Cuban food has been touted as the hottest new cuisine to take London by storm, but with a few exceptions it has failed to take off. Little Havana restaurant and bar in Leicester Square could be classed as one of the success stories judging by the crowds that flock there, especially on the busy weekend nights. However the go ahead looking owners have had to throw in a lot of extras such as live cabaret as well as fine tuning the menu that is now a blend of Cuban, French, Creole and Caribbean cuisine's. I went there on a Thursday night and the place is strictly a party atmosphere that caters for large groups that have got suitably tanked up on tequila, served in the bar by roaming 'tequila girls. It is not really the place to go for a romantic evening or an important business meeting, but if you are looking for a real fun night out with pretty good food and don't really care about the incredibly loud music and party atmosphere, then Little Havana is for you. Genial host and all round good guy Johnny Vodka knows a lot about the food and will steer you in the right direction. It also happens to be the sister restaurant of the impressive New Orleans style Boardwalk in nearby Soho.
The menu is very compact with a choice of nine appetizers, fourteen main courses and five desserts. The print however is very tiny especially in the low lights, so we relied on irrepressible Johnny Vodka to come up with the appetizers which were Deep Fried Tiger Prawns (£6.95), Alligator tails (£6.95) and Hors D'oeuvres Havana Style (£5.95). The Prawns come in a filo pastry with four on a plate, served with a delicious mango mayonnaise, nice and sweet and very different. Alligator is not a food I am at all familiar with, but it tastes quite like seafood and well complemented by the hot and tangy Cuban Sauce Piquante. The Hors D'oeuvres is a voluminous combination of Parma Ham, palm hearts, chilli olives & manchengo cheese dip with warm spiced sausage and sliced bell pepper. Very fresh and an excellent dish for the price. The enjoyment of the food is enhanced by the regular and welcome interruption of the lithe and lean Cuban dancers weaving there way through the well spaced apart tables.
The Havana Chicken (£9.95) is a whole breast glazed with rum, honey and spices in a light gravy. My dining companion selected the Sea Bream Fillet Mojo Style (£14.95) served on a mango, black bean and corn salsa and a garlic, olive oil and citrus sauce. The salsa tasted a lot like mashed potato to me, but both dishes were quite hearty with the chicken being tender enough and enhanced greatly by the rum sauce. Other main courses vary from the Cuban Hot Pots (£9.95); Allspice crusted lamb chops (£13.50), right up to the Five Island Seafood Platter at £19.50 for one or £29.95 for two.
Highlight of the meal for me was the outstanding Rum Soaked Chocolate Gateau with cream, a steal at £4.50. You must try this with the more than generous allocation of rum giving the gateau a superb taste to die for. I am sure the other desserts such as Spiced Rum Pineapple with coconut ice cream is just as good. Plenty of cocktails on offer as you would expect with most of them served by the glass (£5.50) or by the jug (£14.95). My associate selected a jug of Mojito, which is Bacardi, Fresh Lime and mint, sugar and soda. He felt that it was comparable to Pimms, but I don't think so, as it lacked the kick of most people's favorite summer cocktail. Still there are plenty others to choose from. A fair selection of wines and champagnes are available along with cigars and liqueur dessert coffees.
I did notice in the small print that there is a special 2 course lunch just like at the Boardwalk for £5 a person Monday to Friday, but I would imagine that the dancers would be resting after their strenuous efforts the night before. An optional 12.5% service charge is added to the final bill, but judging by the way the large drunken parties had the friendly waiting staff running around like crazy chickens, they earn every penny. If you go on a Thursday then you get the chance to see the Exotica Latin Passion show in the club upstairs, featuring dancers, jugglers, magicians and more.
Michael Hepworth July 99
Average cost for two with wine or cocktails. £70