Jake Kasumov: I was born and brought up there. Alongside that, it’s a place that’s often been misrepresented through thoughtless cultural appropriation abroad, so we wanted to do something authentic. Bar La Rampa will be inspired by 1950s Havana and serve proper Cuban cocktails that are true to the original recipes.
What about the food?
JK: We will be influenced by Cuba but will seek to give things a bit of a twist, for example we make our sandwich Cubano with crispy pork belly and raclette, which you’d never see in Cuba. We will also be taking inspiration from the rest of the central American region. To be totally honest Cuban food is fairly limited, at least in Cuba. The embargo makes it difficult to get some produce. There’s lots of pork, rice, beans and plantain in the diet. In fact, it could be argued that the Cuban food scene is more advanced in Miami than it is in Cuba itself. Because Cubans can’t really travel, they’re not necessarily influenced by other food cultures or exposed to other cooking techniques.
You’re working with Tātā Eatery on the menu, what input have they had?
Marco Mendes: We’ve known Ana (Gonçalves) and Zijun (Meng) for many years. They’ve always been interested in food from Cuba and the wider region. They developed 50 dishes, cooked them for us and we narrowed it down. Unusually for them there is no Asian influence in any of the dishes. We have a talented head chef in Kyren Thompson (ex-Smokestak and most recently sous chef at Temper). He’s half Venezuelan, which is a good fit for the food.
What’s on the menu?
MM: Key dishes include the frita Cubana burger (dry-aged smashed beef patty, straw potatoes, chilli con carne and cheese); elote corn ribs with vegan chipotle mayonnaise and lime; ropa vieja tacos (braised ox cheek, raisin mole and red habanero salsa); and plantain tostones with black bean dip, fried corn amd picadillo. It’s all small plates and everything is designed to share, including the sandwich Cubano, which arrives cut into four. The price point is comparable to Casa Do Frango.
Tell us about the drinks
JK: We want to deliver drinks that are authentic that are true to the bars that invented them. Cuban classics like the daiquiri and the mojito are very simple and therefore reliant on using great ingredients and the bar person getting the balance right. We’re working with Marcis Dzelzainis (previously at Sager + Wilde and Dandelyan) who also helped us with the drinks offering at Kol. We’re mainly using Eminente, a new, very high quality range of rums produced by Moët Hennessy in partnership with Cuban government.
This feels like a more mainstream location for MJMK Restaurants...
MM: Yes. There's a great deal of footfall here. We also like that it's near Soho but not in Soho. Our offices are on Regent Street and we notice that a lot of office workers head to the Carnaby Street area for drinks rather than staying nearby. The amount of outdoor space was also very attractive, as is the upcoming pedestrianisation of Oxford Street. We received the site pretty much empty (it was once Sweet Chick). The kitchen was ripped out by the landlord but we have inherited the extraction and air conditioning systems. There have been some good opportunities on the market recently but ultimately we're driven by the restaurant concepts that we want to create.
Tell us about the design
MM: Bar La Rampa is inspired by 1950s Havana. There is Cuban art on the walls and many of the fixtures and fittings - including the lights - have been sourced from Cuba. At the front of the site around the main bar area is mainly vertical drinking - we anticipate that it will be popular with the afterwork crowd - and some seats. The middle of the site houses the restaurant area and the rear of the site is a more lounge-y area with natural light coming in from a skylight. Both of these areas will be bookable, and the latter one doubles as a PDR.
How will Bar La Rampa differ from your existing Cuban bar?
JK: Bar Bolivar (in Canary Wharf) is a pop-up. We used it to test the market. Because it’s not permanent it does not have the level of detail or investment that Bar La Rampa does. That said, it has been successful, at least it has been when it has been allowed to open (it launched in October last year).
How has post lockdown trading been for MJMK?
MM: The first months were crazy busy. But the uncertainty is a bit frustrating and staffing has also been a big issue for us. The pingdemic has added an extra layer of complexity. But overall we have been pleasantly surprised. Vinegar Yard has been very busy with the Euros and the terrace at the Casa do Frango in Shoreditch has been packed. We were doing 3,000 covers at the latter during April, which is a 1,000 more than we do inside. Things are stabilising now, which is good as sales have been all over the place because outdoor trading is so weather dependant. Kol is going well. It was a tricky launch for us because we opted to open in October knowing that we'd probably have to close soon after opening. But the restaurant had already been three years in the works so we just had to get it open. Santiago's team there is special and they really delivered. As sad as that period was it did give us a lot of time to refine the offer. It opened more fully formed than a lot of places do.
Has the success of Kol given you an appetite to work with more chefs like Santiago?
JK: We've loved working with Santiago, he’s incredibly talented. It sounds a bit corny, but we want to find more people like that and help them make their dreams come true. We're going to open a restaurant with John and Desiree Chantarasak (of itinerant Thai restaurant AngloThai) early next year in central London. There are a lot of parallels with Santiago as John is also finding quality UK substitutes for products that are normally imported and they're both looking to shake up fine dining by offering something very considered but also casual. We’ll also be opening a central London restaurant with Nuno Mendes next year as well as a third Casa Do Frango.