As you’ll know from my previous review of Alma de Cuba towards the back end of last year, my relationship with this iconic member of Liverpool bars and restaurants has been turbulent to say the least. To quote myself in the wake of my last visit to Alma, the edibles had left us “bitterly disappointed” – like, sucking on lemon kind of bitter. I recall being served a tepid chicken skewer, a pair of obnoxiously oily croquettes and a side order of shame when our churlish waiter had scoffed at the speed at which we had consumed our minute starter. Needless to say, we had vacated swiftly with our questionable Piña Colada cocktails still curdling in their glasses as we left.
Before I continue, you might want to grab yourself a cuppa and catch up on my aforementioned review of Alma de Cuba. Not only will it give my apprehension ahead of our reservation this time round some constructive context, it will also save me gushing too much about the stunning venue and its jaw-dropping surroundings all over again. If you simply haven’t got time to read two of my ramblings back to back right now, allow me to summarise with haste…
Opened in 1788, the minimal building on Seel Street was the first Catholic church in Liverpool. Before it became the Latin-inspired restaurant and Samba bar revellers know and frequent today, it went by the more humble name of St. Peter’s. Now a Grade II-listed building and the first piece of religious architecture in the city to become a social venue, Alma de Cuba still boasts many of its original features.
So after that brief lesson in the history of Alma de Cuba, let us shift our focus back onto the elephant in the room – the food and drinks which I was so sceptically preparing to give a second chance. To quote myself for a second time (I really do need to stop doing that because I’m giving Kanye West a run for his dollar), I concluded my previous piece with buoyant hope that “Gospel Sunday Brunch [would] win me over” so without any further ado, let’s get down to my verdict of Sunday Service at Alma de Cuba.
First thing’s first, the venue and ambience were as insatiable as ever. Greeted by a member of staff in front of the outstretched bar and quickly ushered to our table in the upstairs galleries, I marvelled the interior and its apropos decor as zealously as I have always done before. Lofty ceilings, candelabras, twinkling stained glass windows and mahogany furniture pay homage to its hallowed foundations just perfectly and provide a unique contrast to the modern food menu and hedonistic mixology on offer.
We mightn’t have been able to see the quartet of gospel singers who were situated in the original alter downstairs who are the USP of Alma’s Gospel Sunday Brunch but boy, could we hear them. Belting out a stunning rendition of Let It Be in their rich, dulcet tones as we perused the menus in front of, I raised a metaphorical toast to whoever conjured the concept of a gospel brunch. Ten points to you there, Gryffindor.
Speaking of the menus… I thought it only fitting that I go for a Piña Colada as it seems to have become customary during my last few visits to the Alma de Cuba bar. My first experience was exceptional – one of the best coladas I’ve ever had the pleasure of slurping in fact – but the second and most recent was a sour, separated disaster. When out cocktails arrived, we sipped with caution only to gladly discover that the Piña Colada has been restored to its former glory. Sweet, creamy and just enough of a rum-based kick to flush your cheeks, this one was a fine example of the classic cocktail. Two gooduns out of three ain’t bad.
Cheeks suitably flushed and feeling a little woozy on accounts of the tail end of a Bongo’s Bingo hangover, we were eager to order our edibles from the food menu. The Gospel Sunday Service menu is a separate entity from the regular Alma de Cuba menu and comes with the title of ‘Sunday Brunch’. Now, considering there was nothing remotely brunch or breakfast-like on the list, I found this a tad misleading. With no heuvo rancheros, Eggs Benedict or bacon maple pancakes in sight, you might be left feeling a disappointed on account of the semantics but swap the B in Brunch for and L and you’ll be golden.
I noticed that the previously damned Sweet Potato & Chorizo Croquettes (£7) were on the menu so in the light of our much improved Piña Coladas, we thought we’d give this dish another crack of the whip. Well blow me down with a feather duster, what a transformation. This time round the croquettes were crispy, packed to the brim with a perfectly seasoned filling and much more ample in portion size. The garlic mayonnaise that came served with the trio of crunchy bonbons was a match made in heaven. Can I get a hallelujah?!
As our second starter we went for the soup of the day (£4.95) which transpired to be Tomato & Basil. Not the most innovative flavour combination, granted, but it was one of the best soups I have spooned my way through for a very long time. It wasn’t the type of aqueous tomato soup that leaves you with enough heartburn to erode right through your rib cage – it was a thick, creamy, vermillion elixir that came complete with that mandatory scribble of crème fraîche, a scattering of fresh parsley and a few cobs of crusty ciabatta for dipping. Good ‘n’ proper.
Off to a sterling start following a round of delicious cocktails and a successful first course, I was feeling good about the main event – and rightly so. While there are more adventurous items on the menu, as soon as we both clapped eyes on the Sunday roasts on the menu we were well and truly seduced. A roast dinner is always the most simple and humble of dishes so it can truly expose any culinary weaknesses and since old Alma was on trial, it was Sunday roasts all round.
My partner in dine for the day went for the Roast Rump of Beef (£15.95) and I opted for the Homemade Nut Roast (£12.95). I was hugely tempted by the Roast Chicken Supreme (£14.95) but I am making a conscious effort to be more opened minded towards veggie options and vegan options more regularly so I stuck to my guns. Having fallen in love with the vegan junk food menu at Down the Hatch just recently, the bar was set pretty high.
Both roasts came served with roast potatoes, crushed carrot & swede, cauliflower and broccoli florets. The beef came with a rich red wine gravy and a crispy Yorkshire pudding, while my nut roast came with a delicious vegetarian gravy but no Yorkshire pudding. I repeat – NO Yorkshire pudding! I’m of the belief that no matter what your protein preference, Yorkshire puds should be non-negotiable and fortunately, the guys at Alma de Cuba were more than sympathetic to my plight and quickly delivered the goods upon request.
Pretty stuffed to the brim at this point, we decided that it just had to be one dessert and two spoons. We had previously tried the Toasted Banana Bread which I can confirm is a sweet, sweet success and my other half was tempted by the Giant Kahlua Mocha Macaroon (£6) but in the end we settled on sharing the Chilli Chocolate Brownie with Dulce de Leche & Vanilla Ice Cream (£6). I think the dulce de leche might have upped and left-e, and the brownie was a little dry but as far as something chocolate-based with a dollop of vanilla ice cream goes, it was acceptable. Perhaps a hint more chilli might have spiced things up a bit for me but then again, I wouldn’t want a repeat performance of the chilli hot chocolate I had at Aubergine Cafe which nearly blew my cap right off.
So all in all, Alma de Cuba has definitely won me back round. My brownie wasn’t brilliant but other than that, I really enjoyed everything else we ate and drank. I think it’s safe to say me and old Alma are on good terms again for the time being. Next time, I’ve got my eye on that Samba Afternoon Tea…
I was very kindly invited to review Gospel Sunday Brunch at Alma de Cuba but all words, photographs, opinions, teeth, hair, boobs and nails are my very own.