Restaurant review: Viva Cuba, Kirkstall Road, Leeds

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).

Phew. (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.

STAR RATING

 

Food

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Excellent

Value

★ ★ ★ ★ Very Good

Atmosphere

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Excellent

Service

★ ★ ★ ★ Very Good

 

FACTFILE

 

Address

342 Kirkstall Rd, Leeds LS4 2DS

Website

www.vivacubaleeds.co.uk

Email

info@vivacubaleeds.co.uk

Tel

0113 275 0888

Opening times

Mon-Fri 5.30pm-10pm, Sat 5pm-11pm, Sun 5pm-10pm

Parking

Large car park opposite.

Disabled access

Main dining area on ground floor

Credit cards accepted

Yes

Children

Welcome

Reproduced from the Yorkshire Evening Post. First Published Wednesday 14th December 2016
http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/lifestyle/eating-out/restaurant-review-viva-cuba-kirkstall-road-leeds-1-8289346

YORKSHIRE EVENING POST VIVA CUBA RESTAURANT REVIEW BY OLIVER

Oliver usually has very strict rules when it comes to sharing. Some might call it being just plain greedy. But as far as Oliver is concerned once you have made your choice from the menu then you are quite simply stuck with it.

And woe betide the dining companion who dares to cross that invisible line across the table. Oliver is always quick to prevent any attempts to pilfer some of his food – particularly if his dish looks more appealing than one picked by his dining partner. But when Oliver paid a visit to Leeds’s very own little taste of Havana he was forced to tear up the dining rule book and throw it out of the window.

It has been nearly three years now since Oliver decided to venture into Viva Cuba. My dining companion and I left behind the miserable wet streets of Leeds for a warming welcome in the former home of a branch of the Yorkshire Bank. From the outside the restaurant’s unassuming nature just goes to show that you should never judge a book by its cover. Nestled on a main road just a stone’s throw away from a MacDonalds restaurant, a giant cinema complex and a brand new nightclub it is not the first choice of location for Leeds’s very own answer to Cuba.

But the warm welcome and the thriving atmosphere make this Hispanic haven special. Despite the long-absence my dining partner and I weren’t disappointed. It was almost like visiting an old friend who you have not seen in a few years but it feels like just yesterday since you last saw each other. Not a lot has changed since our last visit – but as the old adage goes, if it isn’t broken then don’t fix it.

The only noticeable change was that the restaurant was certainly in the festive spirit complete with Christmas tree and decorations. Oliver was particularly impressed with the sparkling lights that furnished the banister around the balcony for the upstairs eating area and small bar. Sometimes Christmas decorations can be far too outlandish but these added just the right amount of sparkle to the intimate atmosphere.

Oliver and his dining partner decided to visit at around 7pm on a Friday and luckily we did not have to wait long for a table. Sometimes the queue for a spot can practically hang out of the door. But I think we timed our visit just right because within half an hour a queue was nearly doing exactly that. We were shown upstairs to a small bar area furnished with black leather sofas and small tables. In the middle of each table was a flickering candlelight which just added to the cosy atmosphere.

We waited for around 10 minutes until our friendly server beckoned us to our table downstairs in the main seating area. The restaurant itself has an intimate, romantic feel with the flickering candles on the table. And the window blinds are pulled to block out any of the light to help heighten the atmosphere. Pictures and paintings, which Oliver believes were collected in Castro’s homeland, adorn the luscious red walls. The decor is complemented by the dark wooden tables and chairs. And Viva Cuba’s reputation is certainly not one to be sniffed at especially after it bagged itself an Oliver Award.

The restaurant was already particularly busy with Christmas party groups, couples, and friends all gathered sharing their love of tapas. The menu is quite lengthy and there were at least 40 different mouthwatering dishes we could have chosen. Options ranged from the classic Patatas Bravas, which are cubed potatoes topped with a spicy sauce, to the Lomo de Cerdo, which are marinated medallions of pork loin fried in garlic and olive oil. After a lengthy debate about what to order we decided to settle for a slightly greedy six dishes to share.

Perhaps we were being slightly ambitious but nevertheless when our meals arrived they were certainly a feast for the eyes. After some slight Tetris-style work from the waitress, my dining partner and I were left spoiled for choice about which dish to delve into first. We chose the Calamares Fritos a la Romana which were lightly battered squid rings which were seasoned and came with a small side salad.

The squid rings almost melted in your mouth and were a great starting point. Next came the Caribbean classic of chicken and rice which was snaffled in a second. The diced lamb which came served in a sweet and spicy Caribbean-style sauce almost caused a fight on the table. My dining partner and I almost battled it out for the last tender juicy piece of lamb out of the dish.

Another stand out dish was the special Galician winter beef stew which is a Spanish classic. The beef was succulent and warming and certainly helped to blow away the week’s cobwebs. We also picked a seafood paella which was tasty and perhaps a little too filling. Half way through our meal Oliver started to feel like he was losing his battle after his greed commenced to take hold.

We still had a platter of cured meats and sausage, which came served with bread, olives and cracked pepper, to work our way through. But Oliver and his dining partner proved that even with the art of sharing, our eyes were both certainly bigger than our bellies. Our meals, including a soft drink and a pint, tipped the scales at just over £37 which was extremely good value for money.

On the way out we made a mental note of some of the other dishes for our return. But Oliver has already told his dining partner that he refuses to share the lamb with him again – it’s all mine.

STAR RATING

 

Food

★ ★ ★ ★ Very Good

Value

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Excellent

Atmosphere

★ ★ ★ ★ Very Good

Service

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Excellent

Reproduced from the Yorkshire Evening Post. First Published 12th December 2013
http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk

Viva… we are havana great time.

Viva Cuba Kirkstall Road, Leeds What a place. Viva Cuba is a true jewel in the crown of this city’s restaurant scene. It has the perfect mix of characteristics which make it typically Leeds – namely that it is unassumingly brilliant.

And why? Well, even before we move onto the food the owners have transformed what used to be a rather austere bank in Kirkstall into a little haven of havana. This is quite an achievement given that the exterior – which fronts onto a busy main road next to a McDonalds- is clearly a long way form Cuba.

But with the push of a door you’re transported straight to Castro’s homeland. The interior has such a bohemian edge to it that you half expect to find chickens running around on a strawcovered floor (rest assured, this isn’t the case). Not that it is gimmicky. This isn’t some theme park style clumsy copy, it’s very much inspired by the genuine article.

The two local lads who set it up are Sebastian McGowan and Michael Cook who fell in love with all things Latin following a trip to Cuba in their younger years. As a result they returned to Blighty determined to retain a true flavour of what they’d left behind- and their very real affection shines through here. They spent a year transforming this old Yorkshire Bank (how ironic) into the dining hotspot it is today.

And so successful were the results that they went on to repeat it with a second venue in the city centre. Kirkstall Road remains tapas HQ a real undiscovered gem for many but those who know the place are stalwarts. What sets Viva Cuba apart is its general ambience.

Friendly welcome

You get a friendly welcome the moment you walk through the door and, if you haven’t booked, you’ll probably be escorted onto the balcony bar where you can sip a mojito while perusing the numerous pictures, many of which were brought personally by McGowan and Cook.

This balcony is just one of the numerous features which make the place special. Somehow they’ve maneged to turn what would have been starched surroundings into something altogether more rustic. Fortunately the food is on a part with the surroundings.

The meal began, of course, with a mojito – the meanest mojito I’ve ever tasted, clearly livingly prepared by a barman who knows how to crush mint. Then came the tricky part: what tapas to order and how much. This is a perilous venture because it can either prove a triumph or a bit of a disaster.

Ordering too much can leave you bloated and frustrated at having good food in front of you which can’t be eaten. Ordering too little is even worse. Much worse. If this happens you’ve totally failed the tapas test. We didn’t exactly pass with flying colours either but at least we ordered too much – albeit unwittingly. You see the great thing about Viva Cuba is that, unlike other tapas restaurant which will remain unnamed, they are generous.

You won’t find tiny bowls with two meatballs resting in sauce masquerading as a dish in its own right. Here, to use the same example, you’ll get four corking meatballs. And so it goes on with other dishes. I ordered a plate of cooked meats which, i asumed would include a couple of slices of prosciutto, perhaps some salami and the odd olive. But no, my 5.50 got me a large platter of around 15 slice and a generous handful of olives.

Only trouble was that we were only two dishes in and already starting to feel full. This was a tragedy because everything else was equally deliciouse. The patatas bravas and the patatas chilli were celestial, and these are particularly important dishes as they provide a yardstick which can be used to measure any tapas. Another cracker was the jalapenos stuffed with marscapone which, I discovered on introduction from my dining partner,don’t have to be mouth-scorching.

Extra drink

Everything was served quickly and the staff super polite and efficient – the only flaw came atthe end when we asked for our bill. The tab included a drink we hadn’t consumed and when this was pointed out the waitress duly brought us an amended version. Unfortunately this still had another drink on it we hadn’t consumed and this, too, was duly removed. This was more than compensated by the fact that the bill only came to 47.80 -that’s lots of food and a couple of drinks and two coffees, brilliant value.

And don’t worry about atmosphere either -this place has oodles. We visited on Wednesday night and, predictably, the place as packed. The buzz here is amazing. Very informal and so jovial that you half expect people to spontaneously get up and dance on the tables at he end of their meal. Viva Cuba has what so many other restaurant lack -fun and credibility. Coming here isn’t an element in a night out, it’s a night out in itself.

It seems hard to belive there’s a resident of Leeds who hasn’t tried this place, but it remains, for many an unknown quantity. If you’re one of those who have yet to sample their delights then you’re missing out.

STAR RATING

 

Food

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Excellent

Value

★ ★ ★ ★ Very Good

Atmosphere

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Excellent

Service

★ ★ ★ ★ Very Good

Reproduced from the Yorkshire Evening Post. First Published Saturday 21st October 2006
http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk

Close Menu