Chef’s Dish: Lesley Draper talks to Cubana’s Erkland Xjaha

Sous chef Erkland Xhaja
Sous chef Erkland Xhaja

Tasty tapas – a rum do and no mistake

Rum, it seems, is the spirit of the moment – and Cubana is the best place in Sheffield to get it.

Pinch de Pato and Patatas Dulces y Pimientos, as served at Cubana

Pinch de Pato and Patatas Dulces y Pimientos, as served at Cubana

The Leopold Square bar boasts one of the most comprehensive rum menus outside London, with a staggering 164 varieties on offer.

Assistant manager John Wickham has spent months developing the range on behalf of Cubana owners Adrian Bagnoli and Brad Charlesworth. And his next step has been coming up with the perfect dishes to complement it – which is where sous chef Erkland Xjaha comes in.

Albanian-born Erkland arrived in Sheffield with his family in the late 1990s, following a spell in Italy. He began his culinary career at Nonnas, earned promotion to chef and joined Cubana a decade ago in its original Trippet Lane home.

“I’ve always liked Cubana’s cosmopolitan mix of customers and staff,” he says. “Cubana has a passion for quality, Latin-inspired food and we’re never scared to try something different. That’s why I believe the rum-pairing idea will really take off.”

Sous chef Erkland Xhaja (right) with assistant manager John Wickham at Cubana

Sous chef Erkland Xhaja (right) with assistant manager John Wickham at Cubana

Cubana’s tapas menu has been a hit from day one, allowing diners to try something new – and the rum pairing is part of that.

“These dishes are particular favourites of mine; they’re also natural for rum accompaniments,” says Erkland.

“Pinch de pato is grilled duck breast and aubergines, marinated in paprika, cumin and balsamic, then barbecued and served on a skewer.

“This dish takes me straight back to life in the Mediterranean countryside. I love the distinctive smoked charcoal taste and the aroma of the barbecued duck.”

Brad Charlesworth and Adrian Bagnoli celebrate 15 years of Cubana

Brad Charlesworth and Adrian Bagnoli celebrate 15 years of Cubana

The perfect complement is Cubana’s popular roasted sweet potatoes and peppers: “The sweetness of the potato combined with spicy chilli is unusual but always works.”

“I’ve done many variations of this dish over the years. If you’re feeling adventurous you could replace the peppers with red onions and balsamic.”

Cubana is holding its first rum pairing evening on Wednesday, April 27, featuring 10 tapas dishes, paired with a carefully chosen selection of rums.

The event is hosted by Mike Foster, UK ambassador for Havana Club Rum, who will be exploring the history and mystery behind Cuban rum production and its use in classic cocktails.

Assistant manager John Wickham says: “The event will give the opportunity to taste some authentic Spanish and Latin American cuisine alongside a flight of specially created cocktails, designed to highlight the unique flavour of Havana Club Rum.”

The event costs £35 per person. Bookings: call 0114 2760475.

Cubana’s first rum menu is set for launch next month.

Recipe by: Erkland Xjaha


(serves 2)

1 duck breast (fat on)

1 aubergine

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp smoked paprika

pinch of salt & pepper

1 clove garlic crushed

3 tblsp balsamic vinegar

2 tblsp olive oil

1 bamboo skewer


Cut duck breast into six equal parts; cut six equal aubergine pieces

Mix remaining ingredients in a bowl; add duck pieces and aubergine and massage into the mixture

Leave to marinade for at least two hours

Place on to a bamboo skewer – meat first, then aubergine

Place under a hot grill or a barbecue, turning occasionally – the duck should be cooked slightly pink

To serve:

Serve with long grain rice, couscous or lightly toasted bread.

Rum pairing:

This dark, spice-heavy dish works well with a variety of rums; the paprika and cumin also complements the spice of barrel-aged spirits and the balsamic lends itself to the sweet, dried fruit flavour of most aged rums.


(serves 4)

4 large sweet potatoes

3 large red peppers

1 tsp chilli

1 tblsp sugar

2 tblsp olive oil


Peel sweet potatoes and chop into 2-inch cubes

Core and cut red peppers into 1-inch strips

Toss sweet potatoes and peppers in oil, sugar and chilli and place on a baking tray; season with salt and pepper

Bake in a hot oven, 180ºC – 200ºC, for 15 minutes, tossing occasionally

Once the sweet potatoes are soft with a slight caramelisation to the edges, they are ready to serve

To serve:

A light mixed leaf or feta salad are recommended accompaniments.

Rum pairing:

The tropical fruit sweetness of sweet potato complements the light flavour of molasses and toasty coconut in aged but delicate rums. The sweetness of raw sugarcane evident in many rums helps balance the sharpness of the chilli.