The autumn equinox is but two days old when I find myself in a short-sleeve top cycling along the Regent’s Canal west London-bound. My destination? Acklam Village, on Portobello Road. More than my two feet pedalling me forward, what drives me towards this street food heaven is a Proustian madeleine: a long-held desire to sink my teeth into a well-cooked Cuban sandwich again.
The waterway is teeming with sun-seekers, willing to soak up the last drop of warmth this surprising, still-lingering summer has gifted us. It is like watching bees and butterflies feasting on late flowers in back gardens.
I arrive at Acklam Village desperate for some heart-filling nosh and Leximan, le chef at Taste of Cuba* is happy to oblige. Here is a man who not so long ago was trying to build his own musical career only to realise that his future lay in the kitchen. Good for him, we need more cooks like Leximan. His signature dish is the Cuban sandwich, Santiago-style, and he certainly brings a personal touch to it. Roasted for approximately seven hours, the meat looks soft and tender. I go for the whole gallimaufry: the meat, diced finely and de-boned, a few pieces of skin, two slices of ham and cheese, plenty of salad, a dollop of chilli sauce and a bit of ketchup and mustard. The latter two are not really necessary and too much of the red and yellow stuff can mar a tasty dish.
I would describe myself as a “first bite/last bite” type of eater. This is easy to explain. The first mouthful sets the mood, tests the taste buds and asks questions. The last morsel on the plate is the one you want to savour slowly and take home with you. That last spoonful or forkful guarantees the return ticket to the restaurant or café.
Leximan does not disappoint at all. The only comparison I can draw is to the final scene of Ratatouille when the food critic Anton Ego eats the eponymous dish prepared by Remy the rat. Just like Anton and the childhood memories the rodent’s recipe triggers in him, Leximan’s Cuban sandwich reminds me of my much-loved, much-missed, late grandmother. She was the one in charge of cooking the pork in my house.
The first bite I take leaves me licking my lips. The meat is well pulled, tasty, tender, juicy and it has a kick to it. The skin is crackly, just the way I like. Neither the cheese nor the ham interferes with the flavour. I notice that I am scarfing down the food and force myself to slow down. I look around. Leximan’s stall is flanked by two Latin American joints: a Venezuelan and a Peruvian. A woman is singing a The Cranberries song in the indoor bar. Couples wander around feeding each other. Wherever you turn there is the unmistakable sign of activity. A couple of Far Eastern-looking women stop and check the menu at Leximan’s stall. As I take the last bite of my Cuban sandwich I am reminded once more of the bees and butterflies gorging on late flowers in back gardens in this still-lingering summer. I wave goodbye and saddle up. Still in short sleeves, down the Regent’s Canal.
Although I have known Leximan for a few years now I paid for my food and this review is completely independent.