"Lively bar keeps Cuba Libre going"Review Rating: Reviewed by Leila
Cuba Libre is one of Upper Street’s success stories, as it’s been going since 1990 amidst the plethora of other restaurants lining this busy road. It’s remarkable, because while the food is usually satisfactory enough, it’s far from mesmerising, but that’s not what keeps packing in the crowds. It’s the colourful bar, as propped up by Islington’s newly chic population and its plastic tablecloths, walls filled with stickers, nick knacks, posters and ornaments, cigar cabinet and happy hour cocktail jugs.
There are tapas and main dishes like paella, however we are savvy with our ordering and stick to hearty meat dishes – we’re not giving them a chance to offer us rubbery calamari or an Anglicised paella. ‘Ropa Vieja’, literally meaning old clothes, was traditionally a leftovers stew, where housewives would sling in root vegetables, legumes and any meat remaining from a Sunday roast. As such, there is no set recipe, and Cuba Libre’s version is more of a mixed platter of shredded braised beef, Moros y Cristianos (i.e. saffron rice with black eyed peas) and a deliciously earthy cassava mash. The Palomillo Cubano is their version of a steak: thinly cut sirloin coated in crispy breadcrumbs. It’s juicy and with a hint of chargrilled smokiness, more like a veal escalope than a manly chunk of meat and is accompanied by roasted potatoes, crunchy green beans, cassava mash and a spicy salsa.
Under the watchful eye of Che Guevara the “Pudin Diplomatico” beckons to be tried; it turns out to be a saccharine fest of a crème caramel with cooked sultanas and heaps of syrup. Less cavity-inducing are the bananas cooked in their skins in a rum and orange sauce which adds a zesty tang to the syrupy fruit. To offset the gloopiness the café Cubano’s bitterness is ideal - an espresso which you squeeze lime into, not recommended without a side order of sugar.
Despite the fact that the waiter gets two orders wrong it’s impossible to feel let down as we like the friendly staff, however they could do with lowering the prices, as mains are mostly between £12 and £15.
Leila reviewed Cuba Libre & Bar Havana on Tue 24 May 2011