Cuba Libre is a new Latin American inspired restaurant and bar located in the heart of Cambridge. It opened in 2022 replacing the old Pizza Hut which had been there for as long as I can remember. They claim to be one of the first Latin American restaurants in the city, adding more diversity to it’s rich tapestry of international cuisine.
We decided to visit for Mothers Day. My mum works across the road and has been wanting to visit for a meal for a while. She popped in for cocktails a while back and said it was very good, so she was keen to see what dishes it had to offer. We were also blown away by Urban Fresh in Ely which offers similar South American food and only made us more excited to give it a go.
It was quite empty in the restaurant upon entering. As we sat down it soon filled up and was absolutely bustling by the time we left. I didn’t take many photos, as I hate being that guy sticking a camera over people’s head while they are trying to eat. For a better idea of the interior, make sure to visit their website.
The interior is very modern with a strong Latin theme. Cuba Libre does a great job in that regard. There was even a Latin style band playing live music, adding to the atmosphere. The live music won’t be for everyone, especially for people dining in, as it is very loud and makes it hard to talk and take orders. I found it an odd choice for 1-2pm and was probably better suited for the evenings while the cocktail bar is more lively. The noise resulted in a few miscommunications with drink orders but the band added a character, excitement, and personality which other restaurants in the city do not.
Looking at the drinks menu, I noticed a good selection of beers. They came to a staggering £6 a pint, which I suppose is normal these days but is something I will never get used to. At least the options were draft and Vedett is a great Belgium beer. You had the choice between blonde, IPA, and a Camden Pale ale available which meant there is a choice to satisfy even the more adventurous beer drinkers.
My mother was keen to try their cocktails again and went for a ‘Jungle Bird’. This is rum and campari bitters, fee orange, pineapple, lime, vanilla gimme. It cost £10 but after having a sip myself, I must admit it was very well made. This is definitely an area where Cuba Libre shines!
The menu was not huge but offered a lot of options you won’t find anywhere else in Cambridge such as llama and ox heart. You can find the full menu here. Prices looked reasonable at first glance.
I was quite taken by the pork tacos which stole my heart during my previous visit to Urban Fresh and I was very keen to relive this. I am very aware of my big appetite, so decided to order a skewer to get me over the line.
The pork tacos came in a trio and were presented on a slate with a lemon. Frankly, I was not a fan and it was very oily. My sister’s was also oily to the point where it was streaming out of the taco and all over the plate.
The tacos lacked a lot of flavour and were absolutely tiny. They were borderline appetisers and I was still left feeling hungry afterwards. This might have passed in a tapas restaurant but we were both left feeling short changed. Prices were reasonable on the menu but we were starting to notice that you don’t get a lot for your money.
My son had the mixed tacos which came was a choice of pork loin, chicken thigh, and beef fillet. This looked slightly more exciting as it had a variety of choice but even he was left feeling hungry afterwards. Very disappointing for a twelve year old boy.
Luckily, I had thought ahead and ordered a skewer to make sure that I would not leave hungry. This was called the ‘bistec de llamas’ which translates to beefsteak llama. The meat quality was very good due to the marination, which made it succulent and flavorful but it was a very disappointing size. Maybe I have been spoiled by Turkish restaurants or trips to restaurants in the Mediterranean but it was measly. For comparison, I would say it was canape size. In fact, this could have been double the size and I would consider this to be average. Unfortunately, even with this, it still left me feeling quite hungry. Considering this came to £20 with the tacos, I was starting to feel like this restaurant is more expensive than first assumed when reading the menu.
My wife fell for this trap too. She has never had a big appetite and thought that a skewer and a few potatoes would suffice. She described the skewer as ‘very tasty but luke-warm”. This is something a few of us had noticed on our order too but it was not cold enough to make any noise about. The potatoes were called papas criollas doradas which are a form of yellow roasted potato. I never had a chance to sample the dish but they were well received across the table. They looked great but again, portions looked small.
You are given the option to buy 4 mixed skewers for £25. This saves you £2 but I fear that though this might be enough to fill you up, you’d essentially be eating an unbalanced meal of pure meat and you would still need to buy a few sides racking your meal up to £35-40.
My step dad ordered the ‘seco de cordero’ or lamb shank. This was the star of the show for me and felt like the only dish which was a full portion. It was served with beans in a dark creamy sauce which was absolutely sublime. The lamb itself was decent enough though my step dad said that it was nothing out of the ordinary in terms of quality. The dish was (what would seem) a fair price of £19 but it did not come with any greens or carbohydrates, so he had to order some asparagus for £8 on the side to make it complete. This soon racked up the price and was touching nearly £30 in total and still came without any potatoes.
The asparagus was fantastic. The portion was good and the sauce really brought the dish to life. It came out luke-warm but it was not enough to ruin the dish. I was unsure if this was supposed to be served cold or warm but luke-warm felt wrong for either example. Even with that in mind, I would still recommend it to anyone thinking of visiting. My mum and I ended up scavenging the remains of this as we were still hungry after our meals, so we got a really good sample.
Most of us at the table felt unfulfilled after our dinner and were even feeling resentful ordering even more just to feel like we had a good meal. It was mother’s day however, so we decided to indulge in some desserts. If it was not a special occasion I think I would have left it there and ordered the bill.
We decided to try the brigadeiros, a dish of 4 chocolate coconut balls served with cream. I must admit, I am glad I decided to give the desserts a try, as I thought they were spectacular. The balls were very thick and the chocolate was dense which (luckily) filled you up. For £7, I thought it was a good deal.
After our desserts, we ordered the bill. Between six of us it came to around £185 A 12.5% service charge was added which I thought was very high, especially considering drink orders were mixed up and some of the food came out luke warm. We discussed our dissatisfaction with the waitress but it was mostly met on deaf ears. There was an accent barrier and the music was very loud, making communication hard. We decided to pay and move on. After all, the restaurant was not about to change their portion sizes for the sake of us.
My wife decided to change our new born baby in the baby/disabled toilet. She unfortunately reported that the toilet had a table and a high chair inside, essentially using the toilet as a cupboard. This is sadly a common thing in restaurants, as reported on my friend’s blog Jim’s Perspective (make sure to check out this blog as it’s absolutely fantastic! He’s reviewed nearly every Cambridge restaurant on their wheelchair access!).
Upon leaving, we were in agreement that we did not feel like we had a satisfying meal, especially we for the money we had spent. In fact, we had to order my son a burger and chips at the Prince Regent afterwards as he was “starving”. The quality of the food here is good and the prices seem reasonable on the menu but once you sit down and start to eat you realise quickly that you should have ordered more. Expect to pay £35-40 a person before drinks if you want to feel like you’ve had a good (and balanced) meal.
Would I recommend Cuba Libre? With all things considered, not really. If you are looking for quality cocktails in an exciting, lively, and stylish surrounding then this is a great place to be, otherwise, there are much better options on the hyper competitive Regent Street. If you are insistent on Latin/South American food then I would personally catch the 12 minute train to Ely and visit Urban Fresh. Especially considering both restaurants are close to the train stations on each end. Cuba Libre feels like a tourist trap.
Maybe I am not the “target market”, or maybe I “don’t get” Latin food. I saw a lot of people really enjoying themselves, so perhaps my expectations were all wrong. Either way, considering the competition out there, I cannot see myself coming back again.
Has anyone else been? What did you think? Get in touch and I am more than happy to add their views.
Thanks for reading.