Havana in the 1930's was supposedly decadent. The upstairs section of Ubud's Café Havana attempts to replicate that theme with its silken drapes hanging between the banquettes, chandeliers everywhere. The slinky costumes on the wait staff only add to the atmosphere.
Downstairs is a totally modern Havana where every so often the music takes over, the service stops and all the wait staff are suddenly transformed to Cuba, salsa-ing between the tables. The more experienced guests quickly join in, the shy ones are soon dragged to their feet by the exuberant young staff. It is party time at Café Havana!
But this is, after all, a restaurant. What do they serve? Cuban food of course! More the food that is commonly available in today's Havana rather than just indigenous cuisine, with obvious links to the food of other countries due to their Spanish heritage. It starts at breakfast time [the food, not the salsa dancing] with Breakfast Burritos, scrambled eggs wrapped in a burrito with black beans, sliced chorizo, and a guacamole and jalapeno cheese sauce. Cuban Ham & Eggs in a toasted tortilla cup and Toasted Caribbean Coconut Bread with lime curd are other options.
The Tapas are really tasty entrees, small but big enough to share. The Empanadas are crescent-shaped pastry shells stuffed with your choice of three; a spicy beef mix, pumpkin and black beans or jalapeno cheese, Papas Rellenos are potato croquettes, deep fried to a crisp on the outside, stuffed inside with a savoury beef picadillo [minced beef with onions, potato, olives and peppers, garlic, cumin and oregano], jalapeno mustard sauce on the side.
Garlic Prawns are very Spanish, here they are skewered, brochette style, with an accompanying Cuban salsa of guava, banana and lime. Deep-fried Camembert Cheese, remember that from the 60's? Here it gets a Cuban twist, served with guava chutney.
Quesadillas are from their near neighbour Mexico, but given a Cuban touch stuffed with corn and cheese or an International one with prosciutto and rosemary flavoured cheese. More International is the BBQ Chicken Wings, slathered with a very thick rich sauce, finger-licking good! For the vegetarian or a quick healthy lunch, a Grilled Baguette stuffed with caramelized onions, pimentos, anchovies, minted pea hummus and a tapenade of black olives and dried figs.
For all day dining there are many other snacks, soups [white gazpacho; chilled almond yoghurt with mint, green grapes, honeydew melon and cucumber], salads [sweet potato and pecans with pineapple, red capsicum, celery and sultanas on ruccola, with a dressing of Dijon mustard and honey] and sandwiches that include a Cuban Special of many slices of roast pork, ham and cheese. Even the Hamburgers get a special treatment. A Burger of garbanzo, eggplant and tahini and a more traditional Beef Burger but Aussie Janet could not help herself, not exactly an Australian style burger with the mandatory sliced beetroot but at least this one has beetroot chutney!
All great finger food and perfect for an evening of Salsa but the mains are where the action is!
Many restaurants in Bali serve Baby Back Pork Ribs but here they are glazed with guava, and served with more of the same guava chutney, banana chips, cassava potato cakes and a Mojo salsa. The Chicken Breasts are stuffed with mango and served with a creamy lime coconut salsa and beetroot salad.
The Smoked Pork Loin is with an orange and rum glaze. I have sadly become used to pork in Indonesia being, at best, chewy, or at worst like dry leather. This pork dish at Havana Café is unbelievable! I cannot recall ever eating pork that was so tender, the very smoky flavour, for me, was just an added attraction. The quite large slab of meat sits on a very cheesy potato cake. 'Ropa Vieja' is an old fashioned home-style beef casserole. Slowly simmered cubes of beef and capsicums, served with black beans and platano banana fries and rice. Black Beans are a mainstay of Cuban cuisine and can be ordered with just about anything. They can also be had as a meal in themselves with chorizo sausage, pork pieces or just vegetables. However which way they are combined in a large bowl with sour cream, guacamole and cheddar cheese, all served on pink rice with banana chips.
Cuban Paella uses organic pink rice that has been saffron infused, combined with slices of chorizo, chicken, prawns, mussels and calamari. Vanilla Bean Salmon has been slowly simmered with onions, currants, nutmeg and cinnamon, quite an amazing combination. This is a dish you eat slowly and savour! Tuna is crusted with coriander and white pepper, and served in a cream sauce.
The beat of salsa is infectious. If a bit daunting first time round, but you soon adjust and are surprised to find that you are eagerly waiting for the next interval. If that is all too loud and brash for you then escape to the super romantic upper level, settle back with your cognac and cigar behind the silken screens and wait for Bogart to stroll through the door!
Something new and quite refreshing for straight-laced Ubud!