This year’s London Cocktail Week saw London’s top zero-waste restaurant, Cub, from the award-winning Mr Lyan Group and Silo’s Dougie McMasters, join forces with BlackTail – the NYC-based, Cuban-inspired sister-bar to The Dead Rabbit – to put on a Cuban Takeover Dinner. We were lucky enough to swing an invite to this one-night-only event in collaboration with Havana Club rum and get our party-on, Cuban-style.
There’s something pretty wonderful about the global bar scene. In most industries, if a team were beaten by another at one of the world’s most prestigious award schemes, the fallen may harbour some slight resentment towards the one that beat it. This however doesn’t seem to hold true with most mixologists, so when The Dead Rabbit was dethroned at The World’s 50 Best Bars 2017, with Mr Lyan’s Dandelyan climbing a couple of places above it, the response wasn’t resentment, instead the bar teams seemingly recognised each other’s excellence and came together to form a form an alliance of cocktail mastery. And we are certainly not complaining.
Our night begins with a measure of Havana Club Tributo 2018, the third release of an annual super premium small bottling from the Cuban rum brand. BlackTail’s Jesse Vida is of the opinion that you should always start with the best to get the tone for your evening and, at £350 a bottle, this is a real treat! Rich and expressive with notes of dried fruit and a memory of oak, this is a powerful and complex rum with smoky notes from the peated whisky casks it has been finished in.
As our first solid course is being prepared, we are presented with our first cocktail, a pink, cheekily candy-like drink with a gentle bitterness that combines Havana Club Selección de Maestros rum, bold spiced strawberry and delicate chervil. We do our best to make it last and thanks to its powerful flavours, we (uncharacteristically) manage.
Painstakingly prepared by Gus and his kitchen team at Cub, our first dish is a layered artwork, with skinless orange segments laid around arcs of lightly honeyed Pandora cucumber, garnished with fennel flowers and Miyagawa granita. Simple and stunning, the slight bitter qualities of the orange and cucumber meet the whipped feta that lies hidden beneath to create a fresh, bright and delicious appetiser that one of our dining partner’s compares to a mojito.
In true Cub fashion, our next course is another cocktail, this time a lightly carbonated, syrupy hi-ball made with Havana Club Selección de Maestros, grosella redcurrants, sour verjus and curaçao orange. Fruit-centric like the first cocktail, this is where the comparison stops, with the long drink being a lot less heady and eager to please than the boisterous strawberry concoction.
As we sip away, we watch with intrigue as Gus takes a blowtorch to the edges of a regiment of bay leaves, followed by the similar treatment of fillets of Violino pumpkin. The leaves get placed into waiting ceramic cups of broth and are brought over to us as the treatment of the squash continues. Now, for those who have already gone to Cub (shame on you if you haven’t – go read our first review to find out more about this inimitable venue and be swayed into visiting), you will know that meat products rarely feature on their menu (not because they are against it, merely that the zero-waste restaurant hasn’t found many ways to use it in a sustainable way yet). So, you will pardon our surprise when we breathe in the vapours arising from our cup to discover the smell of smoked sausage. Our eyes dart back to our menu to see what sort of meat stock has been used and are met with the words Smoked White Bean. We pull over one of the BlackTail crew to quiz him about the provenance of our bafflement and are met with a grin. Whilst Mr Lyan’s Robin Honhold pours us a glass of white rioja, we are told about how beans are a staple food in Cuba and a good sustainable product. Here, they have smoked the bean and made a broth before adding smoked rapeseed oil to complete the taste an aroma. We take a sip and are met with a rich profusion of hearty, cured-meat flavours.
The next course is equally as astonishing. At once stocky and sensual, this is a “Muscle Mary” of a protrusion whose meaty heft and creamy texture are enough to satisfy even the staunchest of carnivores. This is surrounded by a smooth, salty sea truffle emulsion and a drizzle of bright green fennel oil that dynamically completes the dish in terms of visuals and taste.
Fruity, sweet and smoky ají panca red pepper comes together with Havana Club Selección de Maestros and Victoria Pineapple – a small, fruiter and brighter version of the type we tend to get most in the UK – in the next cocktail. An oregano garnish adds a savoury note that compliments the wisp of smoke.
At this stage, we’re starting to get a bit full, but the next course is something that must be devoured in full. It is safe to say that we have never before been made excited by a cabbage but Hipsi Cabbage, Hazelnut, Butternut Whey Reducation, Watercress Oil has us shaking our head in awe. We will never understand how Cub consistently manages to make vegetable dishes meat-like but this is another such case. Unabashedly buttery and entirely hearty, the aldente half of cabbage is incredible. Roasted hazelnuts add a depth of flavour and full mouthfeel whilst matching the crunch of the hispi. An exciting play of textures and saltiness, this is a truly special dish.
As we continue to eulogise the dish, our final cocktail is placed before us as the “tea of coffee” offer of a meal. Cascara, the outer shell of a coffee bean has been here treated like a tea before being mixed with black keeman tea. The result is a delicate and fragrant drink that calms the multitude of flavours on our tongue. We discover after a while that the slice of plum that garnishes the glass has been steeped in Havana Club rum, which brings a naughty booziness to this otherwise mild-mannered drink.
Our final course comes in the form of Havana and coffee ice cream, topped with puffed black rice “sprinkles”. The soft sweetness of the Havana comes as a welcome backdrop to the creamy coffee and the puffed rice adds a deep, earthy note, reminiscent of the barrel.
We see the dinner of how we start it, with a glass of rum, this time the much-loved Havana Club 15 yr old.
A tasting menu at Cub usually costs £60 per head, and includes both food and drink courses. The BlackTails takeover dinner was priced at £80 per head.
Cub, 153 Hoxton Street, London, N1 6PJ