Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Little Havana, London

Little Havana - CLOSED
20 Inverness Street
Camden Town
London NW1 7HJ

020 72840989

I never had the opportunity to try Cuban food when I lived in the US (in 2000). So I was very excited when lovepopupslondon invited me to Little Havana that opened in October in Camden.

The decor was warm, colourful and inviting. The temperature outside was 4C, but inside felt like I was holidaying in the Caribbean. The tables and water glasses and murals just add to that feel.

A gorgeous bar just as you enter and a nightclub next door, had amazing drinks and lovely music that kept us warmed up and was ideal for dancing. No surprise then, that Little Havana offers salsa classes every Tuesday and Sunday and Latin DJ + Band on Friday & Saturday.

I wanted to stay as authentic to Cuban flavours as I could on my first visit. So to drink I had the Havana Loco and El Nacional cocktails which both had Havana Rum and apricot brandy at their base, but tasted completely different. All the cocktails on the table were unique but universally loved. There are wines and beers too on the menu if that's what you would prefer and a large selection of spirits, the largest being the variety of Caribbean rums. There's a daily happy hour from 5pm to 8pm.

The lady in charge said that they had trimmed down the menu a bit from the time that they opened, but they still have a fantastic selection of food, that looks familiar, but is unusual in its pairings and cooking techniques. I absolutely loved the way that they had used plantains, very different from the way that we cook with them back home.

As an appetiser, I ordered the Tostones Rellenos con Ropa Vieja - stuffed fried plantain with pulled beef. This was so delicious. I'd go back just for this dish. 

Given that we were a group of food lovers, we obviously tasted food from each others plates. The calamari was average, nothing stand out about it.

But the salt cod fritters (very different from those served at Cottons or Vanessa Bolosiers pop up at Beachcomber) and the yuca/cassava with pulled beef were absolutely lip smacking.

The Malaysian in our group, said that the cassava tasted very different from what she is used to, but I quite enjoyed it as an alternative to potatoes. A lot more texture and flavour.

The mains are humongous. If you have had starters, I would recommend sharing one main between two people. My roasted pork was not something I would recommend. There was no fat or skin on it, so then the meat for me tastes very generic.

The red snapper was good and lightly flavoured, but the chicken pio pio was the absolute stand out of the night for me. Beautifully marinated and such rich contrasting flavours.

All the mains came with so many sides: Buttered rice, black beans, salad, fried yuca, fried plantains and each of them was so good, that it was a tough choice about what to eat and where to draw the line. I for one definitely ended up overstuffed. Leaving zero room for dessert

I definitely want to go back with my family to get them to taste some of this amazing food. I also have to try the Cuban sandwiches which my American friends have been very nostalgic about. So I'm going to be headed back really soon.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Mon : Closed
Tue : 4:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Wed : 4:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Thu : 4:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Fri : 4:00 pm – 2:00 am
Sat : 12:00 pm – 2:00 am
Sun : 12:00 pm – 12:00 am

Daily Happy Hour : 5pm to 8pm

Saturday, December 02, 2017

The Spirit Show, London

LovePopUpsLondon got us Press Passes for The Spirit Show at the Business Design Center, this Friday. The amazing thing about press passes is that you get to visit the venue, before it is opened up to the general public, which means that you can leisurely browse through all the stalls, instead of trying desperately to push and shove your way through. I'd attended an Italian Food show at this same location last year, but this ended up being a much more pleasant experience.

So we literally visited every stall at the show.
Yes, around 130 of them.
No, we didn't drink tasters at all of them - I avoided most of the gins and majority of the spirit stalls were gin stalls.
Yes, I came home with a couple of bottles.
Yes, I was sober.
Yes, I took notes so I wouldn't get mixed up.

With the answers to those essential questions out of the way...

Read along to see if you would like to add some of these drinks to your Christmas present list - for others or yourself.

We started the afternoon with a cocktail experience workshop with Fentimans conducted by Myles Cunliffe of Mixology Group. He was absolutely brilliant. He kept us in splits while plying us with drink and demonstrating some easy cocktails (hot and cold) to make at home while entertaining during the festive season.

With a little 'education' down our gullet, we set out to explore the rest of the exhibition. There was a mix of alcoholi drinks, non-alcoholic drinks, mixers, a couple of  food stalls and strangely one from the RSPB soliciting membership! It was manned by a really nice guy, but I'm not sure if he managed to get anyone at the event to sign up?

The Fentimans store was right next to the experience stall and we tried some exciting new variations on their tonic waters. I love their gingerbeer, its a classic. But I was also quite impressed by the Mediterranean orange and connoisseurs tonic water that they have just brought to market.

Our next stop was Cazcabel, which makes absolutely decadent flavoured tequilas from Blue Weber Agave. I picked up a bottle each of their honey and coffee flavoured ones and they have already been well appreciated at home. Their website has so many lovely recipes to turn them into cocktails, but I doubt the spirits will last that long.

The most awesome bottles at the show were definitely the hippo shaped bottles from Beremot. Their vodkas come in Original, Strawberry, Orange, Lime Crush and Coffee Flavours. We tried the strawberry and the coffee. The strawberry was fresh and fruity, but I loved the coffee. she recommended pairing it with ginger ale. I wasn't sure of a coffee and ginger combination, but once I tried it, I was hooked! She also said it would go great with orange soda. I'll have to try that.

My absolute favourite liqueur of the evening was the Rumchata Its a combination of cream, Caribbean rum and cinnamon. Gimme a bottle of that and its sure to be a very merry Christmas. I could start and end my day with that drink.Sadly, they weren't selling at the store, so I will need to go hunting for it in my nearby grocery stores.

Our next stop introduced us to Mr Nagra and Ms Kaur behind Crazy Gin. With all the new variants and infusions in the gin market today, its surprising that no one had yet invented something with strong Indian flavours. Crazy Gin fills that spot. Inspired by lassi, the gin is infused with yoghurt, angelica, pomegranate seeds, turmeric, juniper, black cumin, black pepper and coriander.

I'm not a gin drinker, but I loved their sweatshirt and Bruce has promised that they will be available for customers to buy shortly.

Mayan rum based liqueurs were next on the agenda with Casa D'Aristi's Kalani - coconut flavoured and Huana -guanabana / soursop / custard apple family fruit flavoured. The Kalani was much nicer and less sweet than a malibu, so its easier to drink neat. The Huana wasn't as funky as I expected it to be (I can't stand the smell of most fruits, even when diluted in alcohol)

The next vodka came all the way from Australia and again it was the unusual spices in the mix that intrigued me. Underground Spirits uses a unique submicron, subzero filtration system for a buttery feel.

I was more interested to taste some of those spices in those bottles than the gin & vodka itself. I've never seen lemon myrtle, angelica, rivermint or Tasmanian pepperberry before. The ladies were kind enough to let me taste a pepperberry. Very similar to pepper in its basic flavour, but wildly different too.

I was very impressed with our next stall - Franklin & Sons. They had such a large variety of drinks. All natural, no alcohol, no added sugar, no preservatives and absolutely delicious flavours. It would be tough to choose a favourite among the flavours we tried, but I have to say that their gingerbeer is a strong contender for the top spot in my favourite gingerbeers.

The next surprise was Solkiki - a dairy free vegan chocolate. You would never guess it from the taste and texture when you eat it. I had already picked up way too much chocolate from last weeks Taste of London - Christmas Special, so did not buy any more. They are all award winning though and absolutely delicious. I might just order from them, once my current chocolate stock is depleted.

The other stalls that impressed me were Still on The Move, whom you can hire to make your own short run bespoke gin at your home. They bring 26 different botanicals with them, but you could also add things like petals from the brides bouquet to make your gin unique & memorable.

The other was Woodalls Charcuterie. They had brought a limited selection of snacking salamis. I bought some home and the gin snacking bite was declared the favourite with the spicy snacking sticks coming a close second.

Our final stop of the evening was at VodCake - Cake flavoured Vodka. They currently have three flavours - Black Forest Gateaux, New York Cheesecake and Tiramisu. They were all delicious. A perfect combination of dessert and after dinner tipple. They say Vodcake should ideally be served well chilled as an aperitif, digestif, poured over or served with its cake counterpart, as a base for coffees, either hot or cold as frappes or consumed neat.Do you need any other reason to buy a bottle or three?

I had an amazing afternoon at the show with Joanne of Love PopUps London. .

We were stunned by the sheer variety of new brands and flavours of spirits available in the market. Being able to taste them, definitely helped make buying decisions easier. And I have my Christmas Spirit Shopping List ready. A lot of the alcohol at the show is available to buy from their respective websites, Amazon or The Whisky Exchange.


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