Restaurants: Where shall we meet in Charing Cross Road?

Salsa, as everyone has been assured for the last four years, is highly fashionable. Every chick with a sense of adventure seems to be investing in strappy sandals and a crimson lipstick these days. It is, so aficionados say, the sexiest dance form in the world. Men who are actually any good may be in short supply, but salsa is an ideal chance for women to show off their wares in relatively protected circumstances.

Salsa! is a more a Latin-American theme bar/ restaurant than a hard-core Cubano haunt, and as such is the ideal place for nervous beginners to get their first taste of wrapping themselves round a willing partner. This basement hanger's multi-level flooring arrangements provide ample opportunity to observe, its large dance areas allow for the clumsiest lumbering, and an array of unguents in the loos will protect the most elaborate of hairstyles while you work up a muck sweat.

The clientele is mostly a mix of after-workers and hen and birthday parties, with the odd smattering of the sort of poker-faced Latino who makes more advanced venues so daunting.

We didn't get there till 9pm, but it was evident that a decent-sized crowd had been there for some hours, downing rum-based cocktails and making use of what they'd learned in the early-evening classes. Food caters, as is the problem with all theme bars, to the lowest common denominator, with a bare minimum of heat even in dishes that declare them-selves to contain chilli. But we had a nice-enough chicken fajita and some bland tapas brought at breakneck speed to cater for the two-hour maximum table tenancy.

But you don't come to a place like this for the food. Long into the night, the place echoed to a very jolly band, the shrieks of happy hens and the covetous sighs of the men who stood around nursing their bottled beers, watching as power-crazed women circled each other, palms pressed together in decorous embrace.

Salsa!, 96 Charing Cross Road, London WC2 (0171-379 3277)

HOT SPOTS

Little Havana

1 Leicester Place, W1 (0171-287 0101)

Bar Cuba

11 Kensington High Street, W8 (0171-938 4137)

Down Mexico Way

25 Swallow Street, W1 (0171-437 9895)

Finca

96 Pentonville Road, N1 (0171-837 5387)

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