Belfast Telegraph

Restaurant review: Revolucion de Cuba

25 Arthur Street Belfast. Tel: 028 9590 9249

By Joris Minne

Nothing prompts sneering cynicism among certain classes than super-pubs, restaurant chains and small-town night clubs. Those of us who enjoy nothing more than our living room pre-ing, followed by taxis to PizzaExpress, or Zen, and ending the night in Lavery's, or the Errigle, avoiding the police and the drunks on the way home, know what to expect.

It's all entirely predictable and sound. It's unthreatening and kind of reaffirming. It's not very adventurous, admittedly, but sometimes, after a hard week, you just need the comfort of what you know.

Which makes life hell for anyone opening a new restaurant in Belfast, or for that matter putting on a literary, jazz, or comedy festival. Success comes from word of mouth and it will take an age before we meet anyone who's been to the new place and, even then, the word may not always be good.

Thankfully, there are now more bloggers in Belfast than there are bus stops and they are always hungry for the new and are pretty quick at letting you know what they think.

If you're reading this wondering what a blogger does, it's, er, what I do here, but on their own terms.

Anyway, the need for predictability cannot be sneered at. Top restaurants are valued for their consistency of food, service and ambience. That's just another word for predictability.

I think a reputation for consistency and predictability is exactly what Revolucion de Cuba, the giant club-restaurant which replaced Cafe Vaudeville last year, has achieved in very little time.

There are more than a dozen Revolucion de Cuba club-restaurants across the UK and they all work on a common principal of party, fiesta, good service, decent cocktails and food.

The last outing was for a friend's significant birthday. The advisor's advisor, Anne, wanted something low key, but good craic, quality food and a bit of atmos.

Just to test the limits of Revolucion's hospitality credentials, this all had to be delivered at 5.30 in the afternoon, due to Anne's busy schedule that evening.

Even though it was mid-afternoon, when the four of us showed up it was as if we had walked straight into a Saturday night, we imagined, in Havana.

There was live salsa, samba and mambo music (just at the level you want it - atmospheric and cool, rather than head-fracturing, weapons-grade decibels) being played by real Latin American musicians.

Servers were clearly on high alert for incoming guests and I watched as group after group came in and were treated with great courtesy.

Some of our top restaurants need to remind themselves of how important that moment of greeting is to punters.

The place was busy with buzz, parties, families, lads at the bar, the high ceilings and grand columns generating a sense of glamorous occasion.

Cocktails, beers and wine are quickly produced: caipirinhas, mojitos, cuba libres and various hybrids are all there; the Dos Equis and Pacifico bottled beers were ice-cold and even the Albarinho wine (from a decent short wine list) was faultless.

Small plates of pork belly skewers, cheeseburger tacos, chicken quesadillas, mojito prawns, gambas pil pil and honey and lime chicken skewers are standard fare and done beautifully.

Prawns have the right texture and flavour, chicken is tender and moist, pork belly is luxuriously fat; it's all sound. A weak spot was the roasted chorizo, glazed in red wine and honey, which, really, you ought to nibble and then put away.

There are bigger plates (this is Belfast), with burritos (marinated chicken with rice, beans, cheese and other bits; mushroom bean and spinach; shredded pork) and burgers (the Smokestack Burger is a beast: hand-pressed burger, shredded pork, jalapenos, spicy rum sauce, Manchego and Cheddar cheeses and rum mayo).

Revolucion won't match the Cafe Vaudeville food offer, because chef Damien Tumilty is no longer there, but what they do have is quality, fun and entertaining, fresh and tasty and occasionally very good dishes served with a bit of Latino swagger and smile.

The bill

Pacifico beer x 2 ............................ £8.80

Daiquiri x 3 ...................................£23.25

Cuba Libre .................................... £8.25

Bottle Albarinho x 3 ......................... £78

Nachos.................................................. £6

Gambas pil pil................................. £6.50

Mojito prawns ................................£6.25

Chicken quesadilla x 2..................£11.50

Pork tacos ........................................... £6

Chicken skewer ............................. £5.75

Roast chorizo ................................ £6.25

Cheese burger tacos ........................ £6

Beef fillet skewer ..........................£7.50

Croquettas ...................................£5.50

Charred haloumi ...........................£6.50

Calamari .........................................£5.25

Churros ......................................... £4.50

Total..............................................£193.55

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