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Cuban Heels trips up

Felicity Clarke finds some railway arches and wonders why they had to turn them into a restaurant

Published on September 11th 2008.

Cuban Heels trips up

On the corner of the railway archways they occupy, Cuban Heels have got that big orange sign declaring 'We're Havana Party'. Certainly sets the tone doesn't it? You don't get many puns making star appearances on the signage for city centre eateries. However groan inducing, it's nothing if not a bit fun and with this in mind a friend and I went for a meal out at Cuban Heels.

The melted cheese had spread and congealed in a way that suggests its completion involved a ping. Microwave suspicions were confirmed by the soggy texture of the chips, making it a sorry foundation for a dish that if judged on its other elements alone would do well.

The railway arches bestow on Cuban Heels the architectural blessing they do on all the bars, restaurants and clubs that live beneath them. Were it not for the First Transpennine Express thundering above, you could imagine their sole purpose is to house the food and/or drink establishments that interpret them either as underground industrial grime pits or intimate wine cellars. Cuban Heels go for the latter, employing a simple formula of whitewashed walls, dark furniture and the odd potted plant. We were seated in our own little corner, to Sade's dulcet tones on Smooth Operator no less, and soaked up their vaguely 80s-Latin-holiday vibe.

As the name and general atmosphere would suggest, Cuban Heels have a Latino theme to their menu. Lots of cajun and chilli infusing going on with selections of Mexican cantina tortilla-based staples. To start we went for the nachos grande (£4.95 for two people). It arrived astonishingly quick and it soon became clear why.

The melted cheese had spread and congealed in a way that suggests its completion involved a ping. Microwave suspicions were confirmed by the soggy texture of the chips, making it a sorry foundation for a dish that if judged on its other elements alone would do well. Generous dollops of a tangy chunky salsa, smooth guacamole with a little chilli kick, thick jalapeno slices and cool sour cream were all fine examples of their form and beautifully attempted to conceal the bad practice underneath.

We turned our attention to a lovely South Australian Shiraz with its rich berry notes and the couple in a nearby cubby on what we guessed to be a second date. As the girl wittered at length about her GI diet, we decided that in terms of environment Cuban Heels could make quite a good date venue, in a cheesy, post-ironic kind of way. Probably not if you're on a GI diet though.

After a reassuring interval, we heard the sound of meat furiously sizzling on a skillet approaching. My chicken fajitas (£12.95) went some way to make up for the nuked cheese?? fiasco with thick strips of chicken breast, crunchy peppers and onion lavishly coated in a cumin and chilli cajun rub and charred to give a dense smoky flavour. The salsa, guacamole and sour cream returned to take part in a dish worthy of their involvement, clumsily assembled by me in fat, messy do-it-yourself soft tortilla wraps.

The vegetable enchilada (£9.95) across the table was less successful. A chunky vegetable, bean and tortilla bake was good on texture but lacked flavour, despite the sauce being described on the menu as 'intense', and came smothered by an half-inch thick blanket of tough melted cheese. Accompanying rice was overcooked and seemed a bit unnecessary given the huge portion. My fajita antics were looked at longingly by my dining partner and had she not been of a strictly vegetable persuasion, I'd have insisted she got involved.

A dessert of strawberry cheesecake (£3.95) was ordered mainly to counter the veggie disappointment over the main, but sadly sunk things to a new low. A portion of wholesale cheesecake that looked like it had emerged from a freezer a week ago sat pitifully between us.

Solidified strawberry jam topped a layer of dubiously textured cream cheese on a base that may once, in a factory a long time ago, have been described as biscuit. It shouldn't really have made it to the table and even if it hadn't already given up on it's defrosted purpose, a £3.95 price tag for a slice of Sara Lee is not on.

Credit where it's due, our waitress was lovely - friendly and efficient throughout - but there's a definite overall disappointment. Cheese seems to have been a big part of the downfall and like a cheesy pop song (Mambo Number Five immediately springs to mind, probably because it was played twice during our meal), it's hard to take Cuban Heels seriously. From the pun to the soundtrack to the somewhat slack attitude in the kitchen, it feels like maybe the people behind the scenes are 'Havana party' and that we just weren't invited.

Rating: 9.5/20
Breakdown: 4/10 Food
3/5 Service
2.5/5 Ambience
Address: Cuban Heels
28-30 Assembly St
0113 234 6115

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GillySeptember 11th 2008.

A few days after this review and Cuban heels has closed down... I hope you can sleep at nights!!

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