Ever since the movie Chef came out I've become a little bit obsessed with Cuban culture and cuisine. And yes, I know that the movie never actually goes to Cuba, but the whole vibe of that little successful food truck and it's heartwarming adventure has left me singing the jaunty songs over and over again. Keeping this in mind, when I received an invitation to a Cuban cocktail crawl at Crown Casino, I was extremely excited!
I'm a big fan of our casino's eating scene. There's so many delicious options to visit - with enough variety to satisfy any whim. It's really come strides from say 5-10 years ago, and I'm looking forward to seeing what the future holds for this Perth landmark.
Cuban fever has hit Crown!
Arriving on the night of our cocktail crawl I immediately notice just how decked out the casino is. For the next four weeks the restaurants and bars in the complex are breathing all things Cuban for food and drink, with signature cocktails and special dishes available to order. It's really a celebration in terms of flavour and party atmosphere.
All the colours of Cuba
After meeting the other guests and our lovely Crown hosts for the evening we're taken to our first destination for our cocktail crawl - the Atrium. Years ago when the Atrium first reopened my mother and I had a brief love affair with the place. I mean all you can eat oysters, can you really blame us? But it's been a couple of years since I'd been back, so I was looking forward to seeing how this buffet could embrace Cuban flavours.
Our long table is adorably decorated in theme - feeling very vibrant and tropical, with fedoras laid out for us to don even! My head is so big which means I'm what I like to call cranium-challenged - hats almost never fit me! But thankfully I worked around this and perched my cute little hat on my head so I could participate in the fun too. A quick glass of wine and some chatter, and then we're up and running, ready to eat.
The Cuban station
The hot section has been transformed for the next four weeks into the Cuban food area. We're shown around by the head chef and our dinner hosts, with the entire group all looking around greedily. It smells good - and I have to admit I haven't eaten much Cuban food so I'm really keen to try the different items on offer. We're told that of course we can try what else the Atrium has to offer, but my boy and I agree that the order of business is Cuban food tonight so we focus on that.
My Cuban selection
My Cuban selection
There's quite a diverse range of Cuban food to choose from. Marinated and roasted meats, pasta, breads, potatoes, sweet potatoes, wild rice, polenta and more. The standout for me of all items is easily the polenta, which Jeremy quickly agrees. It is phenomenal - soft, cheesy and full of flavour from the pine nuts and sun dried tomatoes threaded through it. I go back for seconds and fall in love all over again.
Also memorable are the sweet potato gems which are fluffy and sweet on the inside and satisfyingly crisp and golden on the outside. They're so moorish! I also really like the roast pork slices which have a salsa sprinkled on top which is fresh and zesty. I feel my tastebuds kicking into gear with each bite.
There's also a prawn and lobster bake that is like a seafood version of lasagne. I'm sceptical but actually really enjoy it. I normally wouldn't pair tomato flavoured sauce with seafood but thanks to the fresh herbs and the extremely fresh produce, it really works well together. I like it!
After clearing only a quarter of my plate I made my way over to the bathroom quickly. When I returned my plate had already been collected by the staff there sadly! While I love the efficiency, I was a bit disappointed as I hadn't finished and felt a bit greedy being the first on the table to go back up for more. Luckily for me, fellow blogger Perth Munchkin was there with her hubby, and she happily accompanied me in a search for more grub.
Knowing we still have three more venues to move onto after the Atrium, we decide to go relatively light on dessert. I know you might say three desserts each is a lot but clearly you haven't seen us at a buffet... we're a bit animalistic.
Jeremy's desserts of choice are a mojito parfait (I think), cinnamon cream caramel and tiramisu slice. I only sample the cream caramel which is silky and wobbly - exactly what you want in this kind of dessert.
For my three dessert choices I opt for a strawberry daiquiri cheesecake, tres leche cake and banana rum tart. I really like the cheesecake, it's sweet and creamy with a good texture to it. It's just the right size as I find sometimes with cheesecake they can be a bit overpowering in the tastebuds department. The tres leche cake is dense and delicious, the tart completely tasting of the promised banana and rum. I would have loved to go and indulge in some of their moorish ice-creams on offer, but onto the next destination we went! (And luckily I didn't because I was already full - and there was more food and drinks to come!)
The dessert buffet
After finishing up at the Atrium we next go La Vie, which is Crown's premiere champagne lounge. It's beautiful and ornate, a place for a celebratory drink or treat. We have the front lounges and tables reserved for our group, and we're given a cocktail on arrival. I love how well thought out this progressive dining experience is! Every single thing has been thought of prepared for our experience - it really goes to show how much effort they put in as an entertainment venue as a whole.
Cocktails on arrival
The cocktails we can choose from are a mojito or an orange daiquiri. I opt for a mojito since it's one of my favourite alcoholic drinks anyway - that combination of lime and mint always manages to please. This one is right up there with some of the best I've had (the best is still the Raffle's passionfruit mojito!) - it's got just enough alcohol to get you to pay attention, but not so much that it detracts from the other flavours. It feels so fresh and thirst quenching. Needless to say it goes down a little too easily!
While sitting at La Vie we chat to the other guests and are involved in a series of photo taking. They've brought in quite a few photographers for the evening so my normally camera shy boy gets his taste of being in the spotlight for a bit. It's really feeling like a party and I know that it's going to continue as we move on to our next venue.
I really like the Merrywell and it's fun cocktails and delicious menu items. It's been awhile since I've been back, so I am really happy to learn it's the third stop on our crawl. After having a break from eating during our time at La Vie, we're told that we'll be having more cocktails and some Cuban tapas here. I might be full but I'm definitely going to push through because this sounds great to me.
Special Cuban menu items
Perth Munchkin, her hubby, Jeremy and I take a seat at a high table and immediately notice there are a lot of glasses on our table. I'm really wishing I hadn't driven at this time! Before long we're presented with our first cocktail at The Merrywell - El Nacional.
The El Nacional is a cocktail that was invented in Havana and is made with rum, apricot liqueur, lime juice, sugar syrup and pineapple juice. Sweet, a little tart and icy cold this is what a summer cocktail is all about. It's dangerously easy to drink and to make things even better, the lovely manager of The Merrywell provides us all with recipe cards for both cocktails we're drinking there. I will definitely be recreating these at home!
Once we've settled in to enjoying the first cocktail, plates of food arrive beneath our noses. They've selected three of the special Cuban dishes they're serving for the next four weeks for us to try and because they know we'll be drinking - we get a little takeaway sheet explaining each item. Love the forward thinking!
On a bed of lettuce we have an empanada rope vieja, an guarapo ostra and aguacate relleno de atun. It's sounding very authentic and the smells wafting off our plate are pretty tempting I have to admit. That old full feeling somehow disappears when you have some amazing looking food put down in front of you!
Empanada rope vieja
We start with the empanada, which is filled with shredded Cuban beef, capsicum, roasted red peppers, onions, tomatoes and diced olives encased in a fried savoury pastry. I have to admit I'm a little torn over whether to eat it due to the way my stomach always gets really bad cramps from capsicum (even though it's so delicious!). But I decide to eat the empanada anyway, knowing I'll feel sick later that night. All for the sake of blogging - right! Thankfully the repercussions later that night aren't too severe and the empanada was totally worth it. Absolutely mouthwateringly good.
The pastry is crunchy and well seasoned, popping with flavour from the herb dressing on top which is made of parsley, lemon, coriander, cumin, dry chilli and extra virgin olive oil. The beef inside is tender and flavourful, it's a really great offering and perfect to showcase Cuban flavours.
Aguacate relleno de atun
The aguacate relleno de atun is a half avocado stuffed with 100 grams albacore white tuna that is diced and mixed with a mango and papaya salsa. There's also mango puree and fresh herbs on top, plus crunchy yucca (cassava) chips on the side.
This is my favourite of the three (though they're all great). It's so fresh and a great balance of flavours and textures. The avocado is generous and creamy, with just the right amount of fattiness to counter the fresh salsa. I love tuna so this is a dish that is easy to capture my heart. And those yucca chips - they're so starchy and crunchy. Very yummy! I had thought they might be fried plantain chips initially when the plate was presented, but I'm glad to try something different than you're more predictable Cuban food.
Guarapo ostra literally translate into sugary drink oyster. Served cold on the shell these natural oysters come with a slice of grilled pineapple and are topped with a rum granita. Yes oh yes. They're so perfect! And with the second cocktail La Floridita (rum, maraschino, grapefruit juice, lime juice and sugar syrup) I'm finishing up at The Merrywell on an absolute high. I make a vow to come back and visit this dude food haven very soon - maybe to try their new breakfast menu which I hear packs a serious punch.
Our night finishes up with some more cocktails and some salsa dancing at Groove Bar. The vibe is electric when we enter and there's professional and amateur dancers all firing up on the dance floor while the Cuban band plays catchy tunes. It's so fun you can't help but have a big grin on your face as everyone shakes their stuff.
Our wonderful Burswood hosts offer us some more drinks at this point. I can't have any more since I need to drive so I opt for a mocktail while my boy has another mojito. It's always nice to have a drink in hand while watching musical and dancing talent. It's pure entertainment here!
My mocktail is so, so yummy. Pineapple and coconut flavours are strong and smooth, offering a tropical escape in my mouth. The perfect final taste of a great night escaping to Cuba right here in Perth.
A big thank you to the gorgeous girls and guys at Crown Casino for a wonderful night out. My boy and I left and agreed immediately that it's easily the best blogging event we've been to - fun, funky and flavoursome. It ticked all the boxes and I really hope that you all make it down during the next few weeks while they have Cuban drinks, food and entertainment on offer. It's such an enjoyable time to have for sure!