Café Laurent

The entrance to Café Laurent gives little away. While just a few blocks away from the iconic Hotel National, Calle M has little commerce and you have to be guided into the apartment building where a small well-maintained antique elevator takes you up four stories to the penthouse.

This is not a cute family-run paladar, but a very stylish and professional restaurant, foremost in the new wave of private Havana eating establishments that have sprung up in the past few months. Walking into this paladar, you may need to pinch yourself, for the clean, minimalist lines are so alien to the average Havana experience. It is modelled on a contemporary 1950s feel.

Old newspapers cover the back wall with adverts for the latest vacuum cleaners and international calling options from the 1950s. The walls have been painted with stylish rings into which the fridge simply blends. Sensitive modern lighting and billowing white awnings outside provide shade from the noonday sun and add a modern Miami style.

Dayron Avilés Alfonso is the Cuban chef who, having worked in San Sebastian, Spain and Buenos Aires, Argentina, is comfortable with the Spanish Basque-based menu. The quality of the food here, imitation or not, is sufficient for us to forget the original sin. The Pargo con almejas y gambas en salsa verde (red snapper with clams and shrimp in green sauce) is fabulous.

The shrimps, steak, meatballs, salads and sides are all well done, while the chocolate biscotti are irresistible. The Sunday lunch special is a tasty paella and/or risotto.

Birthday brownie at Café Laurent: This “up” is a great example that it doesn’t take a lot to make a great impression. Just recently celebrating a birthday with a group of friends in the beautiful Café Laurent, the management volunteered a delicious brownie, on the house, with a candle and even brought the wait staff to join in the singing of “Felicidad” the traditional birthday song in Cuba.

May seemed small, but it brought a lot of smiles to our table. And, I have to say that the brownie was delicious, we end up ordering more of those… so, even if it is not your birthday consider tasting this amazing dessert.