Cuba Absolutely Review: January 2013
Café Madrigal is something new. This is not just another paladar but a whole cultural centre wrapped into a beautifully renovated and decorated building. This is the sort of place that Hemingway would have liked in his Paris phase–intellectual, intense, artistic. A gathering point, a meeting place rather than simply somewhere to get something to eat.
After a whole year of repairs and transformations to the original structure (which dates back to 1919), Rafael Rosales opened Café Madrigal. While the bare brick walls reveal the work of masons who materialized the architecture of the emerging El Vedado in the early 20th century, they disclose also the story of Rosales’s life through art and images, pictures and artefacts. Rosales has worked with Cuban cinema for over 20 years.
The spacious main dining room looks out onto a pleasant terrace that almost begs the customer to sit there and has a lounge in the rear. In the centre, the bar boasts an original mahogany counter. Breaking away from the traditional white for ceilings, the plaster here is painted in brown, ochre and black. The warm light from paper and glass lamps gives the place a homely and friendly atmosphere.
Foodwise, this is a light place, tapas style. Look for the Empanaditas del Madrigal (Madrigal pie), Pastel de queso (cheese pie), Cesticas de Leticia (chicken- or vegetable-filled basket), and candied fruit pastries, Bruschetta with pesto, and Cuban fried ripe plantain omelette. Rescuing traditional dishes from Cuban cuisine is very important to Rafael. This is good value with nothing over CUC 5. The bar is extensive featuring fresh fruit juices, black and herbal teas as well as the normal stocked bar with beer, wines and cocktails.
This is a fabulous place to rent out for the evening for a private party and will host exhibitions and other gatherings in the future. Alternatively, simply come by on a Friday evening and soak in the atmosphere.
Our only gripe is that at times the management/staff simply don’t seem friendly enough, attentive enough or quick enough. You get that look you might expect the third time you ask your girlfriend to get another beer out of the fridge—a) Why are you drinking so much and b) Do I look like your personal slave catering to your every whim!
The chairs at El Madrigal.
Elena Vega. April 2013
El Madrigal is the place that everyone (myself included) loves to hate. This is a beautifully decorated place, which attracts a hip and artsy mostly Cuban crowd and provides my sort of vibe even if the drinks take time to arrive and the owner seems to delight in insouciance. My down today is all about the chairs, which must have been deliberately designed in some part of the world for maximum discomfort. Made of wood with a square design and high arm rests they look comfortable but after a few minutes sitting at one you will take my point and join the hopping brigade.
The slow service at Madrigal.
The last two times I was in this nice looking bar in the Vedado area I was with a fairly large group of friends, and I would be lying if I said we had a bad time. We had a blast! But it would have been even better if we hadn’t had to wait up 20 minutes for a daiquiri. The bartender was a very nice fellow, but he made each separately when we had ordered five at the same time! OK, maybe there is a secret charm to the individually mixed daiquiri, but the service was slow. Other than that I love this place. The chairs are uncomfortable and the noisy blender is too close to the patrons but the art is interesting and the location is very convenient.
Cafe Madrigal (Tapas Bar-Havana) My Review
Mateo Speranza review. Monday, 17 December 2012
This is one of my latest discoveries in Havana in the way of eateries. It had only been open about a month when we visited and I almost wasn’t going to post anything. I wanted to keep it a secret but it’s too late for that. The word is out on this place and spreading fast. The two nights we were there, it was packed and from what I could tell the crowd was mostly local. It attracts an artsy crowd: film industry people, musicians, poets, intellectuals Rafael Rosales, the owner of Madrigal, had been in the Cuban Cinema for over 20 years and had been a filmmaker. The place is named after one of his revered movies. It took him about a year to turn his early 1900’s home into a Tapas Bar but what a job he did. The place is incredible, if you didn’t know it, you could never imagine that you were in Cuba. Rafael has the walls adorned with movie paraphernalia dating back from around the 50’s and has had a popular local artist paint some pictures reflecting the art scene of the 60-70’s. He uses perfect lighting and an eclectic selection of music to create the ideal atmosphere for his place. It’s well thought out, it’s not something you see often here in Cuba but the trend is changing. I’m seeing more thought being put into the decor of the new ‘Paladars’ but Rafael’s place is by far one of the better ones in that respect.
If you don’t have an address, good luck in finding this place. It’s on the top floor of a two-story house in residential Vedado. The only indication that there’s a bar here is a poorly lit sign on the 2nd floor balcony. It’s not easy to see at night if you don’t know where to look. You’re more than likely to see the lights and hear the chatter. Go up the flight of stairs and you enter the main room with the bar directly in front of you on your right. If you were to go straight, you would reach the back room where you have seating for about 12 in the form of couches and chairs, a lounging area. The main room holds about 40 if you include the tables along the hallway, the patio about another 15 and the bar 5. It opens at 6pm but by about 11pm-midnight the place is buzzing with activity. The wait staff and kitchen work hard until the closing time.
The menu is light fare, Tapas and nothing is more than CUC 5. It’s hard to spend money in this place. We went twice with the bills being CUC 23 (with four drinks) & CUC 33 (with a bottle of wine). The first night we had Shrimp Cocktail, cooked fresh and a fairly nice size shrimp and Curried Shrimp Cocktail which was sent by mistake and that we kept. The Curried Shrimp was sent first and by the time it had been realized that a mistake was made we were halfway through them and loving it. Again, a nice sized shrimp in a curried mayo. We also had Falafel that were ‘spot on’ accompanied by a garlic aioli and the ‘Empanaditas del Madrigal’, half-moon shaped ravioli stuffed with cheese, fried crispy and served with plum sauce on the side. We ended with a chicken sandwich with sliced tomato, lettuce and mayo. The sliced chicken breast was heated on the hotplate and then the whole sandwich, served on a decent French baguette, was heated as well. I know it’s only a chicken sandwich but it was one of the better ones I’ve had in this country.
On the second visit we had the Tostones stuffed with cheese. I’m glad I ordered them with cheese. The Tostones were rather hard but the cheese they used was cream cheese so the Tostones acted more like a cracker so I didn’t mind them. Tostones are fried plantains, in this case they hollow out the centre a bit so they can put in a stuffing and either bake it (cooking it a second time) or in this case, spreading the stuffing and serving it. We also had the ‘Pastel de La Casa’, similar to a quiche and changes daily. On this night the Pastel was ham and pineapple, very tasty. We had the Falafel again but on this occasion the garlic aioli had so much garlic in it that it seemed spicy. We finished with the Chicken Fingers and the Fried Malanga. The chicken fingers I won’t order again. They were fresh but the chicken is different than our chickens and wasn’t as tender. The Malanga however was great, done like a mash and then fried like little croquettes, I loved them.
The service is pleasant, no attitude here. The food can take a while depending on the amount of business they have at the time, that’s normal. This isn’t the kind of place where you want to eat and run anyway. It’s very comfortable and makes you feel like you want to stay for a while. So pay Rafael a visit, order a few things and sit back and relax. I had the pleasure of meeting Rafael who was soft spoken, articulate and intelligent. I would have liked to interview him and hear his story but it will have to wait for another time. I’ll be going back for sure. This is the ‘New Cuba’ when it comes to the food industry. I hope you have a chance to check out what’s going on.