This week is London Restaurant Week where you can get your fill of gourmet food at bargain basement prices. For some reason London Restaurant Week extends to a fortnight so there is plenty of time to fit in that lunch booking at Nahm or dinner at Tom’s Kitchen. Do keep in mind though that a lot of the restaurants have annoying limitations such as only running the Restaurant Week offer during lunchtimes or only offering dinner settings at extremely early or extremely late times.
This was the situation we found ourselves in at Asia de Cuba where if you were dining for Restaurant Week you have to have dinner at 6.30pm. From the start this Grandma like eating time made the whole experience quite rushed as our table of five dashed from various parts of London and the world (more on that later) to make the dinner deadline.
Still, the Phillippe Starck design of Asia de Cuba never fails to impress. Single light bulbs dangle precariously from low hanging wires hovering over the spacious white linen covered tables while the walls are lined with an eclectic mix of vintage photographs and books. Service was friendly even if they did constantly try to hurry us to make sure our orders were in by 7pm which was Asia de Cuba’s Restaurant Week deadline.
For your £25 each the Restaurant Week menu is limited to a choice of four bento boxes, all are served with a starter of miso soup and then your choice from a selection of desserts. I was somewhat curious as to how this would work out as the premise of Asia de Cuba is supposed to be based on sharing big platters of food between a group whereas bento boxes are obviously an individual serving. We decided it would be a travesty to miss out on Asia de Cuba’s best dish, the calamari salad so we ordered this as well to begin.
In retrospect this was not necessary as there was more than enough food in the bento boxes themselves but it was hard to resist the jumble of crispy fried calamari, palm hearts, chunks of banana, cashews and bitter chicory and radicchio leaves that arrived at our table (pictured above). I was not so enamoured with the bento boxes. The Asian pesto grilled shrimp were served decidedly luke warm rather than piping hot while the accompanying wok charred tropical fruit tasted like sweet and sour Chinese gone wrong.
Cuban BBQ chicken was a juicy and lightly spiced leg of chicken with some accompanying avocado salsa. Simple and good stuff but nothing extra special. Admittedly, the honey rum glazed pot roast of pork did whisk me back to Cuba with its accompaniment of fried plantains (which are similar to a banana and wildly popular throughout Central America) but the accompanying sauce was sickly sweet and completely drowned out the flavours of the pork.
Dessert of Mexican doughnuts was more successful. A serving of five delightful brioche donuts arrived dusted with cinnamon sugar and drizzled with a rich butterscotch sauce. However, the excellent dessert just served to highlight the erratic quality of the food at Asia de Cuba. This was my second visit to Asia de Cuba and both times there have been some food highlights but also some pretty mediocre food at expensive prices. Just to add an extra sting in the tail when we got the bill we found that Asia de Cuba’s “optional” service charge is 15% rather than the London standard of 12.5%. I am not sure where that extra 2.5% came in but there certainly was not a 2.5% improvement on general London service.
I am sad to say but I think Asia de Cuba is past it and pretentious. What a pity as I do still love their calamari salad so much.
Details: 45 St Martins Lane, Covent Garden, WC2N 4HX (Ph 0871 2238011)
Damage: Budget breaking