An overview of El Templete - at first glance
Perfectly flanking the glistening waters of Havana Bay, a popular restaurant housed inside a pretty colonial building of great architectural value was a lunchtime stop during my last visit to Cuba’s capital. Breezy, elegant and casual at the same time, the atmosphere here is the perfect blend of old and new, of modernity and tradition at the heart of Cuba’s old town, also known as its historic centre.
El Templete offers beautiful, soothing sea views paired with tasty fusion food, presenting fresh local produce from the sea with Spanish flair and combining elements of Cuban and Spanish dishes to create mouth-watering results. I visited on a weekday, which meant the place was fairly quiet and I enjoyed super-fast service (although they may cope equally as well on busier days). I made the most of the scenic terrace and dug into a variety of tasty bites.
Starting on the right note
Now we get to the nitty-gritty and what really matters - the food at El Templete doesn’t disappoint. As can be seen on the pictures above, many dishes are served tapas style to share and they are as delicious as they look. We had a variety of starters that included ham & fish croquetas and other crispy delights like breaded fish sticks, prawns, clams, scallops and mussels served alongside hard-boiled eggs with a mayonnaise-based sauce called “ensaladilla” (similar to coleslaw but with slightly different ingredients) to dip into. These bits of fried finger food were flavourful but not greasy, they went down a treat, light and crispy.
We also tucked into some cold bites with thin slices of Serrano ham accompanied by Parmesan cheese cubes, while I devoured the sesame-encrusted Ahi tuna fillet on a bed of Piquillo pepper coulis down to the last morsel.
El Templete’s ample choice of main courses might test your decision-making abilities. From a selection of rices to seafood and premium meat cuts and meatballs to meat stews, the options are so many and so varied, you will need a few minutes to take your pick. (Thanks to my Cuban friend Susana for help and fun deciphering menu items.)
We chose skewered chunks of sirloin served with blue cheese sauce (Brocheta de solomillo con salsa de queso azul) and a delicious portion of Pulpo a la Gallega (a famous Galician delicacy consisting of slices of freshly smoked octopus seasoned with paprika and olive oil), which was actually listed as a starter on the menu but which we decided to try for mains. To finish the meal off we all shared a generous serving of seafood paella, which was plate-licking good.
The glorious views
There’s one unmissable draw to this restaurant and that’s the sweeping views it offers over Havana Bay. Its location, close to Plaza de Armas and facing the blue stretch of Avenida del Puerto is an undeniable reason for its success, but certainly, the fresh food helps it rise above the rest, with a Spanish chef from the Basque region that elevates the seaside dining experience.
From the restaurant, you can also glimpse El Cristo de La Habana (Christ of Havana) right in front. Havana’s answer to Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer, this statue carved in white Carrara marble rises atop a hill in the municipality of Regla and it’s a great one to photograph. El Templete also sits right next to a historic relic and heritage site that has become the symbol of the city and after which the restaurant itself is named - El Templete. This monument marks the place where Havana was first founded nearly 500 years ago.
El Templete restaurant in Havana is now closed for major refurbishment works as can be seen above (thanks to my Cuban friend Otto for the most recent up-to-date pic). According to management - as per a post published on their Facebook page - it won’t reopen until early next year. A major overhaul of the restaurant’s facilities is being carried out, and in their own words they aim to “create a new image, a new style”.
In terms of value for money, for a Cuban restaurant El Templete is rather on the pricey side, but quality food comes at a cost and the fact that you can find many ingredients here that are less available elsewhere in the island helps explain the food bill. I only hope that once it reopens it’s only the aesthetics that change and they keep the high standards foodwise.