“ Address: 72 Upper Street / Islington / London / N1 0NY „
Cuba Libre, as the name might suggest, is a Cuban restaurant and bar, situated in the heart of London's bohemian Islington borough. Upper Street, which runs through Islington, has long been famous for its bars, clubs and restaurants, and Cuba Libre has been a part of the Islington landscape for nearly twenty years, and claims to provide the best Cuban food in London. Well, they clearly haven't visited Cubana in Waterloo, but that, my friends, is another review.
We visited as a party of four on a Friday night. We'd booked ahead, as you do when it's a busy night.
The place was full of character, the decor was funky and retro without being overdone and self-conscious, and the staff seemed young and plentiful. OUr table was fine, although the whole place was pretty noisy, but we'd expected that on a Friday evening.
We were seated reasonably quickly, and brought menus.
There are plenty of delicious sounding dishes on the menu, all of which are given Cuban names, with a description in English to help you out (for those whose Cuban is a little rusty...)
The menu is divided into Appetizers, Soups, Salads, Rice Dishes, Poultry, Fish and Seafood, Meats, Veggie, and Side Dishes, as well as Desserts. There is the usual selection of wines, beers, spirits, and of course cocktails to choose from. We'd been warned by a friend that the house wine was poor, so chose a different wine, which was pretty good.
We ordered various dishes - my partner went for the steak, I went for the Ropa Vieja, our friends choosing meatballs, and the Cuban platter.
Starters were good - not too filling, promptly served, hot and well cooked, although a touch uninspiring.
However, the main courses were something of a disaster. My partner's "rare" steak was a piece of well-cured shoe leather, lovingly roasted over a number of days to provide that authentically chewy experience that the discerning diner expects. The "Cuban platter"was suspiciously similar to my Ropa Vieja (shredded braised beef), despite airy promises of pork, chicken and spanish sausages. In fact, upon receiving the bill, the mystery was solved. Clearly the kitchen decided we were not ready for such degustatory variety in our diets, and had provided my friend with a portion of Ropa Vieja, lacking only the cassava that I had rejected on the basis that it tasted of wallpaper paste.
When I politely explained to the waitress that the steak was somewhat lacking in the necessary pink colour and wasn't *quite* what we'd been looking for, she said "Sorry", and walked off. No, i am not kidding. That was her considered customer-service response.
Now, I am not a woman to be fobbed off lightly. I write complaint letters with gusto, not to say alarming frequency. I sign them 'yours in disgust' more often than not. I wrote one such to the Manager of Cuba Libre, fully expecting a "whatever, we're raking in the cash, ha ha ha" type response.
What did I get? A charmingly worded, gracious and courteous letter, thanking me for my feedback, apologising profusely for the let-down and asking my partner and I to return for a meal on them so they could make it up to us. Faith in human nature fully restored, to the point of performing a small jig of heartiness, I am looking forward to a return visit this week, and fully expect to be able to update this review to say that the place has improved immeasureably. There now, don't you feel happy?!