The music is daring you to dance, with the rhythm that you hear on the streets of Havana; the old doors have paintwork peeling off, like most of the buildings in Havana; and there are colourful posters and artwork by street artist Ben Eine – all of this contributes to the atmosphere of Casa Havana, London’s newest restaurant/bar, only a few days old, providing a contemporary twist on the traditional cuisine and rum cocktails of Cuba.
Not here for long as it is a “pop-up” bar, Havana Club rum (which, unlike Bacardi, is still based in Cuba) has partnered with “Street Feast” founder Dom Cools-Lartigue and chef Marcus Bean to “immerse visitors in a sensory celebration of fragrant Cuba”.
Fully booked and sold out, Casa Havana provides a five course gourmet menu which includes pork crackling crisps with spiced black beans, cheese and parsley rolled tacos with lobster, the Cuban sandwich, seabass ceviche with mint and lime and shredded beef with twice-fried plantain, all paired with cocktails – Shaquiri, Saoco Spritz, Life on the Gulf, Smokey Joe and Mouse’s Ear.
During your visit, you are taken away to a room full of personal mementoes of a Cuban resident who never throws anything away, for a virtually-reality experience which takes you through his recent life with astonishing technology that sits you in his home as it changes and you can see around in 360 degrees including the clear blue skies and the city of Havana through the window, ending with another cocktail – the signature “Silver Pineapple” of your host and guide.
All in all, a great experience that raises the profile both of Havana Club rum and of Cuba and suggests ways in which the island can combine its culinary heritage with a 21st century contemporary edge to create something new and unique – it will be interesting if the Cubans accept the challenge.
Perhaps I’ll find out later in the year on my trip to Cuba.