Cuban art

Words by Alex Rayner

Did you know that, in Cuba, the hand signal for hitchhiking and the gesture for a casual drink are identical? Or that the term ‘sobremesa’ means both dessert and also the relaxed, drawn-out after-dinner conversation that heralds the end of a meal on the island?

Those were just a couple of the cultural titbits laid before Supplement at last night’s Havana Club dinner, held in the Bulgari Hotel’s private dining room and the first in a new series taking place across London this summer to introduce the concept of the sobremesa to domestic diners. Over a specially assembled Cuban menu (including ceviche of sea bream, grilled spiny lobster and homemade churros) served with Havana Club Tributo, the assembled guests, including the critic and gallerist Ekow Eshun, the writer, editor and curator Francesca Gavin and ourselves, along with main chair, the luxury journalist Paul Croughton. 

The special contributor bought in for this inaugural sobremesa was the commissioning editor for Phaidon Press, Michele Robecchi. Freshly returned from Art Basel (where Cuban artist Carlos Garaicoa was his pick of the festival) he offered diners a post-prandial overview of Cuban architecture and art, from the earliest days of colonialism through to today’s contemporary era. Havana Club Maximo – one of only 2500 bottles in the world – was poured for guests as the sobremesa continued. “Right now is probably the most exciting time in Cuban architecture,” Robecchi said. “The director of the faculty of architecture is a wonderful architect, raising a great new generation. People like Vilma Bartolomé, they’re doing great things. They’re moving away from three decades of very functional architecture. I can see the birth of a new Cuban style. It seems again that there is more room for creativity, taking into account the history of the island but also embracing the surroundings. It’s a very promising direction.”

Thanks to all at Havana Club for their hospitality. Check listings for details on forthcoming sobremesas with guests talking about Cuban literature, boxing, fashion and travel.