Asia de Cuba is a unique addition to Abu Dhabi’s dining scene
One of the most anticipated restaurants to open in Abu Dhabi, Asia de Cuba, is here, offering cuisine unlike anything the capital has seen before.
For the next couple of weeks lucky diners are getting quite the exclusive with the company’s third international location: the debut of its new menu. New York patrons won’t be able to try these dishes until the restaurant reopens later this month, while those in London will have to wait even longer as its venue undergoes a complete facelift. Dubai will have to wait until a fourth Asia de Cuba opens later this year.
The restaurant, located within the shiny new Nation Riviera Beach Club on the Corniche, immediately impresses with its large beachside terrace offering clear views of the water, complete with beachside cabanas, a gorgeous bar and colourful lamps. The interior is decorated in soothing tones, mixed up with luxe, curved booths and copper-shaded lighting. But we all know it’s the food that will make or break a new restaurant in this city – and this one delivers.
Cuban cuisine is about so much more than black beans and rice, with influences from both Spain and China. The Chinatown in Havana, Cuba, is one of the oldest in the Americas.
Jeffrey Chodorow, the American restaurateur who started Asia de Cuba in New York in 1997, grew up in Miami, Florida – a city with a large Cuban population. “I wanted a menu that reflected Cuba’s multicultural heritage by infusing Asian ingredients and techniques in a way I thought a modern knowledgeable Cuban chef would, if given the opportunity,” he has explained.
With its unique fusion foods, Asia de Cuba has become a popular spot in both New York and London. But last year, feeling a need to bring the cuisine to the next level, Chodorow brought in the award-winning Cuban chef Luis Pous. After fleeing communist Cuba in the 1990s, Pous now lives in Miami and has become one of the best chefs in the United States and is respected around the world.
Pous, who spent weeks in the capital overseeing the launch, explains that authentic Cuban food comes from the heart.
“I’m Cuban,” he says. “I know what Chinatown is in Cuba. I know this food. I did food like this before any of this fusion ever happened.”
The restaurant offers an impressive menu of ceviche – raw fish cured in citrus juices – which is arguably the best in the city. The 10 different types on offer feature typical Cuban ingredients including plantain, lime, malanga chips, aji panca and guava, doled out in equal parts with Thai chillies, snow peas, ginger, wasabi, Asian pear and shiso.
Small plates and mains offer a sophisticated playground of flavours: there are the Wagyu ropa vieja (shredded beef) empanadas; chilli-rubbed scallops with black rice and Japanese aioli; a must-try veal vaca frita with maduros, yuca, mushrooms and Chinese broccoli; and the exquisite ricoto miso-glazed black cod with an avocado and poblano pepper purée.
It’s a similar story with desserts, with a thoughtful combination of Cuban and Asian ingredients. Flan is a sweet caramel custard concoction that’s a staple in Cuban desserts. Asia de Cuba pairs its flan with Thai coconut and lemon grass. There’s also a guava whipped cheesecake with coconut tuile and a Manchego tart served with guava ice cream. And no restaurant can call itself Cuban without a classic tres leche (sponge cake made with three different kinds of milk). True to form, the one here is served with Asian flair: with chocolate Szechuan peppercorn ice cream.
Pous is proud of what he’s created with the team at Asia de Cuba. “I like the reaction of people when they taste something I created,” says Pous. “It’s painful for me when they don’t like it. Cuban food is flavourful and vibrant – not pretentious. I’m trying to show people how good it is. We have smart people in Cuba. We have passionate chefs in Cuba.”
Cuban food 101
Ropa vieja – a popular Cuban dish of shredded beef in sauce
Plantains – very similar to bananas, but not intended to be eaten raw
Tostones – fried slices of unripe plantains
Maduros – sweet, fried plantains made only when the fruit is overripe and dark brown
Malanga chips – a root vegetable and a common ingredient in Cuban cuisine
Aji panca – a type of chilli pepper
Yuca – also called cassava, this is a starchy root vegetable popular in Cuba
Vaca frita – translates to “fried cow”
Chicharrones – fried animal rinds. Here, it’s made with chicken skin
Sofrito – a popular sauce in Cuban cooking, made with a fragrant blend of herbs
Asia de Cuba is open for lunch from noon to 3pm; for dinner from 6pm to midnight; and beverages are available from noon to 2am. For reservations, call 02 699 3333
Updated: January 21, 2015 04:00 AM