Cuba la Casa del Mojito delivers a genuine taste of Havana in downtown Saigon. Review and photos by Brett Davis.
Could this place possibly be more authentic? Let’s see: Cuban chef, check; Cuban bartender, yep; Cuban master cigar roller hand-rolling the island’s most famous product on Sunday evenings, abso-freaking-lutely.
The co-owners, while not themselves Cuban, obviously have an abiding affection for the country and its cuisine. They spent several months there early in the year researching and recruiting their star chef.
There is a very stylish old-world charm about the venue that befits a place billing itself as a restaurant and cigar bar. But this is not some staid establishment, as there is a real energy and atmosphere to the place when salsa is playing and the outrageously good cocktails are flowing in the evening.
The food is, of course, classic Cuban, or would be if the island had not been cut off from trade with much of the world for the last 50 years. However, with access to the bounty of fresh produce here in Vietnam, Chef [name] has crafted a menu of dishes that are hearty yet refined.
The cubano classico (VND 160,000) is a justly famous sandwich of sliced ham, pork, and bacon with mustard, pickles and fresh tomatoes on toasted bread. Here it comes with sweet potato fries and dipping sauce. In addition to being super tasty, it is also huge.
If you want something a little lighter, the coctel marinero [VND 85,000) is a combination of lobster, shrimp and fish ceviche. There is also a salad of fresh greens, steamed squid and shredded pumpkin (del pulpit, VND 125,000) that is well worth considering.
For mains we tried the ropa vieja, a combination of stewed and shredded US-imported beef with onions, garlic, peppers and flambéed plantain. It is available in personal or sharing sizes for VND 195,000 and VND 350,00 respectively. Also available in two serving sizes, at the same price, is arroz caldozo, a sort of Cuban take on paella with fried rice, chicken, pork, shrimp, garlic, onions and peppers.
As mentioned previously, the cocktails here really are fantastic, and as the name of the establishment suggests, the mojito is the star. There are eight variations of the mojito on the list, ranging from the classic (VND 100,000) to the cubata (VND 170,000) which is made with Havana Club Anejo 7 rum.
The classic version is great, but I was also rather taken with the passion fruit and watermelon version, which are both VND 125,000. Another that has since become a personal favourite is the Pappa Hemingway (VND 115,000), a heady mix of Flor de Cana 4YO white rum, maraschino liqueur, grapefruit juice, lime and sugar.
Even better is that there is a daily happy hour from 4pm to 7pm that includes a two-for-one deal on all beer, wine and cocktails. You can even pop in on a Wednesday evening for a free salsa lesson.
If anyone is looking for me, you now know where to find me.