Tis’ the season to open gastro pubs and Mumbai is not complaining. The newly opened Havana Café & Bar, which replaced Polly Esther’s Club at Gordon House Hotel, is inspired by Cuba and its spirit.
This dimly-lit bar looks like where Cuban mafia leaders will get together for a drink and smoke cigars. A chandelier made of Bacardi and Old Monk bottles (the labels remain intact) hangs in the centre; arched pillars that divide the space are painted pale blue, yellow and pink and resemble Cuban houses. There’s a marble fountain in the dining area and circular booths for large groups. The slightly raised VIP lounge is like a Cuban balcony with intricately designed fences. The rusty-maroon walls are painted with graffiti of Che Guvera, Fidel Castro, Cuban flag, and quotes.
It’s a Cuban themed bar so naturally there’s lots of rum on the menu with Cuban coffee for the teetotallers. The music is mostly Spanish but as the night goes by, it seamlessly pans to the likes of You’re beautiful, Hotel California and One Love.
As the fedora and suspenders-clad bar tenders mixed our drinks, we started with Havana Cuba Libre (Rs 250) – available by glass and pitcher – white rum, coke and lime. The drink had a strong citrus flavour that made it stand out from regular rum and coke. The dark-coloured Zombie (Rs 500) – white, gold and dark rum, grapefruit, grenadine, passion fruit, lime juice and absinthe – had punches of sweet-sour that are reminiscent of an icy kala khatta gola with a subtle sourness in comparison. The Havana Sunrise (Rs 350) - baby-pink coloured – might look innocent but is quite potent. The drink was a heady mix of white rum, egg whites, passion fruit and a dash of lime.
The food menu is limited and the south American influence is barely felt. There are enough options for vegetarians including the desserts. The Crisp Fried Nachos (Rs 250) were light and crunchy, served with mayo dip and tomato salsa. The Vegetarian Empanadas (Rs 250) had crispy and flaky pastry, but the stuffing of peas, bell peppers, potato mash and caramelised onions was a dull treat; opt for the Chicken Empanadas instead.
The basa in the Fish Fritters (Rs 300) was overpowered by the egg flavour and we could only taste red bell peppers, jalapeno, olives and onions. However, the fritters were light and crispy. Avoid ordering the Milk Macerated Chicken Aioli Skewers (Rs 270). The chicken despite being soaked in milk was dry and any hint of basil was killed by the garlic aioli.
The Multigrain Bread Chicken Cubano (Rs 350), a chicken rendition of the classic pork Cuban sandwich is a must try. The lightly toasted multigrain bread lent the sandwich a unique flavour and comes layered with chicken fillet, cheese, grilled zucchini, caramelised onions and tomato slices. While a traditional Cuban sandwich uses mustard, we didn’t miss it much. The sandwich is served with a side of crispy nachos and traditional Cuban Mojo Sauce – a light sauce made with garlic, olive oil, cumin and pepper with oranges and lime adding a sour touch.
In accordance with the theme, the dessert too gives you a kick. The Flambéed Bananas (Rs 170) is nothing short of theatrics. The server lights fire to the rum and pours it over bananas that are soaked in rum and orange reduction. The dessert had an overpowering smoky flavour of rum which didn’t let us taste the orange.
Havana Café & Bar, with its extremely boozy drinks and a limited food menu has managed to fit into Polly’s big shoes. The prices may not be as low as Colaba Social, but the drinks are worth your money.