It’s not a bad idea to go to a Cuban restaurant with people who have actually been to Cuba in a bid to determine its authenticity.
And, so we recruited a couple of globetrotters to accompany us on our culinary journey to Viva Cuba in Kirkstall Road, Leeds to get their take on one of Leeds most popular restaurants.
Not a lot has changed since Oliver last visited and that’s no bad thing as there is no sign of its popularity waning, if our visit was anything to go by.
Bookings of fewer than 10 are not permitted so we arrived at 6.30pm one Saturday evening confident of beating the crowds.
Not a chance – even at that pre-dinner time-slot we were told that we’d have a 45-minute wait and would we like to repair to the upstairs bar while a table became available.
Which we did but not before stumbling clumsily up the iron staircase – a little more light would be appreciated,
The decor is very much as you’d expect, lots of bright colours and rallying slogans, pictures of Cuban life and Fidel Castro in a variety of poses and at different times of his life on every wall.
The beers on draft are Spanish rather than Cuban. Both the Palax and the Alhambra Especial lager (£4.20 a pint) are quite strong. Cubans, I was informed typically drink a lighter beer called Cristal which may be difficult to get in the UK. One member of our party had a rum-based Ernest Hemingway cocktail which didn’t particularly impress, the rum was lost among the other ingredients – it was mixed in a machine rather than a cocktail shaker which seemed like cheating to me. Not badly priced at £6 though.
Happily our table was ready much earlier than expected and we all trooped back down the stairs again.
After chiding our waiter on opening the bottle of wine we’d ordered before bringing it to the table my companion quizzed him as to the ethnicity of the staff . It turns out they hail from all corners of Europe with one from Africa but not a Cuban among them.
After trying to read the menu in the gloom– and without our reading glasses – we gave up and decided to order the set tapas menu at £18.50 per person – available for groups of four or more.
In hindsight it was a mistake as when the dishes kept on coming – all 15 of them – and there was no room left on the table we realised we were going to be hopelessly outfaced.
The majority of the tapas dishes on the set menu were of Spanish origin so we may well have got a more authentic taste of Cuba if we’d been a bit more adventurous and chosen from the a-la-carte menu.
In Cuba, dining out is a bit of a hit and miss affair. Often what is on the menu is not actually available so choice is limited and you get what you’re given.
Just for the record we had sharing platter of olives and bread, cod fish cakes with lime salsa, meatballs in a tangy tomato sauce; spicy chicken fillet; seafood paella, a lovely firm Spanish omelette, a succulent spicy lamb stew with plenty of meat, Viva Cuba’s ‘famous’ aubergine tower, which is an innovative way to serve this underrated vegetable, chorizo in red wine; cream cheese stuffed peppers, aromatic Cuban bean stew, squid rings, patatas bravas (cubes of potato in a spicy sauce) and tomato bread
The consensus at the end of the evening was that most of the dishes were exceptionally good except for the chorizo which was too rich and sweet. The lamb stew was said to be particularly lovely though the meat balls were a bit too salty.
Most typical of the food my friends had eaten in Cuba was the paella and the chicken. Interestingly, they thought, the set menu did not include much fish, which you do get a lot of in Cuba.
Although we battled gamely on there was an embarrssingly large amount of food left on the table - perhaps it would be an idea to offer a more limited set meal for those with a smaller appetite who, like us, didn’t want to choose for ourselves from the a-la-carte selection.
By the time we’d finished we could eat no more and left very well satisfied – though none of us could face going out for a drink afterwards so called it an early night.
Viva Cuba is a really nice place to eat for lots of reasons, not just the quality of gthe food.
The staff are courteous polite and quite lovely and the atmosphere is laid back and cosy. Despite the number of diners waiting for a table we never felt pressurized into leaving our table .
We picked up a leaflet for the Viva Cuba Christmas set menu which includes just about everything we had to eat for a mere £17.95 with a Christmas cracker thrown in for good measure. So what are you waiting for, get your party booked in now – you’ll have a wonderful night to remember.
Address: 342 Kirkstall Rd, Leeds LS4 2DS
Opening hours: Sunday - 5pm - 10pm; Monday - Thursday - 5.30pm - 10pm; Friday - 5.30pm - 11pm; Saturday - 5pm - 11pm
Telephone: 0113 275 0888