Sitting down to bento boxes at Asia de Cuba, as Stan Getz’ jazz samba floats through the air, has to be the best way to be transported to sunny Cuba on a Tuesday March lunchtime in the middle of London’s West End. With three different bento boxes to try, we were in for an absolute treat.
The Cuban box had us immediately excited with ‘ropa vieja’ of duck; a fresh take on the Cuban classic. Delicious shredded duck was sweet, smoky and had a perfect piquancy. This was accompanied by a thick, sticky hoi sin port sauce and was served on a crisp lettuce cup. The Asia de Cuba salad was a wonderful assault on the senses. Bright, fresh chayote, chicory and radicchio contrasted with crunchy cashews and soft banana, and brought together with a creamy dressing, had just the right amount of tang from the sesame orange dressing. I considered the oxtail dumplings among the best dim sum I’ve had in London. Meaty shredded oxtail was encased in firm, chewy dumplings, the dish perfectly balanced with spiced, melon-like Calabaza and a zingy mango ponzu dressing. The Havana noodles were a wonderfully comforting dish with dashes of sesame and soy.
Asian noodle box, the first element of the vegetarian offering that we sampled, featured perfectly tender, sweet Cuban vegetables surrounded with a rice noodle wrapper, the saltiness from the chilli hoi sin broth offsetting the dish. I was excited about my first foray into the wonderful world of marinated crispy tofu, and I wasn’t disappointed. Silken, soft tofu was encased in a crisp crust and served with smoky but sweet Caribbean vegetables and combined with the fresh mango sauce – I felt transported to a sunny tropical beach. The Thai salad was spicy enough to leave a lovely warm feel, but was offset with ripe avocado, shredded coconut and orange segments. Plantain rice really showed off the fusion between Cuban and Asian cuisine that the restaurant does do well. Spicy rice tossed with soy and fresh herbs was topped with a guacamole-style mix of avocado, tomato, red onion and lime. My two companions and I were competing for every last grain.
The signature box showcases a variety of Asia de Cuba’s best dishes. Calamari salad ‘Asia de Cuba’ added brilliantly fresh calamari to the delicious Asia de Cuba salad featured in the Cuban Box. The calamari was well seasoned, crispy and light, and brought to mind some of the wonderfully fresh seafood I’ve sampled in south east Asia in the past. Honey-rum-glazed pork belly was full of wonderful textures, the moist pork belly complemented by two varying textures of plantain, and fresh bok choy and enoki mushrooms, as well as salty lardons. Sweet soy salmon was a delight. The slightly blackened skin led to salmon which fell apart. Soft Asian mushrooms and a citrusy-tart cucumber escabeche worked very well here, and the thick and lovely sweet soy sauce brought all elements together beautifully. You could tell the thick, Shanghai noodles were straight out of the wok and colour was provided from bright fresh peppers.
Despite feeling completely satisfied from the substantial bento boxes, we happily made room for dessert.
Cuban opera was a work of art, layering chocolate cake, coffee mousse and a chocolate butter cream, encased in tempered milk chocolate. Coffee-brittle ice cream was light, with a crispness from the brittle. Red berries added a pleasing, slightly tart contrast.
Semi-frio was a colourful mix of sweet cream cheese custard with lime-glazed tropical fruit and strawberry-passion fruit shaved ice, which was to die for. Light and sharp, it brightened the frozen custard beautifully.
Wonderfully indulgent Mexican doughnuts were warm, covered in cinnamon sugar, and filled with a gooey butterscotch sauce that melted in the mouth.
Escaping into the bright, airy surroundings at Asia de Cuba is the perfect lunchtime treat, in my opinion. Exposed bulbs hang above every table, and great white columns are covered in plants, interesting pictures and books. Not to mention the absolutely delicious bento boxes, which are substantial whilst feeling fresh and light. I would certainly recommend.
Asia de Cuba
St Martin’s Lane Hotel, 45 St. Martin’s Lane, London, WC2N 4HX