There is a place in Havana to which I always go when I want to enjoy a good meal. Like a window to the Caribbean, Castropol Restaurant offers one of the most interesting choices among the new options in Cuban contemporary cuisine. It is located on the Malecon seawall in a two-story colonial house - significantly modified -, with high ceilings, robust stone columns, huge lounges and an interior patio.
If you are walking down any of these places: the Malecon, in Old Havana, or strolling around La Rampa, it is very easy to get there. The restaurant has a view to the sea because it is on Malecon, just about 200 metres from Prado Promenade. It is very close to the city centre hotels (Parque Central, Telegrafo, Inglaterra, Sevilla), as well as to those in Vedado (Nacional, Habana Libre, Vedado).
To the right of the entrance, there is a cart like those used at the beginning of last century by costermongers, offering for sale a wide variety of excellent fruits and fresh vegetables such as guavas, mangos, tomatoes and avocados. The offer varies seasonally.
Managed by the Asturian Association, Castropol has two restaurants, different in style, decoration, type of cuisine and prices, but both providing a proven high quality service and menu. The steady quality of this restaurant constitutes one of its hallmarks: if you once liked it, you'll like it again; something hard to find in the Cuban panorama.
Traditional Cuban cuisine
On the first floor, you can find delicious charcoal-grilled food, what the English usually call barbecued food, with a wide variety of traditional Cuban dishes. The pork chops, spareribs and roast chicken, all charcoal-grilled, fill the whole place with an exquisite aroma. If you like flavoursome food, you will be delighted with the meats and also the vegetables, because this type of cooking enhances all flavours. The Creole broth based on garlic and Seville orange is the perfect dressing.
To go with, you can have tamale stew, malanga fritters (fried chunks of taro) or tostones (slices of fried plantains), the best accompaniment to these dishes. On the menu, you can also find charcoal-grilled pizzas.
The cost per person, without overdoing it with the drinks, is around $8.00 to $10.00 CUC, about Â£7.00. Highly recommended for a Sunday family outing or a friends' get-together.
There are two separate spaces on the second floor: one outdoors; a terrace with a view of the Malecon, ideal for enjoying delicate dishes with the smell of the sea breeze and the sounds of Havana. There's nothing quite like sitting in front of Havana's Malecon. The waving motion of vast blue sea lights up in the evenings, creating a show of wondrous colours. It is a special place for having a cup of coffee, a cup of aged Santiago rum or 7-year-old Havana Club, and a Havana cigar. The constant beating of the waves and the people passing by make me feel peaceful and far away lost in another wonderful world and time.
There are choices for all tastes. Indoors, an air-conditioned room in light and soft colours creates a cosy atmosphere; a more private place for a romantic evening or a business meeting.
The service is particularly attentive, kind and friendly, ready to help when choosing the dishes or drinks, but not pestering around. No doubt, this is one of the characteristics that distinguish this place from others in the city, where the service is so slow you wonder if it is physically hard for them to please clients.
The cocktails and wine selection are excellent. An interesting way to start it all off is by having some Cuban or international cocktail. The Chilean and Spanish wines, both very popular in the Cuban market, could be the perfect accompaniment.
Get some guidance with the menu
The menu has a wide variety of starters, of which some particularly delicious ones include the fried young octopuses with Tartar sauce, the smoked salmon stuffed with cream cheese in a special sauce (recipe of the house), and the cured ham rolls stuffed with cream cheese and balsamic vinegar, olive oil and raisins. The bread dish, baked in-house, is the perfect side order to share for a tasty start.
Although meat is abundant in the menu, I always recommend the grilled fish. The shrimps fried with garlic and the grilled fish covered with shrimps is by far one of the best dishes of the house. There is also lobster cooked in different styles, all delicious.
A great farewell
There are very few places in Havana with desserts as delicious as those in Castropol. With an impeccable presentation, it is a real challenge to choose among them but to mention just a few, the cheesecake is a big favourite as is the chocolate tower or the brownie with vanilla ice cream. They all persuade the other diners in our table to share with each other and, spoon in hand, jump from one dish to the other.
A more elaborate and refined cuisine at Castropol's second floor dining section (offering international cuisine) means higher prices; and the bill may sound a little expensive for it will work out at around 15.00 to 20.00 CUC per person, but in my opinion it is worth every penny.
The cherry on the cake …
If you only go there for some dessert, or would like to take some home, you will be pleasantly surprised to see how well they cater for this. Some months ago, they opened a pastry shop in a mezzanine where you can buy a wide variety of exquisite cakes and pies to enjoy there or to take with you.
When it comes to outstandingly good food in Havana, Castropol is undoubtedly one of the best choices to make in Havana. It wasn't by chance that it was awarded TripAdvisor's Certificate of Excellence in 2014.