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Bonita Buena Vista puts the social back in Cape Town
When sexy Cuban broke the contemporary mould
Buena Vista Social Café, at the V&A Waterfront, is a tapas and cigar lounge that is doing everything within it’s power to break the contemporary mould. Not only the food is Cuban, but the décor is Cuban, the music is Cuban, the salsa dancing is definitely Cuban and the cigars are directly imported… yes, you guessed it…from Cuba. It’s social, charismatic and a restaurant that indulges every single one of the senses in a way that actually makes sense.
Ingredient one: an authentic and downright sexy space
Upon our arrival, my friends and I are struck by how large the space is. We are greeted by a tented, outdoor area (perfect for lazy summer cocktails) and a gravel pathway that leads us to a curious, red Cuban house. Inside, nothing matches. In fact, no two chairs are the same. Antique furniture of varying colours, shapes and sizes are placed next to each other and the walls look broken down. The restaurant is a labyrinth of low-lit lounge and dining areas which co-exist. Although it may look haphazard, a lot of careful preparation has gone into achieving this effect. Kabir Mulla, Owner, tells me that it took two years to source the lighting and furniture features from antique stores and even peoples’ homes. The result? Authentic, rustic and downright sexy.
We have a table reserved on the upstairs terrace; I know this because there’s a cute little card with my name on it. The terrace has more interesting furniture, large tables that could easily seat birthday parties and fantastic views of Main Road in Green Point. I have a Goldilocks moment before I am happily seated: my first chair is too low, my second chair is too high, but the third is just right. Our friendly waiter introduces himself as Denzel and we order wine and cocktails.
Ingredient two: Cuban cocktails and tasty tapas
Whilst I have opted for a glass of Beyerskloof Pinotage (a safe favourite of mine); however, John has been a little more daring, with a Cuban Long Island – a red, white and blue concoction with copious amounts of dark, Cuban rum and a glace cherry perched atop a funky glass. Somewhat intrigued, I vow to opt for this in the next round. We peruse the extensive menu: offerings of nacho’s, quesadillas and tapas glance up at me expectantly and the aroma of burritos beckons from the table next to us. My perusal of the Cuban bible is swiftly interrupted as Susanne accidentally knocks her Mojito all over the table. ‘Less ice next time?’ Denzel asks.
To start with, we all order Tapas. I am served a plate of chorizo, in a thick salsa sauce with a spicy kick that leaves a delightful tingle to the lips. John opts for Chili Poppers with a twist; Jalapeño chillies, stuffed with feta and cream cheese, battered and deep fried, whilst Susanne orders Cuban-style, barbeque chicken wings. It’s around about this time that we order round of drinks numero dos. Whilst I’m sipping on a gorgeous Long Island, the band, called the Latin Kings, starts. It’s exactly as I’d pictured it: maracas, bongo drums, a guitar and some of those twinkly things. As they strum out Guantanamera, we can’t help but dance in our seats. The Latin Kings are a regular fixture at Buena Vista and play every Wednesday evening, from around 19:30.
Ingredient three: burritos, quesadillas, nachos or paella
To my delight, my portion of Cuban-style paella is gigantic. A rice dish with a spiced tomato sauce, packed with line fish, calamari, shrimps and mussels. On top is a mouthwatering, butterfly prawn and I save this succulent morsel till last – yum. Both of my friends opt for Cuban Burrito’s with garlic mayonnaise, salsa and lean beef mince. Hang on? Is that ‘I will Survive’ the Latin Kings are playing? Anyone that can transform that song, that sacrilege to music, into something decent mustn’t half be talented. Things are getting lively, so we feel compelled to order a strawberry daiquiri.
Ingredient four: sexy salsa dancing
Our salsa prayers are answered. Carlos, who teaches salsa dancing at Buena Vista on Monday evenings, sashays onto the dance floor with a female instructor partner. They’re pulling some sexy spins and dips and are soon joined by other equally talented dancers (presumably his students). The atmosphere has transformed into quite the social party and, to prove it, the Latin Kings have started a conga line through the restaurant. Carlos drags me up onto the dance floor to try some salsa myself and I master a small move, be it simple.
While Buena Vista also serves up some spectacular food and cocktails, the best part about this place is that you’re inspired by your surroundings , you’re thoroughly entertained and you can’t help but crack a toothy smile. This restaurant offers the whole Cuban experience and nothing but the Cuban experience. Explicit identity is what Cape Town’s restaurant scene has been crying out for.
12 A+B Portswood Road | Waterfront | Cape Town | +27 (0)21 418 2467
Fancy more to nibble on? Check out our tapas section
By Lisa Nevitt