When a delegation of chefs from Alice Waters’ celebrated Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley visited Cuba (November 2012) on a mission to spark a revolution in the Cuban diet by exposing islanders to healthier dishes Le Chansonier was chosen (with good reason) to host one of two dinner’s at which the celebrated chefs prepared an extravaganza of the art of the possible. Le Chansonier is quite simply the most stylish, grown up place, with sparkling service and great food to go for dinner in Havana. (Most of the time at least!).
Hector Higueras reopened Le Chansonnier in October 2011. For those that remember, Le Chansonnier used to be a French-themed private restaurant cluttered with antiques; it was a solid, if not spectacular, place to eat. This reinvention has left little trace of the old interior of the house, which dates back to 1860. Now a haven of contemporary chic, this is not an escape from Havana, as much as the integration of the coolest elements. Beautiful young staff, happening music, sensitive lighting and thoughtful décor, as well as what must be the coolest toilet façade in Cuba (thanks to artist Damián Aquiles) give the place impeccable hipster credentials.
The main dining room is spacious with high ceilings and impeccable taste. Recently renovated again the bar (such as it is) is now immediately to you’re right as you entering. This is a great place to chat a bit more informally perched on bar stools. The old bar has become a den to delights of fine coffee. The main room remains as it was although they seem slightly more relaxed on smoking these days.
This is quality nouveau cuisine, without the silly small portions, which is put together by the new Italian chef. The menu is not huge, but what is there is done with sensitive use of herbs and spices. For starters, try the Pulpo en tinta de calamar (Octopus in squid ink), Caviar de berenjena (Eggplant caviar) or Sopa de cangrejo (Crab soup). Main courses we like include the Pato a Le Chansonnier (Duck Le Chansonnier), Pechuga de pollo con salsa de tamarindo (Chicken breast with tamarind sauce) and Pescado a la Provenzal (Fish Provençal). Desserts are reasonable, the coffee good and our only grumble would be a limited wine menu at present, which is definitely over-priced.
I do need to add an additional gripe, which is really not about Le Chansonier but about us, the clients. The American tour buses have found the place and on nights when a bus has dropped off 30 tourists it can loose a little of its hipness in the same way that La Guarida for all its authentic style can become a sophisticated tourist trap.
The hours at Le Chanssonier: There are not many downs one can find in this beautiful restaurant. As said in previous columns the food is good, the décor is superb, the service is friendly, the prices are not bad, and on top it has an amazing display of art and a very good looking bar in case someone wants just a drink. Nevertheless one bad thing that I can find in this restaurant is that they do not open for lunch. It would be a great addition to the lunch options in the city; I just hope they expand their hours.
The art at Le Chansonnier Set in an old house in the Vedado area, this paladar has an interesting menu, a good-looking bar, and it also has very friendly service; prices are a little bit high but the food is flavorful. Nevertheless the place distinguishes itself for its contemporary, elegant and chic look. One can tell that professionals were in charge of the décor. Classic element such as the glass chandeliers are harmoniously mixed with minimalist furniture with stunning results. But above anything, the most interesting element is the wall that leads to the bathrooms, a fascinating piece made with old paint cans produced by local artist Damian Aquiles. It is worth going to Le Chansonnier, even if just to admire that wall.