When I first saw Coco Cubano, all I knew was that you could order a Cuban cigar with your hot chocolate. I don’t smoke, and the hot chocolate was okay, but not great, so I left it at that.
Today, many branches later, Coco Cubano is offering up much more than hot chocolate and cigars – though the cigars are still there for sure – and I was lucky enough to be invited to try out the new menu!
Havana Dip Plate
El pollo frito
Chilli caramel pork belly
Cuban fried rice
Tropical prawn salad
Arroz con pollo
Pork ropa vieja
Beef short ribs
Salted Caramel Espresso Martini
Chocolate & Rum washed “brownie”
Triple chocolate batido crazy shake
Salty dulce de leche crazy shake
There was just SO MUCH of it. As statistics would dictate, some were good, and others not so much.
Of the good pile, lay the El Pollo Frito, the rice in the Arroz con Pollo and the Buñuelos.
The El Pollo Frito (fried chicken drumettes with red mojo dipping sauce) had a lovely, seasoned crust that the colonel (or should I say, el presidente) would be proud of. The dipping sauce was similarly flavourful, with a great balance of sweet, tangy and savoury. Sure, the drumettes themselves could use a little brining themselves, but otherwise it was pretty nice.
The Arroz con Pollo (Cuban spiced half chicken with brown Sofrito rice) had fabulous rice that was light, delicately flavoured with separated grains. Nice work. The chicken though, came off a little dry, but for me, the rice more than makes up for it.
And the Buñuelos? Donut + Chocolate = always a winner. The donut was a touch stiff for me, but I loved the crunch of cinnamon sugar on the outside, and then the richness of the thick, flowing molten milk chocolate that I can dip it into.
Of the not-so-good, the Cuban fried rice, the Chilli Caramel Pork Belly and The Cubano. Every thing else is – in the words of every competition reality TV show judge ever – “safe“.
The Cuban Fried Rice (with chorizo, chargrilled corn and black beans) would have been better off labeled just rice and beans. It had the texture of risotto, which completely threw me off the expectation of fried rice. It was pretty heavy, and when compared to the rice of the Arroz Con Pollo, just didn’t make the cut.
The Chilli Caramel Pork was almost too sweet, or not sweet enough. It was like eating pork belly (albeit tender and nicely cooked pork belly) that had been sprinkled with sugar. It didn’t quite have the hit of dark rich tones of caramel, and there wasn’t an element of salt to balance out what sweetness was there. The chilli also wasn’t particularly present, but that could also be because my Asian chilli sensors have been used and abused over the years.
And if you’ve seen Chef (the movie that taught us you needed to neither have looks nor personality to land Scarlett Johansen, you only need to know how to cook), you would probably have a super romantic idea of the Cubano, which at its core is a toasted ham and cheese sandwich. A BANGIN’ toasted ham and cheese sandwich. Here it was a bit, um, bready, and the cheese say limply on the ham and pork, but was neither melty nor luscious. The side fries, though, were shoestring, and so have my seal of approval just for that.
It’s a bit hard to comment on the service because we were there for a menu launch, but I did have a particularly friendly waiter who was hilariously cheeky and made sure we felt right at home. It was also a great ice breaker that he had a name tag that said “Awesome”.
Well, if the shoe fits, right?
The other service team members were friendly enough, but mostly just seemed rather green and just a little lost. Maybe it was the event setting that they weren’t used to, but when compared to Mr. Awesome, they just sort of faded into the background.
Value for money:
It’s not the cheapest meal out there, with mains sitting at the $25-$35 mark. But then again, they aren’t advertising value so much as they’re advertising an experience. In this case, it’s a bit middle of the road: the food wasn’t particularly authentic or punchy, but they weren’t charging you CBD prices for it. It would make more sense if you were dining in a group, in this sense, and if the group wanted a Cuban-lite experience that wasn’t too exotic.
When we went, they had a BALLER singer/guitarist playing. He was as Australian as they come, but he really brought a Latin American vibe to the whole place. The mood lighting and dark wood also brought forth visions of smoky clubs in 1930s Havana, and really add fuel to all the Dirty Dancing fantasies you might have (the sequel, I mean. Don’t judge me!). The space may not actually be conducive to dancing, but doesn’t mean you can’t pretend!
So the goss from Mr. Awesome is that the kitchen team was very nervous about the new menu, also because they were coming together as a new team. Fair enough. Some things can take a while to settle in and because this is the launch of something new, I can take that into account. I had a good time there, and while I didn’t get what I think would be an authentic Cuban experience there (I’m happy to give the oppression a pass), I went in knowing that an authentic Cuban experience wasn’t what they were offering up anyway.
Like I said, if you’re celebrating in a group that has polarised tastes and likes a very… gentle introduction, this is a safe bet. Otherwise, maybe stick to the hot chocolate and cigars. Hard to go wrong, there.