I’ve always wanted to go to Cuba. I almost went once. I have the guidebook sitting, collecting dust, on a shelf at my dad’s house, next to my homemade gumball machine and an embarrassing picture of me in my prom dress.
On the Lower Marsh, Cubana is one of those restaurants slash bars that everyone I know has been “meaning to go to.” The location is convenient enough, but for some reason everyone always passes it by, except maybe those select few who give it a go post-theatre before hopping on one of the Boris bikes that are stationed out front and heading home. Drinking and cycling though, really? Tsk tsk.
When I opened the menu on Monday night (let me clarify – the drinks menu) I was aghast that I’d passed it by so many times before. Two-for-one cocktails until 7 pm? Some at £4 each? I’ve never been good at math, but I do believe that’s a whopping two pounds a drink. Painted in warm yellow and orange tones, with bright blue furniture and tropical knick knacks, I felt myself transported to a place where the sand is hot, the rum runs freely and I don’t have to wake up for work in the morning.
“I have an important meeting tomorrow,” I told my girlfriends. “So I’ll have to take it easy tonight.”
Four pitchers of strawberry daiquiri/sangria later, and we decided to order some food. Apparently, food in Cuba is quite plain. Having said that, most of the people who I know who have been to Cuba stay on one of the island’s many resorts – and buffet food can be pretty bland, pretty much anywhere.
Outside of the resorts, the majority of Cuban families rely on a system of food rationing, which establishes what kind of food each individual is entitled to buy, when, and how often. Sold at subsidized prices, the rations meet roughly one third to one half of a family’s needs; even the government acknowledges that this is not enough. So, food ain’t spicy enough for you? Not fancy enough? Deal.
I thought our sharing dishes at Cubana were quite good – nothing to write home about (but if you are in Cuba, are you really having such a bad time that you need to take a time out and write a LETTER? ) but warm, cheap, and pretty tasty for bar food. We’d opted for two tapas platters, which included some Cuban falafel (what made this falafel Cuban, I’m not sure), a tortilla, a rosti, frijoles negros (black beans), some breaded chicken, and sweet potato and chorizo croquettes – all served with a smile by a waitress who seemed oblivious to our antics and who, incidentally, was from Nepal.
What really made my night was when one of my co-workers showed up – a co-worker from CUBA. With a bunch of his CUBAN friends! OK, so they weren’t Cuban. One was Colombian, one was Peruvian and the other was French. It’s basically the same thing. I gave them all hugs and kisses (just in case it’s not clear, I had never met them before, and I do not know this co-worker very well) and was swept back to my table when my friends returned from smoking outside.
The Latin Americans were gone before I could say Peachtree Punch (that was pitcher numero five) but their brief cameo reminded me of why I love living in London so much. It is not a “cultural melting pot” at all – for those of you who are lactose intolerant and/or don’t like cheese (fools), melting suggests something that is changing in shape or in form, and I don’t think this is the case in London. London is made up of a whole bunch of individuals, who each bring their own distinct cultural identities (and foods, and drinks) to the table, and live side by side, enjoying all of the things the others have to offer. Cuba si!