People often believe that if something is a chain, it's bland and unoriginal. I don't buy into that notion after visiting this place. You could call Coco Cubano a chain store - there are three franchises in Sydney, the staff all wear the same dinky uniforms and are branded to within an inch of their lives - but a night spent here makes it feel like anything but.
FRIDAY AND SATURDAY NIGHTS are the time to visit, when Parramatta's Eat Street is alive and buzzing, but Coco Cubano has nabbed such a great spot on the busy corner of Church and Phillip streets that you'd feel among the action on any night. Prime real estate is the cluster of brown leather armchairs facing the busy corner, looking out the big, open windows. There is also some outdoor seating (that will be awesome in summer), some high bar tables and a few more leather armchairs. Everything is placed just so. The dark walls are adorned with perfectly aligned pictures of Cuban revolutionaries and the staff are dressed as little Che Guevaras in khaki shirts and red berets. It's all a tad contrived but still good fun. The upside of all the manufactured orderliness is pretty rigid service. Everything is systemised and they don't put a foot wrong. You may miss out on that personal touch but at least your drinks arrive pronto.
THE PLACE HAS A WONDERFUL DARKNESS about it. All the furniture is sumptuously brown; the lights are dimmed; the stacked bottles behind the bar have a golden glow. It's very slick and slightly mysterious - exactly the place you'd come to puff on a Cuban cigar and furtively plan a revolution. I'm immediately seduced.
BY DAY it's a cafe with hot chocolate to die for. By night, it's a Cuban tapas and cocktail bar with pumping music and a noisy but tame crowd. We order a round of cocktails, all Latino-inspired, of course, and a couple of tapas. The patatas bravas ($9.90) are undercooked but the spicy chicken with jalapeno, guacamole and warm tortilla bread ($10.90) is great and good to share. I'm told by the owner, Tony Melhem, that chocolate is this place's bread and butter so it's no surprise the Jose Martini cocktail (Coco Cubano espresso, milk chocolate vodka, vanilla, $14.90 - one of two chocolate cocktails) is the pick of the bunch. Not too creamy, not too watery, it's just a sublime chocolate cocktail. The flavoured Mojitos are impressive, too - you can taste the fresh passionfruit or coconut or whatever fruit flavour it is. Sangria with fresh fruit comes in a huge jug ($28) that seems to last forever. While it's not the most rich and flavoursome I've ever had, it's a good, cheap option. There are a few funky South American wines such as the popular Jed Malbec from Argentina ($9.90).
YOU CAN'T LEAVE WITHOUT trying something truly, richly chocolatey, so we try the choc cinnamon churros (so bad but so good, $13.90) and a Latin American couverture single-origin hot milk chocolate (again, so bad but so good, $5.10). Full as a stuffed tortilla and with the smell of Cuban cigar gently wafting by, we hit the road completely satisfied. My scepticism about franchises is drowned out by hot chocolate and sangria. I'm officially joining the revolution.
YOU'LL LOVE IT IF you want good food and drinks and a fun setting.
YOU'LL HATE IT IF you want a quiet, personalised bar.
GO FOR chocolate cocktails, flavoured Mojitos, spiced chicken, hot chocolate.
IT'LL COST YOU cockails $8.90-$14.90, wine by the glass $6.90-$9.90, tapas $7.90-$12.90, chocolate desserts$2.90-$19.90.
Coco Cubano Address 302 Church Street, Parramatta, 0450 956 382 Open Mon-Sun, 7am-midnight
- 0450 956 382
- Opening Hours - Mon-Sat, 7am-midnight
- Author - Rachel Olding