Abu Dhabi has always been slightly behind when it comes to culinary trends. 2016 was the year of Peruvian cuisine and restaurants specializing in ceviche have been popping up in Dubai left, right and centre. Meanwhile Abu Dhabi has been severely lacking when it comes to South American cuisine and aside from the Pan-Latin charms of BU, the continent has been vastly underrepresented here in the capital.
Limo at the newly opened Bab Al Qasr hotel looks set to change this. Embracing its spectacular location within the bronze fronted luxury property, squeezed between icnoic Etihad Towers and adjacent to the Emirates Palace on Abu Dhabi’s glittering corniche.
While BU looks to encompass the entire South American continent with its selection of tapas style dishes, Limo is strictly Peruvian. Boasting a Peruvian chef, Luis Manuel creating authentic dishes but does Limo live up to the high expectations?
Opening with little fanfare on December 31st and having been unable to attend the media launch, we visit three days into Limo’s soft opening. Despite some obvious teething issues, the restaurant shows such promise that we can easily forgive some of the minor niggles.
Welcomed at the door, we step into the restaurants cavernous expanse. Boasting a very chic fine dining feel the decor is kept to a bare minimum. We begin our Peruvian journey at the bar where the concept of the restaurant is laid out over a welcome drink and amuse bouche. As we learn about Peru and its varied landscape of mountains, jungle and coast. We’re also introduced to a cuisine that though unfamiliar to most, boats an interesting history and many cultural influences.
The story is told with such passion that we’re thankful Abu Dhabi finally has a Peruvian restaurants to call its own and as we sip on a Limo Sangria (a mixture of Pisco and Peruvian red wine) the concept around us begins to unfold. Limo brings with it a unique service style and rather than being presented with a menu. A wooden trolley travels around the restaurant floor displaying a variety of dishes from which guests can choose. The idea of being able to see all of the chosen dishes is a good one and reminded us of the dim sum trolleys you find in Chinese restaurants. It appears that Limo are going with more of an airline theme, as we’re presented with boarding passes containing our name, table number and a place to mark off all of the ordered dishes.
Interestingly, there is no menu, instead a very reasonable pricing structure is in place. Cold plates (appetizers) and desserts are priced at a generous AED 25, while hot plates (main courses) are marginally more at AED 35 and making Limo one of the best value for money fine dining establishments in the capital. Being a soft opening, the menu is still in a process of constant evolution with around twelve dishes to select and from what we tried the food is very good.
The first thing to really impress us was the presentation. The first of two pre-starters was a washing line of sweet homemade potato chips, strung out like laundry and attached with tiny wooden pegs. The second was a mixture of pan seared scallop and apple, presented within the shell of an oyster and served on top of a collection of sands and rocks. As if it has just washed up on a beach. Both dishes were good but in turn set a precedent for the rest of the evening, in the fact that portions are small.
The only two staples of Peruvian cuisine we were familiar with prior to dining at Limo were the Pisco Sour and ceviche. These signature items are the most recognised elements from the region and both were exemplary. The Tuna Ceviche should be commended for its zesty mix of lime, tuna, tiger prawns and sweet potato that pops in the mouth and is enhanced further by an additional texture provided by the inclusion of pine nuts. The Pisco Sour meanwhile, is a cocktail created in Lima during the 1920s and considered to be a South American classic. Blending together lemon juice, pisco (a Peruvian liquor), egg white and cinnamon. The texture is silky smooth, while providing an adequate blend of sour flavours, enhanced by the sweet smell of cinnamon that is achieved with every sip.
Aside from the ceviche we also sampled the Niguiri Anticuchero, a dish we has become familiar with at the recently opened Aji in Dubai. Taken from Nikkei cuisine (the Japanese influence on Peruvian cookery) the dish resembles a nigiri you would expect to find in a sushi restaurant. Eaten as one bite with the provided chopsticks, here at Limo the fish is swapped for sliced tenderloin, quail egg and olive emulsion. While very good the dish doesn’t quite manage to reach the dizzying heights of its counterpart at Aji.
The Causa Fashion was a pleasant surprise that utilizes whipped Peruvian potato. lime, aji amarillo pepper, crab tartare and Nikkei shrimp into one exceptional blend. Presented as two small piques upon a glistening black slate, the dish continued Limo’s run of immaculately presented plates.
The hot plates continued with the trend of quality as we enjoyed Jalea de Marisco. A simple dish of lightly battered seafood that although not unique in terms of concept was packed full of flavour and shows Abu Dhabi how deep fried seafood should be done. Better still were the Beef Anticucho, beautifully tender skewers of beef tenderloin with rustic smashed potatoes, smoked anticuchera sauce and quail egg.
Suprisngly it was the vegetarian friendly Batido de Quinoa that was our favourite. A simple mix of creamy quinoa and mushrooms topped with an alluring milk foam, providing the sensation of eating a breakfast cereal. As bizzare as it may sound, the dish was a resounding success and one that we managed to eat two plates of.
Desserts were very unique and aside from the Tres Leches – a vanilla cake soaked in three milk sauce and presented with a fruit coulis – we had never tried anything like them before. Our pick was the Oyster, a dish of sliced lychee, rice pudding sauce and chincha morada caviar. The juxtaposition between the appearance of savory oyster and the sweet flavours of the dessert were bizarre but upon the first mouthful we were hooked.
Of additional interest was the sweet ceviche. The Sorbata de chicha uses a chicha (purple corn) sorbet and mixes it with chopped apple, pineapple and orange liquor. Giving the impression of a ceviche, though as with the oyster, looks can be deceiving. Although not currently on the menu, we suggest you ask for the milk-like dish that incorporates Lucuma (a fruit that is only found in Peru and has a very distinctive flavor). With a dash of cocoa covered foam the ‘melting element’ adds an additional dimension to the presentation and can be seen below:
With exceptional food on display, we were suitably impressed by the culinary offerings at the capitals only Peruvian restaurant and we wouldn’t hesitate to return again. Although we did have some issues regarding the portion size, we can’t really grumble when the dishes are so competitively priced.
Our main issue came with the restaurant space itself which although modern, requires an injection of personality. Limo feels a little sparse for it’s a large space with few tables. Aside from some nice design flourishes from the raindrop-like light fittings and the curvature of the wine racks, Limo feels partially finished and in need of some additional decorative touches. Yes it feels high end but there’s nothing Peruvian about the space itself and unfortunately feels somewhat static (not helped by the fact that there was no music during our visit, due to a technical fault with the sound system).
It’s still early though and things may change in the coming months as Limo makes it’s way out of the soft opening phase and claims its rightful title as one of the hottest new dining destinations in the capital.
Location: Bab Al Qasr Hotel, West Corniche, Al Khubeirah, Abu Dhabi
Social: Instagram / Twitter / Facebook
Hours: 5pm – 1am
Phone: 02 205 3000
We were invited to dine at Limo. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE. One image used courtesy of Bab Al Qasr Hotel.