Spanish cuisine can prove difficult to find here in the capital and it appears as though the culinary scene in Abu Dhabi is too busy chasing the latest fads of ceviche, freak shakes and American fare, to focusing on a classical cuisine of proven worth. Bravo at the Sheraton Hotel on Abu Dhabi’s corniche may not be the first place that springs to mind when you think of tapas but it certainly offers some very promising food.
Bravo offers small plates ideal for sharing. Having always been fans of the very essence of tapas, we love the concept, promoting discussion and a connection between both the food and those consuming it. Much like the traditional family table of a Spanish farmhouse, the food here is chunky, authentically rustic and feels home cooked. As if it were created by the hands of an elderly grandmother.
Tapas forms part of the very fabric of Spanish culture. A name that directly translates as “lid” or “cover” and is associated with the old habit of placing bread or ham over a glass, to prevent insects getting in. This edible lid was the pre-cursor to what we now refer to as tapas – a collection of small dishes or appetizers to be shared.
Our meal at Bravo began as all good Spanish meals should… with a glass of sangria. This punch of muddled fruits and red wine comes by the glass or half litre and veered just on the right side of sweetness.
One of the joys of eating Spanish cuisine is the ability to order lots of different things to mix and match and discover which dishes you prefer. Our order was admittedly very sea food heavy and we actually found our favorite dish right away. Calamares Rellenos is lightly grilled squid stuffed with a startling combination of goats cheese, beef bacon and vegetable rice. Topped with a creamed tomato sauce, it was refreshing to experience squid that was neither deep fried or overly cooked to the point of chewy.
The run of high quality dishes contributed with the Spanish classics Tortilla de Patata Tradicional (Spanish omelette with egg, potato, sweet pepper and onion) and Patatas Bravas. With the onions and potatoes evenly dispersed throughout the fluffy omelette mixture and the fiery tomato and garlic sauce nicely complementing the crisp bravas. We can definitely attest to the authenticity of these Spanish staples. In fact, one of our first jobs in the food and beverage world was as a Sous-chef de cuisine in a Spanish restaurant. Working under a team of Spanish chefs we had to churn out hundreds of these dishes every day and even managed to learn a little bit of Spanish in the process – so believe us when we say these are the real deal.
With pork being such a staple of Spanish cookery, fans of the cuisine will be pleased to learn that pork products are available – be it Serrano ham or spicy chorizo. Personally we chose our chorizo with Manchego cheese, olives and country bread, in the simplistic yet delightful Chorizo y Manchego. Upon recommendation, we also sampled one of Bravo’s most popular dishes, the garlicky Gambas Pilpil (shrimp with white wine, olive oil and garlic) which we also deemed a resounding success.
In fact the only dish that didn’t work for us were the signature croquettes. Sampling both the seafood and cheese variety, we unfortunately found them to be a little too greasy.
With the chef checking in with us throughout the meal, it really added an additional element to the dining experience and is something that’s becoming increasingly common (and almost expected) for diners yearning for that little bit more. A minor notion like this goes a long way in making guests feel valued and thus opens up a window for discussion about the food with the person actually preparing it for you.
The arrival of our desserts also marked the arrival of live music from Richar Gimenez, a native of Paraguay who plays a toe-tapping mix of Latin and Bossa Nova daily (except Saturday’s) from 8pm.
Back to the desserts which stick firmly in Spanish territory, with the likes of poached pairs and apple tarts. We however were unable to resist the Crema Catalana, a perfectly light version of a creme brûlée often referred to as Catalan custard. Also spotting the most infamous of Spanish postres, we also had to order Churros con chocolate Especiado, for their fried pastry dough with cinnamon sugar. A dessert that we come back to time and again for its feel good factor.
The presentation of the food at Bravo may not be the most pleasing, with little sense of flare of artistry on the plate. Instead tapas are presented in a simple fashion upon round terracotta bowls.
Though portions are surprisingly large and the food does taste great, dining is about more than just the food. It’s as much about the ambiance and the service and Bravo certainly has two of these bases covered. Service is remarkable with the manager especially going out of his way to ensure that guests are comfortable. He is aware of the limitations of the restaurant and the fact that despite being in a hotel, it’s more of a casual dining environment than a fine dining concept.
With two out of three covered, it’s only the decor that’s lacking. Bravo is a difficult space to describe for the fact that aside from the terracotta colored walls and a lone Spanish guitar, the restaurant has no redeeming features and feels a little tired. This is a restaurant that has been successfully operating for the past eleven years and could do with a touch of TLC and modernization. At times it feels like eating in a cave and with the tables and chairs so tightly crammed together, we would recommend the far more spacious wrap-around terrace that fares better due to it’s partial ocean views.
Bravo has become very popular with Abu Dhabi residents since its initial opening in 2005 and still appears to bringing in a good mix of local residents and hotel guests. Having won ‘Favourite Modern European restaurant’ at the What’s On Abu Dhabi 2014 awards, Bravo is actually the Sheraton’s most popular dining destination, taking in at least 10% more revenue than the hotels other food outlets.
Like the recently reviewed 18 Degrees, sharing plates are a great dining concept and one that encourages interactivity. Right now Bravo is a very good restaurant but with a little push and some interior design work, it could be truly excellent.
Go just for the food and the 20 AED happy hour that runs from 6pm – 8pm daily. For these reasons and the fact that Bravo is one of Abu Dhabi’s only Spanish restaurants, you’ll likely be impressed.
We were invited to dine at Bravo. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.