Photos: Otmaro Rodríguez
Let me begin by stating the obvious: Floridita’s universal fame was consecrated thanks to its bar and the myth around Ernest Hemingway, who was a regular customer from 1933 until his death, enjoying a daiquiri, the most famous Cuban cocktail which is said to have been invented here.
After the 1959 Revolution, the Floridita bar-restaurant passed to state management, as private property was not allowed. Today it maintains this status, as part of the state-owned Palmares company.
Located at the top of Obispo Street, the hub of tourism in Old Havana, the Floridita’s interior architecture suggests the form of Havana Bay: narrow at its entrance, where the bar is, and wider inside, in the restaurant’s main dining area. Its Regency-era style adds to its elegance and uniqueness. The frescoes on the walls depict the Morro and La Cabaña fortresses (in the bar), as well as the seaside town of Regla, the port with its boats undergoing repair and the convent of San Francisco de Asís (in the dining room), all aligned in the same way they would be observed when entering the bay of Havana.
The bustling bar often features very loud live music, but those who come from all over the world find it impressive at first sight. The “daiquiri frappé,” without a doubt, is the best in the world and it is still prepared in the technique and with the same proportions deemed by its creator Constante Ribalaigua, who made sure that there was an ideal mixture of rum, sugar, lime and ice that, after passing through the blender, was poured smoothly into the glass without spilling. This daiquiri is the popularized version of the original, which was served over ice cubes and was created by Jennings Cox, in eastern Cuba. Over the years, the varieties of daiquiri have evolved, and one can find various flavors of daiquiris, including mango, strawberry, pineapple, coconut, and mint, as well as the “daiquiri mulata” made with aged rum and crème de cacao. I ordered the mango and mint daiquiris, both with delicate balances of alcohol, flavor, sweetness and freshness—unbeatable. Recently, the Floridita bar won the well-deserved International Timeless Award at Tales of the Cocktails, in New Orleans, an event popularly known as the Oscar for cocktails and spirits.
The restaurant’s food menu is focused mainly on recipes with seafood such as lobster, shrimp and fish. They have an extensive wine list, which includes several of the best wineries and international brands, with bottles from 17 to 1,900 CUC.
As an appetizer, I chose the Floridita soup, which reminded me of the homemade soups of yesteryear given its flavors of Cuban seasoning. Its base is a flavored béchamel with seafood and fish broth, a touch of “salsa criolla,” and a white-wine reduction, to which lobster, shrimp and fish cubes are added to the chef’s taste. It’s a well-presented and nutritious dish, served in a generous portion. The basket of homemade breads reveals an impressive in-house bakery. For the main course, I chose butterfly lobster tail, grilled and presented on a bed of sautéed guava, papaya and pineapple, garnished with mashed sweet potato and squash, topped with carrot wheels and red pepper strips. The colorful combination of the garnish and the tropical fruits made for an interesting fusion in the mouth. Meanwhile, the sweetness and acidity of the fruits contrasted with the strong flavor of the seafood although, unfortunately, the lobster was overcooked so it was not at its peak point of natural flavor or juiciness.
Some of the house specialties have names alluding to Hemingway such as the “Gran plato Hemingway,” made with lobster, fish, and shrimp in garlic sauce and capers, among others. Also, among the specialties, one can enjoy the mixed “cayuca” à la mirepoix, a combination of lobster, fish and vegetables sautéed with rum; I didn’t order it but I know it’s very popular. The orange-based coconut flan disappointed me, since neither its flavor nor its adequate texture were memorable, rather it was stiff, too compact. For those who live in Cuba, it’s an expensive restaurant; however, the seafood and fish prices are affordable for visitors: in other parts of the world these foods are sold at astronomical prices.
It’s clear that resource management is limited, both in the kitchen and in the general maintenance: during the whole time I was there, a drop of water intermittently leaked on one of my shoulders from a crack in the ceiling. The kitchen needs to update some of its equipment and, although chef Ube Gómez works hard to develop fusion and stylized cuisine, the result is complicated by the inconveniences of everyday life in Havana and the difficulties of procuring ingredients.
The service was good, with a clear sense of belonging and pride from those who work in this emblematic Cuban bar-restaurant. I highlight the professionalism and grace of Orlando Blanco (Papo). His mastery of the place’s famous history and his eagerness to please are impressive, maintaining the legacy of its founders and the team of yesteryear.
I suggest that they develop strategies to guarantee the “haute cuisine” that corresponds to this luxury restaurant; the cuisine is not at all bad, but it could be tops as it aspires to, with its successful bar suspended in time, also known as “the mecca for cocktails in Cuba.”
Dining room: 9.55