VAMOS – Cuban pop-up restaurant

Master Chefs of tomorrow
VAMOS is a festival unique to Newcastle celebrating Latin cultures in a variety of creative and engaging ways. It has been running now for nine years  – I usually see the publicity and think ‘that looks fun’ and then miss out – so this year I got organised and finally got around to catching some of the activities and events this June. The festival lasts for two weeks with an exciting range of things to try which are just that bit out of the ordinary.  Mardi Gras parades, music, dance, films, talks and visual arts, and of course, food all celebrating the Spanish and Portuguese culture are on offer.
Canapes, cocktails and conversation

I visited the Cubano pop-up restaurant at Newcastle College’s Lifestyle Academy. The concept of the pop-up restaurant is that it is a temporary venue which can host a meal perhaps during a festival or a special occasion. They are often in people’s houses but on this occasion we were in the light airy restaurant at Newcastle College which is up on a hill with a big picture window looking out over the Tyne Valley. The students from the college’s Chefs Academy were tasked with the challenge of coming up with a suitable Cuban themed menu and I have to say their performance in the kitchen was pretty impressive.

The A Team

Cuban chef Paco Rivera was invited to the college to sample the food first and pronounced it ‘stupendous!’
We arrived just after 7pm and after a welcome Havana cocktail and taking our seats we were tempted by stuffed baby potato skins ‘Papas Rellenas’ and tiny chicken skewers ‘Pincho de Pollo’ to whet the appetite. Then for starters there were neat fishcakes with Cubana salad.
Next followed a large round of baked Cuban bread which was still warm and had bits of bacon in it.The main course was a substantial sticky, spicy Paella, adorned with mussels and cockles – it definitely had a bit of a kick and was extremely filling.

Spice up your Paella!

Dessert was equally delectable with rum truffles, orange cocktail jellies which looked like real orange segments and my favourite of all, fudge lollies topped with chocolate dipped in coconut. To die for!

Luscious Latino desserts

The festival was the brain child of Nikolas Barrera who is half Colombian. He kicked things off in 2003 and has been involved in all aspects of the festival ever since which really seems to have caught the imagination of the North East community.We were kept entertained by the Latin rhythms of members of Burundanga who had everyone shaking their own maracas as the evening drew to a close.

Cool Cuban bongos

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and the food was certainly better than anything I ate when I was actually in Cuba. I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the festival has to offer – especially the Mexican wrestling.. Let’s Go! VAMOS!

Additional photos by Zander photography.