Fluid’s Kimberley Smith caught up with him between mealtimes at Floridita, Soho.
FL: Where did you get your Cuban inspiration?
AR: A lot of the recipes we do at Floridita, as well as in the book, are from people we met out in Cuba. Everyone has their own special family recipe for things like Black Beans, for example, and it’s a matter of honour. So we amalgamated a few of them and created our own way which we serve at the restaurant and which you’ll find in the book. Some of our best recipes are family recipes from people we were lucky enough to meet who just wanted to take us home and cook for us.
FL: How does rationing affect menus in Cuba and how did you create Cuban-based food for a sophisticated (and un-rationed) Soho crowd?
AR: Cubans have begun growing more of their own produce but they are cut off from a lot of we take for granted. The embargos mean they’re officially not allowed to fish beyond more than a mile off their shores so fresh fish isn’t very available to them. We looked to other parts of the Caribbean for inspiration. Mostly, though, we’ve developed the menu based on some classic Cuban dishes but embellished it.
FL: Where can people get ingredients for your recipes in London?
AR: There are plenty of places where you can get all our ingredients. We go down to Camberwell and Brixton Markets, because of the Caribbean population there and loads of restaurants so it’s pretty easy to get anything you want. I can’t think of a single ingredient we use or we saw used in Cuba that you can’t get in London.
FL: What was the original Floridita like and how much does your version reflect it?
AR: When we started Floridita I pulled on what the restaurant originally did in Havana. Havana itself back in the 20s, 30s, 40s…50s, was very cash rich with lots of famous patrons like Winston Churchill and Marilyn Monroe. Back then they mostly served French food but using local ingredients. It still exists, serving the same sort of food. When we were revising concepts for Floridita here in Soho we wanted to keep the essence of high quality food that draws from lots of sources of inspiration. So we have great cocktails, lots of hearty Cuban based dishes plus Caribbean and Latin American food too.
FL: What are the classic Floridita cocktails?
AR: The original Floridita created, back in the 40s, the Daiquiri and its sister restaurant, the Mohito, so it would have to be one of those two. Our mixologists here have done great things with the original drinks here and you can have a Daiquiri in pretty much any flavour you could imagine.
FL: What’s your favourite?
AR: Well, it would have to be one of those two, probably the Daiquiri, the original!
FL: Do you worry about giving up the secrets of your restaurant's food in your book?
AR: No, not at all! It’s not just a cookbook, there’s loads of stuff about the country and the people, about the music, that we’re big into promoting and if it enthuses people about the Cuban culture and gets them cooking some of our recipes it’s a great thing.
FL: What’s your favourite dish from it?
AR: That’s hard to pick. Some of them remind me of being in Cuba like the black beans. Its not a very exciting dish but it has such meaning to the country.
FL: What’s your favourite London restaurant besides your own?
AR: Zuma in Knightsbridge, you should definitely go!
FL: You put on Cuban music too, are there any Cuban cultural events we shouldn’t miss?
AR: Well, we’re involved with the embassy and have held the Cuban music awards here. I think we’re the best to come to for it, to be honest! We’ll go to Cuba to investigate new bands and bring them over to play for a few weeks. It’s quite complicated but we’re dedicated to bringing genuine Cuban musicians to the bar.
FL: Are guests at your restaurants keen to try new things?
AR: They often are and we try to offer some real departures from the norm on the menu. But having said that we’re also careful to have some of the basics for people who just want a satisfying meal with recognisable ingredients and dishes.
‘Eat Cuban’ is out now, available from the online Floridita shop.
Check out more info about Floridita in Soho.
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