So to end our family holiday we decided to add a bit of culture and excitement to our beach paradise; when we were planning Robert had looked on the map and thought that Cuba looked very close, but it actually is difficult to fly direct from Jamaica to Cuba, so we had to fly via Cayman Islands. Both flights were less than an hour, but with all the transit, waiting, time difference, short delay, it took well over a half day to get there. Havana is bustling, vibrant, exciting, colorful, noisy and hot! But its another world that takes you back in time; living in a materialistic modern world, its enlightening to see how simply a poor nation can live and still enjoy the simple pleasures of life – there is little to buy for the locals except the bare necessities, scarcely any running water and even toilet roll is hard to come by.
Its been over 4 years since my first visit and already there seems to be more independent paladares, – restaurants run by locals for tourists in their homes. The government has slackened its strict rules for locals and enterprise. Its an opportunity to see into the many decaying and crumbling buildings – signs of a grandeur in bygone days. The quality of the food has definitely improved, though like the rest of the world, they all seem to like a paint stroke and squiggle of sauce on the side – striving to be upmarket. Some of the restaurants that we visited were well worth a visit , the food very high quality and vary greatly in price.
Justo, Ivan Chefs is a very atmospheric room, full of old photos on the wall, food was quite good, very big portions, quite pricey; San Cristobal in San Rafael is another atmospheric space – half the price of Justo and very good quality.
La guarida is one of the original paladares that started over 20 years ago, and I think that the other restaurants are emulating their style, though now La Guarida seems to have gone quite modern, with added rooftop bar, but the food is very good and of course this is more expensive than the others. La Guarida is in one of the most amazing old colonial buildings where the main salon is now the locals’ washing line!
El Cocinero, which is alongside Fabrica Arts in the same building, has a lovely roof terrace under an avocado tree and you can watch the sunset.
Our last dinner was another private paladar, cafe laurent on the top of a 30’s domestic block in the penthouse flat and terrace – its not a swish apartment, but the walls are lined with newspapers – the food is fairly good and has a basque feel. You must reserve all these popular restaurants in advance as they seem to be recommended by all the hotels – ask for tables on terrace with views – our hotel booked all these in advance and we definitely got a great table. Sadly not many of these paladares are frequented by locals as they cannot afford the prices, but there are some of the government run restaurants that have equally as good food plus a mix of locals and tourists.
The government run paladars are definitely more affordable, the one we frequent is La Mina, right by the square with the booksellers – decent food and a haven to escape the lunchtime heat.