Located in the timeworn spaces of what was once an early 20th century mansion, then owned by a wealthy Havana family, La Guarida restaurant seems to keep a special charm in its old walls that flatters aristocrats, artists, businessmen and common folk who come because they are attracted by the delights of its cuisine and ambiance.
Since its opening on July 14, 1996, in what until then had been just an apartment on the third floor of the old mansion in the heavily populated Centro Habana district, La Guarida is the most successful private restaurant in the Cuban capital.
Maybe it was because of the quality of service and for being the most personalized of the restaurants in Havana that The New York Times Travel section included it in its issue as the first recommendation when looking for a good dinner in a pleasant atmosphere while in Havana. It is also placed 10th in a long list of places the Times recommends visiting during 2012.
One of the things that helped promote the reputation of this pioneer of Cuban private restaurants popularly known as paladars (palate), is its location. The name originated from a similar business name featured in a popular Brazilian soap opera. It occupies the space chosen for the filming of the 1993 Cuban film Strawberry and Chocolate, highly acclaimed both domestically and internationally by critics and was Oscar nominated in 1995 in the best foreign language film category, Cuba's only nomination to date.
The success of filmmakers Tomas Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabío was the momentum Enrique Nuñez and his wife Odeysis needed to open La Guarida (The Hideout) in the same location where a large part of the film shooting took place. At the time, it was their parents' residence.
For those who have visited it, La Guarida is a special place in Havana with its walls full of paintings by great Cuban artists, its corners with saints, old bookshelves and chairs and its tables arranged with different tablecloths, cutlery and plates, among other details. One will find all this in a unique atmosphere that mixes the usual routine of the families living in the other apartments of the old house with the activities which are typical of a restaurant.
Among La Guarida's gourmet Cuban cuisine dishes, most popular are the chopped seafood with spices or the melon gazpacho with shrimp, very different from the original Spanish recipe with tomatoes. The menu also includes lamb chops with basil, eggplant caviar, red snapper and other carefully tailored delights.
The old mansion's stairs leading to the restaurant have been climbed by distinguished visitors such as Queen Sofía of Spain, famous Hollywood artists like Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Dillon, Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover and director Steven Spielberg. Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, Frenchman actor Jean Paul Belmondo and many other celebrities from around the world complete the list. Those expressing the pride of being customers at this paladar insist on spreading the word about the good cuisine and unique atmosphere of this Havana spot, so that many more join the long list of La Guarida fans.
Honey-Lemon Roasted Chicken
1 whole chicken
2 tsp cooking oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp honey
Creole marinade sauce
Marinate chicken, cut into halves, in Creole marinade sauce for up to 8 hours. Place the marinated chicken in a roasting pan and roast at 250°C for around 30 min. Roast chicken until it is golden and cooked through. Drain the drippings from the chicken, strain and reduce it with honey, lemon juice and some beef broth until the sauce has a syrupy texture and looks bright.
Finishing and Presentation:
In a bowl, place the roasted chicken and pour the honey and lemon syrupy sauce over the top. Best served with grilled or steamed vegetables.
La Guarida Coffee
1 cup espresso
⅓ cup condensed milk
½ ounce “Havana Club Reserva” Rum
1 small lemon peel
¼ cup warm milk
⅛ tsp ground cinnamon
Preparation and Presentation:
In a champagne glass pour condensed milk, rum, lemon peel, one cup of espresso and fi nally warm milk. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon before serving. Add a chocolate candy to the saucer for decoration if desired.