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Alma de Cuba Review

Andrew Hobbs went to worship at the altar but now he has his doubts

Published on January 14th 2010.

Alma de Cuba Review

I feel like the atheist at communion, the straight man at the Rufus Wainwright gig, the diner at Alma de Cuba who has had better pub grub.

I once tried one of those £3.50 pub carveries, and it was much better than this.

Yes of course it’s the most spectacular venue in Liverpool, and the cocktails, exotic beers and Guatemalan rum are sourced with elan and served with panache, but what about the food?

Let’s start with the good points. This Urban Splash conversion of an eighteenth century Catholic church takes sacrilege to new heights of style. Behind the plain whitewashed exterior are two floors of decadence: many of the original features, such as carvings, stations of the cross, even memorial stones, are still there, adding to the sense of delicious desecration. Exposed stone walls and stained glass are just right, and there are scatter cushions and couches where the altar once was, and the subdued lighting, with plenty of candles, adds to the atmosphere.

But churchy it ain’t, with loud Latin music blasting from the speakers (even on a Sunday afternoon), and lots of entertainment throughout the week, with live music on Thursdays, a carnival atmosphere on Fridays and Saturdays, including Brazilian dancers on the altar, and a Sunday brunch called ‘Gospel’, to the sound of a live gospel choir.

And it was the Sunday brunch I came for, served in the restaurant at the top of the winding stone stairs, a mezzanine floor with bridges across the bar area below, making a great vantage point for people-watching and taking in the entertainment. Huge chandeliers made of antlers, presumably from B&Q’s pagan lighting section, hang down from the open rafters.

Rob Guttman’s Korova Corporation opened Alma de Cuba in 2005, and sold it to a partnership, TGI TB, in 2007. They went into administration in April this year, apparently dragged down by problems with their other venue, Dovedale Towers in Penny Lane. Alma de Cuba was rescued by a management team headed by Rob Preston, but from where I was sitting, the formula is unchanged.

Two years ago I remember being bowled over by the setting, and pleasantly surprised that the food almost lived up to its surroundings, despite being a little pricey. This time the atmosphere and the service were as good as ever, but the food had gone downhill.

The ‘Sunday service gospel brunch’ is available from noon till 6pm on Sundays, offering tapas, salads, full English breakfast, beef, chicken and fish, ‘gourmet burgers’, and a reasonable choice of veggie meals too, including a roast dinner.

I had a couple of tapas for starters: a dish of juicy marinated olives (£2.95) and an aubergine bake (£3.95); I tried to order houmous and grilled flat bread, but they had run out. The aubergine bake had a lovely crispy cheese topping, but the aubergine was chewy and the onions still slightly crunchy, suggesting that another ten minutes in the oven were required.

The service was efficient, friendly and discreet (thank you, Jackie). Being rather hungover, I only had one small glass of Paul Deloux Chablis (£8), a light and gentle white, very soothing. The wine list is clearly laidout and well chosen, starting at a reasonable £13.95.

Alma de Cuba prides itself on its ‘eclectic mix of Cuban, Hispanic and Latin American influences’, so I had the roast beef Sunday dinner (£12.95). This was English sirloin, allegedly aged for 28 days. I stupidly asked for it well done rather than pink, so the distinct lack of flavour could be my fault, but I’m not taking all the blame. There wasn’t much of it, either. The carrots were overcooked and flavourless, the cabbage undercooked and lacking the advertised smoked bacon, and the peas ruined by too many herbs. The roast potatoes were unexceptional but there was no Yorkshire pudding, as promised. I once tried one of those £3.50 pub carveries, and it was much better than this.

Then it was the Ron Zacapa Experience, not an indie band but a dessert. Ron Zacapa is an award-winning, 23-year-old Guatemalan rum, and here it is served with an espresso coffee and a few pieces (not enough) of homemade chocolate and orange fudge. The ritual is a gulp of coffee, a bite of fudge and a slurp of rum, and it’s one worthy of repetition. The rum is mellow in the mouth but you feel its power as it slips down the throat.

The bill came to £42.40 for one, including mineral water, a fruit juice and a second espresso (the coffee is very good). I would still go back to Alma de Cuba, for the bar and the atmosphere, but I wouldn’t eat there. Confession over.

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19 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

DigAugust 18th 2009.

I'm a bit confused Anonymous. It wasn't cheap but it was great value? How does that work?

BazAugust 18th 2009.

I've had a few meals in Alma, at night and during the day, and always really enjoyed it. Maybe you just went on a bad day - the Sunday Brunch is usually pretty special!

AnonymousAugust 18th 2009.

We had a meal there last night and it was excellent-chicken piri-piri to die for. Brought an extra portion of homemade salt and pepper scratchings home. £100 for 4 with a bottle of pinot grigio and a couple of pints was not cheap but was great value.

Mucky PupAugust 18th 2009.

Alma de Cuba has a very special place in my heart as I went there on my first date with my fabulous man. It's an amazing venue and I've always found the food to match. I recommend it to all my friends visiting from out of town and it would be a shame if people missed out because someone forgot to give this dude a Yorkshire Pudding. I defy you not to have an amazing time...

HanAugust 18th 2009.

I have eaten at Alma de Cuba several times and every time it gets better and better. In my opinion the food, atmosphere and service are the best in Liverpool, everyone should go and experience it!

DeniseAugust 18th 2009.

It's been my favourite Liverpool restaurant for ages and I'm looking forward to some top nosh when we're next there - in a few weeks time. I hate pub grub, and this is nothing like that, but if this comes second to Cuban pub grub I'll book my flight.

Spit & PolishAugust 18th 2009.

The ground floor could do with some proper, comfortable chairs commensurate with the bar prices in there and the tables could stand seeing the barmaid's cloth a lot more often.

AnonymousAugust 18th 2009.

Yes the place looks great, well done Urban Splash but that's the only good thing I can say. All else is poor and overpriced.At least you were lucky enough to turn up on their good service day!

Alexandra CottamAugust 18th 2009.

Thankyou.... someone else who doens't think the food is amazing. I love the place and would love to take my family but it just wouldn't be worth it for the price we'd pay!

Albert DockAugust 18th 2009.

There's always loud music in Alma De Cuba to drown out the comments of people who'd just bought rounds.It's always very badly lit to conceal the muck on the tables too. Bag a table near a ground floor window during daylight and you'll see what I mean!

AnonymousAugust 18th 2009.

In my opinion people who use expressions such as "brunch" and "to die for" ARE 'the wrong sort of people.

GailAugust 18th 2009.

My daughter took her Dad and I to the Gospel Brunch on Father's Day and we had a lovely meal. The venue is stunning and we felt like we were on our holidays! The food was beautifully presented and tasted as good as it looked. It sounds like you went to a completley different place.

plastermanAugust 18th 2009.

I've never eaten here, and I don't think I will. I've been for drinks, and it's always been grubby, and not cheap. My friends who have been and said it is good think Nando's is gourmet and dominos pizza is posh cooking. Nuff Said.

Egon TozstAugust 18th 2009.

This isn't new. A couple of years ago I was trying to recommend Alma de Cuba as a sightseeing destination to a friend about to visit Liverpool.I could find no web-site and the only references to it on the web were on an independent review site and they were overwhelmingly negative for the same reasons as mentioned above. Also, even then there were several complaints that it 'attracted the wrong sort of people' - where have I heard that before?

joAugust 18th 2009.

Looking at the review and some of the comments above I felt obliged to say something. I’ve just been to Alma de Cuba this Sunday with my family for my sister’s birthday. We had a fabulous meal. I actually had the Yorkshire pudding ( without the hangover ) and I must say it was delicious....

willowanAugust 18th 2009.

About time someone told it like it is. The food in this place has always been poor and way overpriced. If it has gone downhill from where it started it must be absolutely shocking.

Kelly AdamsAugust 18th 2009.

I discovered alma de cuba this time last year and I really dont know where you're coming from. I have always found the service, food, atmosphere, music levels to be second to none, which is very very rare to find all under one roof in this city. I have been a lot on a sunday and never heard blasting latin music?? maybe it was because of your hangover you were a little sensitive to the music levels, probably not the best time to be eating out!!!

MikeAugust 18th 2009.

Replying to the food critic who wrote the above peice of food assassination to the 28 day roast beef which i had a couple of sundays ago. It was the best sunday roasts i have had for a long time .A bit of advice young man if you are going to write a piece on a restaurant dont drink the night before it clouds your thoughts.I think you should stick to your pub grub maybe thats the level of food you should be a critic for.

DarrenAugust 18th 2009.

Everytime I have been to Alma De Cuba for food (at least three times now), it's always been disappointing. It got to the point where on the last evening we went, the food was inedible and we only had to pay for the drinks. Never again, Alma!

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