Alma de Cuba – ‘the soul of Cuba’ – is a popular bar and restaurant that sits right in the centre of town in Seel Street. Until its closure in 1978 it was the oldest Catholic Church in Liverpool, having welcomed its first congregation in 1788.
Today’s congregation is a very different church-goer, less inclined to kneel at the altar of God than to an excitable menu of music, drinks and food and an aesthetically pleasing – and thankfully, well-preserved – backdrop.
Its humble exterior belies the astounding interior, which was restored in 2003, retaining many of its nigh on 300-year-old features including the original marble altar and numerous ecclesiastical statues.
The bar is on the ground floor with its night-time carnival atmosphere. It’s a genuinely impressive venue for this alone and continues to rightly catch the attention of national nightlife reviews.
Ascending the spiralled stairway at the entrance of Alma de Cuba, you reach the restaurant. Invariably, there’s a sparkly hostess waiting to escort diners up the narrow stairs to their table. You can probably spot her by her vertiginous heels.
The restaurant is simply dressed and laid-out, and each table has enough space to breathe so you’re not sitting in your neighbours’ laps. For me, the tables are too high but short of taking my own cushion I can resign myself to looking like a five-year-old sitting with the grown ups.
Alma’s executive chef, John Tamila, has recently revisted their à la carte menu so for those who have dined here before, expect a number of new dishes to enjoy as you sit in wonderment at the magnificent (and original) stained glass windows, horny light fittings and stunning architecture. I wouldn’t be over-cooking it if I said it’s arguably one of the best interiors in town.
I opted for the seafood and chorizo risotto to start. It’s a spicy little number, but the listing makes no mention of the generous red chilli, so be warned. And although it was moist enough and looked very interesting, the seafood might benefit from more attention to flavour, which the chorizo claimed all for itself. Certainly, the mussels veered into the over-cooked.
Roast chicken breast stuffed with Portobello mushrooms and wrapped in Serrano ham for the main course arrived like the starter: looking interesting. The cooked crispy chicken skin is used to create a ‘fin’, which looks much better than it sounds. Many will enjoy the Serrano ham as well but for me, it complicated matters.
There is a great host of side orders to choose from and my roasted pimentos and spicy cherry tomatoes were succulent, sweet and a happy accompaniment to the main.
The third course was a dark chocolate and orange fudge spring rolls with praline coated vanilla ice cream. The chocolate clearly isn’t any old chocolate, the mandarin’s sufficient to add tangy aroma and the ice cream is luxuriously creamy with a crunch for extra points.
Throughout the meal, service is friendly and informal – attentive but not overly so – and polite. Would I go again? Yes, as much for the truly arresting interior as for the menu.
Alma de Cuba’s restaurant is a great choice if say, you have visitors and want to show off a unique venue and have an easy, sociable evening, especially if you want to join the bar’s party-party atmosphere post-food.
From a Thursday to Saturday, avoid late restaurant bookings unless your more elderly guests don’t mind woofed-up dance music mixed with their chateaubriand. But if you haven’t been yet, give it a whirl – it’s undoubtedly a Liverpool institution that’s happily here to stay.
Alma De Cuba