At a time when revolution seems to be very much on the wind, Viva Cuba seems most apt a choice for an of the moment spot of dinner.
It’s not changed much since we last visited, which (officially) was in December 2013. (Unofficially, I dare say I may have called in there more than once in the past year). I’ve always come away from the place feeling satisfied (and possibly a little too full of salt but hey...)
The point is that while the rest of the world seems to be changing quicker than a chameleon in a kaleidoscope, change isn’t always a good thing. In turbulent times, it’s the rocks we look to, for inspiration, for solace and in this case, good food.
That’s what you get at Viva Cuba. Good food served by a very large man who looks a bit like Ben Affleck, albeit possibly better looking (and Cuban, or at the very least Hispanic).
What you also get is lots of kitsch. There are lots of faded sepia images of a young, passionate, messy-bearded Fidel Castro, some of them with him chewing the cud and puffing on cigars with Che Guevara. I mean, how much more revolutionary can you get than that? Quite apart from the fact all this is historical and happened before most of us were even born, it still smacks of ideological romance and is vaguely inspirational, even though Havana’s colonial architecture looks terribly dated.
So, here’s the rub. Here we have a restaurant which is essentially celebrating revolution and yet, at a time when political norms are being turned on their heads, this place is the rock rising above the proverbial sand.
Which is poetic.
And so to the food, which is tapas and therefore means we ordered far too many dishes than we could possibly eat (or remember, although I’ll try), so many in fact that by the time they had finished bringing them to the table, there was barely any room left.
There was tortias con salsa (£3.75), chorizo al vino (£4.95), patatas frites (£2.85), tortilla espinacas (£4.95), aproz valencina (£4.95), costillas (£5.25), albondigas (£5.25), pan de ajo (£1.95), pollo bodeguita (£5.25), gambas rebozadas (£6.75) and tortes de bacalao (£5.25), all of which is a real pain to try and remember and spell correctly (this last paragraph alone took me a whole ten minutes to write), let alone translate, although (again), I will try.
So, here goes... tortia chips with Cuban salsa and melted cheese (good), Spanish chorizo in Rioja sauce (smokey, nice), fries (fries), Spanish style spinach and potatoe omelette (juicy, salty, aromatic, succulent etc), Spanish seafood rice (rich, melting flavours), pork ribs slow roasted in honey and paprika (to die for, honestly, the dish of the night, melted in the mouth), beef meatballs in red wine and tomato sauce (deep, satisfying), garlic bread (garlic and bread, ‘nuff said), a Cuban stew of chicken in white wine and tomato sauce (sweet, spicy, wholesome), tail on king tiger prawns in Alhambra beer batter and alioli (beats any fish and chips you’ll ever have) and finally, fish cakes in lime and coriander salsa (fishy).
(And that paragraph took twice as long and forced me to break out the Christmas Baileys, which is no bad thing in such troubling times.)
Suffice to say that by the time we left, we were stuffed and feeling not in the least bit revolutionary. Unless of course feeling revolutionary means wanting to go home and curl up on the couch and watch X-Factor. No, though not.
Still, it was nice to wallow in the nostalgia and Viva Cuba certainly has that. The atmosphere is subdued, demure, it’s so laid back it feels like people ought to be allowed to smoke in there. Rules... what rules? This is the place of revolution.
Viva la revoluicion. Viva Viva Cuba. Viva dainty dishes of hot spicy food, served in the half-light next to olde worlde pictures of the late Fidel. Viva everything. And Livin’ La Vida Loca just for good measure. Why not?
Back to reality: service is spot on. One might call it minimalistic but by that I mean the artform, which is outwardly understated and obscure but comes with hidden waves of enthusiasm and hidden charm.
Ben Affleck was never far away and even though the sight of him moving toward your table is a little scary at first, when he arrives, it’s with a broad, disarming grin. The other waiting staff are also on the ball and, refreshingly, always ready to catch your eye, that being the trait most waiters and waitresses seem to be possessed of in abundance. So, you know, they’ve certainly turned the tables on that one.
If you’ve not been to Viva Cuba, I recommend a sort of revolution in your thinking, the other bonus being the bill, which, after all our aristocratic ‘eyes bigger than bellies’ disposition, came to a proletariat £75.80 (that even included two ice creams (£5) and two tarte de chocolate (£5), a black coffee (£1.50) and two pints of Alhambra premium lager (£8)). Which I am sure you will agree is value for money.
Viva Cuba is a joy to visit and no doubt we will do so again. In fact, if the political world doesn’t just calm down, I might consider getting a job there (if they’ll have me, of course).
One final observation: when we went, we had the kids and as wonderful as it is to indulge the little darlings, it’s nice not to be sat there waiting for the inevitable glass spillage and so next time we go (revolutionary thought) we’ll leave the young ones at the outlaws and have a proper drink as well. That’s about as revolutionary as I get these days. Viva Cuba may espouse the spirit of revolution but round here it’s part of the establishment.
Address: 342 Kirkstall Rd, Leeds LS4 2DS
Tel: 0113 275 0888
Opening times: Mon-Fri 5.30pm-10pm, Sat 5pm-11pm, Sun 5pm-10pm