Do you want to try a Mambo King? asked the waiter when I ordered a cheering glass of champagne for my friend Juliet who has been through the emotional wringer lately.

 

Well not unless he comes with a four piece band, a pair of maracas and is called Cesar. Raspberry vodka just doesn't sound macho enough.

 

We're at the flagship restaurant of Ian Schrager's new hotel in St. Martins Lane. Asia de Cuba - well the name says it all - food with a bean sprout where its pinga(italics) ought to be. Black beans, a bit of coconut and the boys from the Buena Vista Social Club playing in the background - mixed with everything from Thai to Japanese. It's not fusion but fission, though instead of a big bang you get a small, embarrassing whoopee cushion squeak - and when the food comes you understand why they try to get you drunk on cocktails first.

 

I ordered Cuban black bean soup dumplings, though there is no soup, just roasted tomato sauce. They weren't bad, just bland. Mushed-up beans steamed, Chinese style - like baby food for infants with culture shock.

 

There's no signature dish, but it should be Chinese Five Spice foie gras with vanilla French toast and boniato mash - a dish that tastes as ridiculous as it sounds. Sweet potato puree and fat, rare, liver bathed in coriander, bleeding over the French toast. As a substitute for maple syrup, it just isn't going to catch on, but it sums up the daftness of the menu very nicely.

 

Then, if you don't feel silly enough after paying 16.50 for a bit of raw liver on toast, try milling around in the minimalist ladies' room looking for the concealed door. That oughta do it.

 

We cried. Okay, not because of the food but because Juliet had hit a particularly sad point in her tale of gloom, but anyone sitting at the table beside us would probably have wept too and then passed the Kleenex. I know the restaurant operates on a 'sharing concept' - like you do in real Chinese restaurants - but some seating arrangements are intimate enough for a group hug.

 

We took advice on the main course - though in retrospect it was bit like asking a blind, straight man to help you co-ordinate your handbag and shoes. The waiter told us the pot roasted pork was very good - cooked until it's falling apart - almost like a confit, he said. Then there's the baked lobster in rum, or the Yuca and oriental mushroom crusted Mahi Mahi. Oh poleeze - I couldn't bring myself to say it - let alone eat it. We had the pork.

 

Now I love that kind of thing - steamy, fragrant, unfussy one-pot comfort food. Imagine the pork meltingly soft, languishing in its own juices, soya sauce, mirin and Saki. The roast tender enough to eat with a spoon with the contrast of a crisp rum and honey glaze.

 

Well, this wasn't it.

 

It was stringy, fatty and needed serious muscle both to divide and chew. People below us were having spring rolls which at least looked as if they were not bastard children of Fidel Castro and Suzie Wong - but if you're sharing, even numbers for a party of two makes sense. Otherwise you fight to the death over the right not to eat the last piece.

 

We also had some Havana noodles on the side. What they have to do with Havana is anyone's guess - maybe they're illegal in the United States.

 

It's all such a shame because the hotel was designed by Philippe Starcke and the restaurant has a look-at-me-I'm-cool, fluid, airy feel which they should bottle and sell in the adjoining shop instead of bothering with food. The bedrooms are white and can be flooded with colour at the flick of a switch. The lobby yellow, spacey and littered with the very young trendiscenti and those middle aged men with paunches and grey pony tales whom all women over forty must thank God every day they haven't married.

 

It's almost worth just standing at the bar and tearing up fivers instead of actually eating there.

 

Back to desserts. Well nothing goes with emotional trauma like chocolate but the Cuban Coffee Brownie didn't get my percolator going. Juliet chose the safest thing on the menu - a coconut and lemongrass pannacotta, which was creamy, sweet and at least didn't make her cry.

 

The waiter told us proudly that the menu was identical to that of Asia de Cuba in New York. Yes honey. It figures - over-dressed, over-priced and over here. Unfortunately.