's much more cool. More of a Latin club, but not where you translate Caesar or learn verbs. You enter via a huge spiral staircase, and if you smile from ear to ear as you descend, looking as if you expect everyone to recognise you, then they do, sort of. Well at least the greeters and waiting staff all grinned back enthusiastically. They are all gorgeous and very helpful, (except at getting the chef to change the menu, only slightly). More of that later.

Remember Mezzo, Conran's ground breaking mega-restaurant at 100 Wardour Street? Everyone was startled by its size, style, decor and sheer energy. But size isn't everything, and fashions change. Never one to drag his feet, Sir Terence has gone into partnership with Havana Holdings to bring Floridita, the legendary Cuban haunt of Hemingway himself, to London. At street level, looking a little unsure of itself is Meza, what looked at a cursory glance, like a Spanish tapas bar that had been cleaned up and straightened out for the London market. To one side is the staircase leading down to Floridita. Even at 8pm, when we arrived, exciting musical sounds were warming up, enough to make tapas tigers want to decamp to the action.

You can't go to Floridita and not have cocktails. I suspect that there's a Daiquiri well somewhere below the building. The combinations of spirits and fruit juices is mind-blowing - but watch out, as the great expert Hemingway observed, the best cocktails never taste of alcohol! Our Mulattas slipped down imperceptibly but seductively. By now the resident orchestra had struck up, with a beautiful flautist whose embouchure was perfectly formed and who also sang divinely. By the way - although the music was terrific, it was never totally overpowering and did not detract from dinner.

The menu is wide and quite varied. Quite what differentiates Cuban cuisine from other Caribbean or Latin American cuisines is hard to tease out, as it appears to be an amalgam of Spanish, French, Portuguese, African, Arab and even Chinese influences. Meats are marinated, mostly in herbs steeped in citrus juices, and slow cooking is a feature of Cuban style, which chimes in with today's fashions. I welcomed the appearance of braised lamb cooked with almonds, prunes and onions and savoury bread pudding (sounds a bit North African), and Pot roast belly pork, cheeks and morcilla sausage (needing only some haricot beans to make it a sort of cassoulet). My guest much approved his starter, called  "Ropa Vieja", made from slow cooked duck leg, forked off the bone and served with a perfectly poached egg and jalapeño flavoured crème fraiche. Particularly tasty were the stuffed piquillo peppers, roasted to sweetness with a filling of soft molten cheese. We tried both the ceviches (raw fish cured in citrus marinade) - one was made from snapper with coconut and lime, and the other contained octopus and squid. They wanted something show stopping, but  were fresh and light and don't fill you up too much before the main course. Starters are priced around the £7 mark.

My friend, (who has some Jamaican ancestry and therefore feels he has the ethnic advantage in these matters) wanted to try the Cuban whole roast free range chicken, but failing to find the other necessary partner, he asked if the singleton charcoal grilled chicken breast could be served Cuban style, like the whole chicken. This caused consternation amongst the waiters and much to-ing and fro-ing to the kitchen. Apparently, and oddly, it couldn't be served "Cuban", though I thought this was probably a request that got lost in translation. Other than this probable misunderstanding, the waiting staff were a treat, under the watchful and pretty eye of their captain, Stefanie Vella. 

I agreed to join my friend with the roast chicken which I liked because it really tasted of chicken and gave the impression that it had run about a bit and developed some muscle. The skin, however,  could have been crisper, and spicier. The spit roast suckling pig was delicious - milk white tender meat and crisp crackling, with no unnecessary fussing. The meat balls stuffed with quail's eggs came in a rich and smoky tomato based sauce. One thing we missed out on was the lobster - which is flown in from Cuba - perhaps we unconsciously baulked at the price, which at £21.75 is really not unreasonable - it's just a bit of a hike from the other mains which start at around £12.50. 

We drank two South American wines - a richly aromatic Torrontes from Alta vista at £18.50, and a fruity red from Los Vascos at £22.00. 

At this point we should have had the courage to get up and dance, but as we were probably the oldest people present, (correction, I was),  our nerve failed, and so we didn't quite make enough room for all of us to eat desserts. The orange flower doughnuts were not all that exciting, but the renversee banana and pineapple toffee tatin (£6.50) was a great success.

But as I hinted at earlier, Floridita is a great deal more than the sum of its parts. You don't have to sit and eat a formal dinner - indeed many tables in the bar area were packed with guests drinking cocktails and beers as well as drinks from a large selection of non-alcofrolics.  Worth mentioning in this context are the bar snacks, both small plates (tapas really), and large plates which aren't just slavish repeats of the main menu. By the time we left at about 11pm, the place was just getting into gear - and that was on a Monday evening! 

www.floriditalondon.com - Floridita has a great website, where you can read up on the tradition of Cuban cocktails and also see the whole menu. There are  also details of the private members' club which sounds really cool.

Highly recommended for a fun night out - Clifford Mould, November 2004

Floridita - 100 Wardour Street , Soho W1. Tel: 020 7314 4000 
email: info@floridita.co.uk Membership enquiries: hugocampbell-davys@orange.net

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010


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