Latin Flavours On Lower Marsh

Cubana owner Phillip Oppenheim tells us how he swapped the House of Commons for mojitos and salsa.
Phillip Oppenheim at Cubana

For 14 years Phillip Oppenheim traded blows with his political adversaries in Westminster, all the while flitting between London and his seat in Amber Valley, north Derbyshire.

So after stepping away from front-line politics and his seat as a member of parliament in 1997, it’s no wonder he needed a drink.

As it happened that drink was clear, sugary, minty and very, very Cuban.

And having sampled a true Latin American mojito Phillip was determined to bring them to London – and Waterloo in particular.

He said: “I had always wanted to be in the bar-restaurant business. My then girlfriend suggested Cuban.

“At first we thought it was a bad idea. But together with investors I went to Cuba and we discovered mojitos, salsa music, tropical communist chic and all the rest.

“The only problem was the food - which was a bit...communist! However, we found old pre-revolutionary cookbooks in a market and some old plantation chefs and discovered traditional Cuban cooking - less spicy than Mexican or some other Latin American cuisines.

“That's how Cubana was born – with an ethos of authenticity, value, quality ingredients and freshness.”

Cubana opened in Waterloo in 1998 and its iconic mural immediately became a beacon for a party loving cocktail crowd.

But in the previous couple of years the venue has evolved as Phillip constantly experiments with ingredients, décor and promotional ideas.

He said: “We have moved from being a really original cocktail bar and salsa club with food - we introduced mojitos to London - to being very much a restaurant with great fresh cocktails.

“Food is now the emphasis. Everything is prepared in house, we now make our own gelato ice cream, soon we are introducing fresh bakery products and we also do street food on weekdays.

“We also do more big events such as Glastonbury where last year we sold 10,000 mojitos and other cocktails, 4,000 smoothies and 5,000 portions of freshly-prepared street food - all served to the background of Cuban bands flown over for the event.

“Now we have a Cuban Carnival most evenings during the summer with bands, street food and street bars.

“In September we have the Waterloo Quarter Food Festival which is an event we love.

“We are building up our street food, our home made new products such as ice cream and a bakery and we will start opening early from mid-August.

“We have also just started Sunday openings and our new fresh tropical juices made with guava, mango and the like are selling well. It’s a busy time!”

You can read more about Cubana’s summer carnival here.