You may, quite rightly, question why I would choose to review a restaurant that’s menu focuses so heavily, as this one does, on fish. More over, not just seafood heavy, but it was their brand new, exclusively fishy, ceviche menu that I had been invited to review. That’s right. RAW fish. Quite possibly my ultimate food nemises. My defence is simply that I am a curious thing. I’m nothing if not adventurous and that curiosity was piqued further when it dawned on me that St Martins Lane, the hotel in which Asia de Cuba is housed, is sister to none other than The Hudson. This fact interests me mainly because I stayed in the Philippe Starck designed Hudson on my first, and only, trip to New York.
Some 10 years ago, shortly (I’m talking days here) after landing back in London from a years trip to Australia, and reuniting with the boy, he decided to whisk me off in a grand and romantic gesture for the weekend. Sadly it was just a smidge too soon for my body to recover from the jet lag and I spent the whole weekend behaving like a drugged narcoleptic. Amongst much walking around in a shellshocked daze, eating giant bacon and maple syrup drenched breakfasts, pizzas and mexican food, my clearest memories remain of the hotel.
The bar in particular caught my eye, I remember insisting on drinking there immediately upon checking in; a luminous yellow panel lit floor was furnished with perspex chairs and was at the time, unlike anything I’d come across before, I remember thinking it was unbelievably glamorous (the fact that I’d been living in hostels for a year didn’t hurt). We spent another evening drinking wine in a long dark corridor, lined with books in a contrasting part of the hotel, that was as hushed, secretive and romantic as the bar was energetic, bright and sparkly. The bedroom was another anomaly, a room literally full of bed which I was rather shocked to find looked right into the glass walled toilet/shower (pervy much?!) luckily there was a sheerish curtain to draw if this wasn’t your thing….on our first night there, it was late, we were confused, and I believe we ate Mcdonalds before finding a cornershop to buy vodka then retreated back to our small room where we spent a solid half an hour trying to find the light switch (giant tassle in the centre of the bed FYI). Anyway all this goes to preempt the following and why I was so intrigued, based the supremely quirky sleep deprived, fug addled visit of my past.
I find myself kicking myself on approaching St Martins Lane that I’ve never recognised the familial similarities to The Hudson, I’ve walked past so many times yet never paid the slightest attention, but the entrance has the same somewhat bland, inconspicuous front, those giant potted plants and insiduous yellow lighting. Walking through reception and past some whacky, but now to be expected, furniture installations we come upon the opening to Asia de Cuba, though there’s nothing to mark it as such (you’ll find that The Sanderson is the only one of the Morgans Hotels that has any signage, you’re supposed to just ‘know’), just the fact that it’s the only visible dining space. It certainly is a space though, walking past an impressive open mini bar style bar with an arrangement of bar stands, the restaurant is large, set with pristine tables around large columns decorated with Cuban themed articles, raw lights hang in swathes keeping the look modern.
Our waiter and waitress, yes we’re treated to both, are immediately enthusiastic and attentive without being overly intrusive. They do seem keen for us to drink though. Lots. A sharing cocktails is ordered, we decline the one designed to share by six….and go for a more modest two man affair, the Cuban Missile that is a fruity, boozy, rum affair served in a glass fit for a giant. Though I don’t usually like to share my drinks it goes down rather well but acts to fill us up more than I might desire in light of our growing feast. But more of that in a bit….Now since I’ve been invited specifically to try the ceviche, I have my most determined and brave head on, so ask our waiter for advice on the best things for a non fish eater to try. I guess, really to his merit, he ends up steering us away from the ceviche section and more towards starters, I’m sure we’ve ordered more than one ceviche dish but actually only one turns up; oops!
And here-in starts the beginning of our issues with the menu; it transpires we’ve ordered two starters plus one ceviche dish and yet our table is suddenly heaving, in fact it’s so full the next door table is pushed up against ours to make more room. Feeling duty bound we both tuck into the ceviche first, Scottish Salmon and Salted Avocado Helado in spicy coconut milk with birds eye chilli; first bite is fresh, spicy and zesty and also pleasingly unfishy, as you can imagine that fishiness builds lightly, and so I leave the rest for the boy to finish as he loves it.
The other starters are a Thai Beef Salad, this is comprised of seared carpaccio of beef tenderloin, a fan of avocado on the side, shreded coconut, orange segments, asian greens and a hot sour dressing, there’s also some crispy crouton type things. It’s huge, I mean MASSIVE, would easily feed two for lunch, the pulverised beef is beautifully tender and the flavours are well balanced but we’re utterly bemused by the size, an absolute garden of (admittedly very well dressed) greens piled on top of the dish means we feel obliged to wade through, there is a side of prawn crackers and plantain crisps that actually appears to be a complementary side to our starter! Our final starter is Honey Rum Glazed Pork Belly, plantain monduros, Shanghai bok choi and enoki mushrooms, and again it’s a full on dish (as it should be for £21) but starter size it is not so much, I fully enjoyed the umami flavours here, again well balanced and the pork is a beautiful mixture of tender meat and fat, but by the end of our starters we’re already unbuttoning belts and fearing our mains…
A brief interlude to the ladies reveales a moment of panick and confusion, quite possibly akin to the feeling those patrons of Nopi had before they put instructions on the inside of theirs…the compact wooden box of a room has a sink but nought else, and it’s only my desperate pressing on the walls behind me that reveals they open to reveal toilet cubicals! (On closer inspection, panick over, they do have tiny little push markers).
The mains arrive, and yup, they’re immense, gargantuan even. Wagyu Char Sui Beef Short Ribs with congne tostones and chilli orange salsa; the rib meat is stunningly tender, dreamy, and melts in the mouth pretty damn well, we make a dent in the stack of plantain and rice and beans on the side but pretty much leave the cloying salsa. Bistec Empanizado, panko, sefrito of peppers, onions and japanese eggplant, watercress salad with orange oil. This dish is literally bigger than my head, the portion actually fills me with fear, once again piled up unnecessarily with salad, the vegetables are oily but flavoursome but the beef escalope suffers a little from toughness. We’ve sorely inderestimated our dinner and barely manage a handful of the Vuca Mojo Fries, perfectly crispy on the outside dry on the inside as is their want and doused generously in chimichurri.
With all this food, we’re also struggling with our giant cocktail, so I order an excellent gin martini that is possibly too late to encourage my stomache to accept any more nosh. By the time the dessert menu is brought we’re at near cardiac arrest yet our waitress is determined it seems for us to have this tablesized fruity cocktail (Isee it on another table and it’s literally a glass barrel with a tap at the bottom) not taking no for an answer we hit a moment of pure comedy when she leans towards us consipiritorily and whispers”you know it’s complimentary right?” We somehow manage to squeeze in a final martini, limoncello for the boy, and share a dessert. Thank god we share. Our Mexican, Sweet Brioche Doughnuts come served in a bamboo basket with a side of butterscotch sauce. Theres about ten of the blighters, delicious as no doubt they are, they’re not really filled as advertised, merely punctured with an apologetic smear of filling. No matter there’s plenty of butterscotch sauce on the side, and oh how delicious they are when dunked. We chuckle to ourselves as other couples around us make the mistake of ordering a dessert each, seriously there’s embarassed giggles all round. I’m not one to normally complain about generous portions but these are on the verge of being some sort of a joke.
On leaving we thank the manager and comment on how stuffed we are as we waddle uncomfortably out and he makes a comment about ’sharing’ plates. I leave feeling baffled and wonder if we’ve led astray by our waiters. The first thing I do when I’m back home is scour the menu for any reference to this sharing concept but find nothing.
Certainly the ceviche menu seems like a perfect option for a lunch, based on the one dish we had, it would be an ideal zesty summery meal. A selection of these between two would work well for a light lunch, or combined with a main or dessert from the main menu for a more filling dinner.
I can’t help but think that the restaurant would do well to reduce the servings along with the price, or advertise the meals as for sharing. Luckily I dined as a guest, but the prices are eye wateringly expensive and more than I’d be comfortable paying ordinarily, however if I’d known in advance the sizes of the dishes I’d have ordered far less and reduced my bill significantly.
Having said all that, we both had an absolutely excellent evening; the staff were great fun, the food on the whole was superb and drinks were great, we were just a bit confuddled with the concept.