What: A Cuba-inspired restaurant and bar offering authentic Cuban cocktails and a food menu inspired by the island with influences from Central and Southern America. On London’s Market Place close to Oxford Circus tube, the venue’s look is inspired by 1950s Havana.
Who: Bar La Rampa is the latest restaurant from Casa do Frango and Kol owner MJMK Restaurants, which is headed by Marco Mendes and Jake Kasumov. The latter was born and raised in Cuba and therefore knows his Papa Doble from his El Floridita. Talking of cocktails, the bar programme is being overseen by Marcis Dzelzainis (previously at Sager + Wilde and Dandelyan) who was also involved with the drinks at Kol. The menu has been written by Ana Gonçalves and Zijun Meng of Tātā Eatery with the kitchen overseen day-to-day by former Smokestak and Temper chef Kyren Thompson.
The vibe: Once Sweet Chick, Bar La Rampa certainly looks the part, managing to combine lots of different visual elements and textures without feeling cluttered. There are references to Cuba including modern Cuban art, vintage Cuban light fittings and tropical pot plants but not to the extent the space feels themed. Bar La Rampa roughly divides into four, with a large outside terrace, a bar area that's geared towards vertical drinking, a main restaurant area and a restaurant space to the rear with more of a lounge feel and a different colour palette (the latter two areas are bookable while the first two are for walk-ins only).
The food: By Kasumov’s own admission the food scene in Cuba is somewhat limited. Bar La Rampa has, therefore, had to look a little further afield for inspiration with much of the menu inspired by countries that are in striking distance from the Caribbean's largest island. But Gonçalves and Meng have sought to create twists on some of the island’s better known dishes. Sandwich Cubano has been given a contemporary makeover through the use of crispy slices of pork belly, coriander and raclette cheese while ropa vieja - Cuba’s national dish of stewed beef and tomatoes - is used very successfully as a tacos filling. Other dishes on the relatively short, bar food-orientated menu include empanadas; corn ribs with vegan chipotle mayonnaise and lime; prawn ceviche; and the frita Cubana burger, which combines a dry-aged smashed beef patty with straw potatoes, chilli con carne and cheese.
To drink: In contrast to the food, the majority of the cocktails are intended to be served just as they would be in the Cuban bars that invented them. Daiquiris - a family of drinks that is routinely abused by unscrupulous bartenders and therefore largely misunderstood - are a focus, with options including watermelon (Eminente Claro rum, lime, Aperol, yuzu, watermelon), El Floridita (Eminente Claro rum, lime, maraschino) and the Hemingway special AKA Papa Doble (Eminente Claro rum, grapefruit, lime, maraschino). Faithful renditions of other Cuban classics are also available, including the mojito, the Cuba Libre and the El Presidente.
And another thing: Surrounded by major national brands, Bar La Rampa feels like a play for more mainstream territory for MJMK Restaurants and has been designed to pull in Fitzrovia's after work drinking crowd, which typically crosses over into Soho. Prices are approachable, with most dishes on the menu priced under £10 and cocktails around the £11 mark. Overall Bar La Rampa looks likely to be a winning formula for this part of town, with an offer that's suitable for passing office workers and Oxford Street shoppers while also being adventurous enough to encourage people to make a special trip. The MJMK Restaurants founder's policy of treating their source material with respect - Casa do Frango is a love letter to the piri-piri chicken joints of Mendes' native Portugal - continues to pay dividends.