The original La Bodeguita del Medio in Cuba was once a hangout for Hemingway (although to be honest, a LOT of bars around the world were frequented by him) and it calls itself the home of the mojito. Who exactly invited the mojito is unclear, but there’s no doubt La Bodeguita helped popularise the drink, which has always been an early love of mine. So, when Dot, the Ginger Binger and the Purger invite me to join them at the Sydney branch of this Cuban restaurant I promptly ditch my cat and join them.
In some ways La Bodeguita del Medio feels like a Cuban version of Café Pacifico. It’s a restaurant that has a decently sized bar area where you can sit at the counter and, instead of an impressive tequila selection, La Bodeguita has two pages of rums (which is unusual and welcome) – and of course it has Cuban, rather than Mexican, food.
We immediately order mojitos and they’re served long with lots of finely crushed ice and a fresh sprig of mint poking out of the glass. Having once had a mojito addiction that saw me drink them in every bar from Barcelona to Botany, I’ve become addicted to a bastardised version that has them in short glasses with no soda water and lots of lime.
The mojito in La Bodeguita is served in a more traditional way and is good – the soda water hasn’t pooled at the top like it does with badly made ones, and it tastes fresh and sweet, although the Ginger Binger argues she can’t taste enough rum (they use Havana Club rum here, btw). The Binger might have a point – I’m not getting much of an alcoholic kick from mine but then it could be that the mint and lime are simply masking the rum well. The next time I’m here I think I’ll perch at the bar and cast my critical rum-coveting eyes over the bartender as he makes it to see for myself rather than sitting at a table. Then again, the mojitos only cost $10 here so they’re still good value regardless.
Out of interest, there’s a great video online where you can see how the bartenders at the Cuban La Bodeguita del Medio make their mojitos (they seem to do it a little differently in Sydney though – for example, here they use crushed ice whereas they don’t in this video clip).
As for food – we order:
- The rabbit empanadas ($17), which come with a great tomato and coriander sauce. They have a gamey flavour and I like them, although Dot and the Binger aren’t so keen.
- Taro croquettes served with aji de gallina sauce ($15) – these are soft with a crunchy coating and are good if you like croquettes (I’m so so on them) – but the sauce, which has a kick without being too spicy, is great.
- Tomato and yogurt braised lamb neck with Cuban rice and black bean vinaigrette ($24). This is so tender it just falls apart and if it just had a bit more spice it would have become awesome.
- Seared wagyu slices with marigold dressing ($19). This is the favourite. I’m not sure how traditional it is, but the pink slices with a slight charred flavour are perfect.
- Sliced sea scallops with yellow chilli with prawn dressing ($16). The girls love this but I’m not so sure. The sauce kicks you in the teeth with its strength and to some degree overpowers the scallops. Then again, after the third scallop I find myself wanting more of it and fighting the girls off.
The décor here is atmospheric without trying too hard or becoming kitsch: think brick walls, arches, wooden floorboards, photos of Cuba on the wall, leather banquette booths in one area, plus patrons are given marker pens and invited to write on the wall (I wrote a homage to my cat in one corner. Then I wonder why I’m still single.)
There’s also a stage and a small dancing area and later in the night a Cuban band start playing and people who have obviously taken dance classes start gyrating. It’s a fun atmosphere that I can’t get cynical about – I’d like to come back.
Cocktails: after the mojito I try the Nacional, made with Havana Club rum, apricot liqueur and a couple of splashes of pineapple juice ($14). This is good and not too sweet or tangy, although I prefer the mojito for its crispness.
Dot orders the Mai Tai – Jamaican Rum, orange liqueur, lime and almond syrup ($15). This is just great – a tropical drink filled with goodness.
The Ginger Binger orders the Mulata Daiquiri: 7-year-old Cuban rum (I don’t know which one, to be honest) with lime juice and a dash of cacao ($16). We’re not sure about this one – it’s a bit too syrupy for us, and I’m not convinced chocolate flavours should even be in cocktails.
The Purger has now gone home, but the Ginger Binger insists we keep drinking for four and orders the Hemingway Daiquiri, made with Havana Club Rum, lime juice, grapefruit and maraschino liqueur ($15). Now this is my kind of cocktail and we all love it. The sweet and sour flavours balance perfectly.
To keep the Binger in drinking company (I am a gentleman, after all), I try the Ernest’s Breakfast, made with rum, grapefruit marmalade, Cointreau and lemon juice ($16). This is also one of the better cocktails here – tart and with some backbone.
By now you’d think we’d have given up and gone home – but no. Our livers are sturdier than that so we try the Canchànchara, made with Havana Club rum, honey and lemon juice ($16). By this stage I’m just ordering drinks because I like saying their name and my ability to judge them is fading. I can, however, say that it smells like lemon, tastes like honey, and is served with a large spherical ice ball in the glass. If you like honey then this might work for you.
We finish off by ordering some straight rum – the 18-year-old Flor de Cana ($18), the 15-year-old Pusser’s ($13.5) – the Binger orders this because she’s drunk enough to think the name is hysterical – and the Matusalem Fran Reserva 15-year-old ($15.50). The Flor de Cana is our favourite out of the three but to be honest, they’re all great rums with different flavours – and I love my Matusalem if only for its vibrant aroma.
And that completes the longest, most indulgent and gluttonous review I think I’ve put on Bar Zine so far. However, if you have anything to add then please add a comment below.
La Bodeguita del Medio. 125 York Street, Sydney (behind the QVB building). Open Monday to Thursday from 12pm-12am and Friday to Saturday from 12pm-1am. Closed Sunday. See the La Bodeguita del Medio website
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Now it’s your turn – how do you rate La Bodeguita del Medio?