When it comes to food, I love trying new things. Exploring new flavours, experimenting with weird and wonderful ingredients, putting things together that I’ve never thought of before. So when I heard about Asia de Cuba in Abu Dhabi, where the exotic foods from Asia are blended (deliciously) with the sumptuous soul food of Latin America, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. And then I went and tried it for myself, and I actually did.
After a hectic week of work and looking after my Sassy nieces and nephews, my partner and I thought we deserved a little escape from Dubai – so we packed up for the night and hit the road to Abu Dhabi. Destination? Asia de Cuba, of course. The first thing that grabs your attention at this beachside restaurant on the corniche is its buzz. Walking through the softly lit bar area, there’s loud Latino music playing and it’s brimming with people sipping mojitos (which, by the way, are an Asia de Cuba specialty and a serious must-have), we went to the restaurant area that’s set at the back, tucked away from the hubbub of the bar. We were surprised at how chic and stylish the décor is, thinking it would maybe have a more ‘obvious’ Latin or Asian style, but instead it’s very clean – cream booth seating and marble floors are accented by intricately detailed pillars, contemporary rose-gold lights, and gorgeous mosaic tiling.
Sitting down at our table, the menu was presented to us, and the indecisive Libra in me kicked in. How could we possibly choose just a few dishes, when everything sounded so unbelievably amazing!? Not knowing where to start, we left our decision in the hands of our fabulous waiter, who recommended we pick something from each section to really experience what Asia de Cuba is all about. It was also fascinating to learn about the creation of the restaurant, the brainchild of Cuban chef Luis Pous. The menu celebrates El Barrio Chino de la Habana, Havana’s Chinatown, which is one of the oldest and largest in Latin America. Over 150,000 Chinese settled in Cuba in the late 19th century to work on the plantations, which meant that soon Chinese culinary traditions, ingredients, and techniques, began to fuse with Cuba’s cuisine. Pous wanted to bring that to the plate, and he and his team have done just that – and perfectly.
There’s a ‘Ceviche Bar’ section, a selection of small plates with mouth-watering options like ‘Goat Cheese Fritters with mango cucumber relish and jalapeño aioli’ (think hot gooey balls of goats cheese that burst in your mouth) and black bean and plantain empanadas, to shrimp churros and wagyu spring rolls, followed by a salad section, a wok section, main courses, and sides (which I could have eaten alone – plantain fried rice with avocado ceviche, or papas bravas? Yes please!).
From the lighter, fresh and tangy red snapper ceviche, served with Thai chilli, red onion, cilantro and plantains, and the crispy calamari salad with banana and cashews, to the hearty mojo duck confit with brown rice, orange, ‘crackling’, and poached eggs, and miso glazed black cod, every mouthful was an explosion of flavours and textures.
Thinking we couldn’t possibly fit in another morsel, we were served up their signature ‘Guava whipped layered cheesecake with coconut tuile’ which we demolished in seconds.
After experiencing just a small part of what Asia de Cuba has to offer, there’s no doubt in my mind that we will be going back for seconds. And thirds. And probably fourths – very soon. Something totally unique, in its cuisine and entire experience, it really does what it promises – bringing the best parts of Asian and Cuban cuisine together to make for a totally different and deliciously dreamy date-night. Delicioso.
Asia de Cuba, St Regis Hotel, Abu Dhabi, (+971) (0)2 699 3333, www.asiadecuba.com/abu_dhabi