The entrance to Café Laurent gives little away. While just a few blocks away from the iconic Hotel National, Calle M has little commerce and you have to be guided into the apartment building where a small well-maintained antique elevator takes you up four stories to the penthouse. This is not a cute family-run paladar, but a very stylish and professional restaurant, foremost in the new wave of private Havana eating establishments that have sprung up in the past few months. Walking into this paladar, you may need to pinch yourself, for the clean, minimalist lines are so alien to the average Havana experience. It is modelled on a contemporary 1950s feel. Old newspapers cover the back wall with adverts for the latest vacuum cleaners and international calling options from the 1950s. The walls have been painted with stylish rings into which the fridge simply blends. Sensitive modern lighting and billowing white awnings outside provide shade from the noonday sun and add a modern Miami style. Dayron Avilés Alfonso is the Cuban chef who, having worked in San Sebastian, Spain and Buenos Aires, Argentina, is comfortable with the Spanish Basque-based menu. The quality of the food here, imitation or not, is sufficient for us to forget the original sin. The Pargo con almejas y gambas en salsa verde (red snapper with clams and shrimp in green sauce) is fabulous. The shrimps, steak, meatballs, salads and sides are all well done, while the chocolate biscotti are irresistible. The Sunday lunch special is a tasty paella and/or risotto.
Birthday brownie at Café Laurent: This “up” is a great example that it doesn’t take a lot to make a great impression. Just recently celebrating a birthday with a group of friends in the beautiful Café Laurent, the management volunteered a delicious brownie, on the house, with a candle and even brought the wait staff to join in the singing of “Felicidad” the traditional birthday song in Cuba. May seemed small, but it brought a lot of smiles to our table. And, I have to say that the brownie was delicious, we end up ordering more of those… so, even if it is not your birthday consider tasting this amazing dessert.
Cafe Laurent (restaurant revisited)
This restaurant continues to be one of my favorites. I was there for New Year’s Eve night and again for lunch that week and both times were great but this post is from my visit on the last week of February. On this visit there were 3 of us, the third person was not a local, giving me another point of view.
I have to say, the service has always been pleasant and professional. We’re always greeted with a smile at the door and the same people have been working there for a while. It’s always nice to go to a place where people remember you. On this occasion we had some menu items we haven’t tried before and some stuff we’ve had before and enjoyed.
As an appetizer my guest had what they called the ‘Ceviche’ on the menu but didn’t look like Ceviche on the plate. It was slightly seared Tuna over sweet potato mash with caramelized onions, sautéed green pepper and carrot, a wonderful combination. The quality of the tuna was excellent. I had the Lobster Cocktail as I did on my previous visit and once again it didn’t disappoint. A whole boiled lobster tail with homemade tartar sauce on the side and a dollop of guava jam. I could have done without the jam but it wasn’t unpleasant. I opted to dip into the tartar instead. Cooked to perfection, a whole lobster tail chopped up, what a deal at 6.35 cuc. My date had the Stuffed Pimentos once again and loved them. They look like little baby sweet red pepper and they’re stuffed with a creamy tuna this time. The consistency of this place is a beautiful thing.
For the main-course my guest and I shared a large whole Red Snapper. The menu says it’s fried but don’t be scared, you wouldn’t even know it. Cooked just right and not oily or dry at all. My guest couldn’t tell it was fried. There’s real olive oil on the table and that’s all the fish needed. My date had the seared Lobster Tail. A whole seared lobster tail cooked out of the shell but served with the shell attached. She was quite happy. All the dishes had a beautiful presentation. For dessert my date had something called ‘Leche Frita’ which translated means fried milk. It was served with a scoop of strawberry ice cream on the side. I should have asked how it was prepared but didn’t. I can tell you it was divine.
Once again an outstanding meal, the reason it continues to be a favorites of ours. With 2 bottles of wine (50cuc) and the 10% gratuity that they add already, the bill came out to 143cuc for the 3 of us. This is probably as expensive as it gets for me. Not bad I would say. I’m looking forward to going back and trying something new and maybe find out how they make that dessert.