- Cuban chic comes to London's
Bars - Cigars - Cocktails - Dining - Dancing - Singing
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
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.
More than a little Cuban excitement rubbed off on Clifford and friends
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
has gone into partnership with
Havana Holdings to bring Floridita,
legendary Cuban haunt of Hemingway
himself, to London. At street
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
side is the staircase leading
down to Floridita. Even at 8pm, when
we arrived, exciting musical sounds
were warming up, enough to make
tigers want to decamp to the
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 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!
Floridita has a great website,
where you can read up on the tradition
of Cuban cocktails and also see
whole menu. There are also
details of the private members'
club which sounds really cool.
recommended for a fun night out
- Clifford Mould, November 2004
- 100 Wardour Street , Soho W1.
Tel: 020 7314 4000
email: email@example.com Membership