One of Havana’s newest and brightest stars on its exploding culinary scene is the suitably named Lamparilla 361, which directly translated means “night light”. In fact, the whole street is called Lamparilla with the restaurant snuggled amongst some typical Old Havana residences a few short blocks off the main drag, Obispo and just below Villegas.
Lamparilla advertises itself as being “Tapas Y Cervezas” but this grossly understates the magic coming out of its tiny kitchen hidden upstairs.
I recently dropped in at the recommendation of Jane and Joe who describe themselves as “two crazy Australians” and was certainly elated that I did. I had two of the best meals ever in a city that is quickly raising the bar for its foodie seekers.
Lamparilla 361 opens fully onto the street and is furnished with a solid set of blondish wood furniture that allows diners to eat while absorbing the daily and nightly hum of the neighbourhood. Its openness makes it a little too easy and tempting to access by some of the occasional overly-refreshed locals but they are quickly shooed away by an attentive security detail that varies between a stoic doorman, Wilmer, some nights, and a hysterically funny, young woman by the name of Damary (someone give this Cubana a TV show but now!) on others. In addition to these two characters, diners are attentively attended to by a small army of delightful waitresses adorned in stylishly matching uniforms (please tell Milly the marriage proposal is on its way!)
Opened within the last year by owner Alejandro Orta and featuring cuisine by chef Alejandro Vrgelles (formerly of local favourite, Castropol) Lamparilla 361 is part of this new wave of restaurants that is quickly turning Old Havana on its head and will generate buzz and a beaten path by hipsters for years to come.
Fine but what about the food?
On my first visit, I surveyed the both the drink and food offerings, which had been carefully handwritten on two separate veneers of wood (these will undoubtedly wear with the passage of time but for now are a cute detail).
My first temptation was a delicious watermelon mojito, as thirst quenching as it sounds. Here we go!
Since this is supposed to be a tapas bar, the food choices are quite numerous and include dishes such a smoked salmon (10 CUCs), a Serrano ham platter (10),
burritos (5), beef tartar (5), meatballs (3) and chicken croquettes (3) to name but a few of the starters.
I bravely opted to start with the ceviche (4). To me this is the ultimate leap of faith but also a way to access the freshest of fish that a country has to offer.
A heaping bowl of perfectly chilled, chopped ceviche was soon presented,(proceeded by an amuse bouche of a chilled curried squash soup that was stunning) mixed with fresh onions and herbs too numerous to properly identify. Perfect!
Next up I had noticed that “roast suckling pig” was one of the mains and my waitress, Angie, informed me that it came with its crispy skin and was one of the house specialties. Bring it on!
A perfectly-plated, thick slice of aforementioned roast suckling pig (12) with mouth- watering crispy skin, as advertised, arrived on a bed of potato -not sweet potato as is usually the case in Cuba but potato – along with a few leaves of sautéed Swiss chard and an elongated, full length carrot to cap off its artistic presentation. Too good to eat? No way. Let’s go.
This dish delivered the goods perfectly and was both delectable and filling. Enjoyed with a glass of Chilean cabernet sauvignon, this was a relaxing way to cap off a busy day.
While savouring my choice I had noticed a tantalizing grilled langosta dish being served to a fellow patron. Then and there I committed to return the next day to give that one a try, which I did.
Again I started with the ceviche (it was really just that good) and then came my glistening two tails of glazed (garlic and olive oil, I am guessing) langoustine, my first of this trip. These were served with a few delicious vegetables (oh, look, the Swiss chard and carrots are back). Fantastico!
Angie had made me pledge on my prior visit to have one of their deserts tonight. A promise is a promise. Out she came with something she called “sin” (“it’s a religious term” she informed me ). Sin, in this case, is a tiny glass jar of hazelnut cream with a delicate layer of caramel snuck in there somehow and topped with a homemade biscuit. A chocolate variation is also available. Delectable and, dare I say, sinful!
On your next trip to Havana, make sure to try Lamparilla 361 early in your week because once you have discovered it you will want to return again and again before leaving. Open for lunch, dinner and late night tapas.
Lamparilla 361, 361 Lamparilla between Aguante and Villegas, Old Havana tel: 5-2895324. Open 12am-12pm daily. Lamparilla361@gmail.com. Prices summer 2016.
A.J. Twist is a Montreal-based travel writer and photographer who occasionally sins.