Passing through the water features and dripping crystal chandeliers of Dubai’s Oberoi Hotel you may have noticed a new fixture in the lobby. Off to the left lies a tribal design and an intriguing wooden door, behind which lies Waka. The latest in a long line of Pan-Latin restaurants to open in the Emirates.
It takes a moment for our eyes to adjust as we’re momentarily plunged into darkness as we transition between the large open lobby and the far more confined Waka. We enter into a bar area (perfect for pre or post dinner drinks) of wooden panelling, exposed brickwork and colourful upholstery, that in turn leads the way into a dining room with a maximum capacity of around ninety covers.
The intimacy of Waka is part of the appeal and the team have done a remarkable job in transforming a redundant storage area of the Oberoi into a vibrant dining destination. Granted the fit out is not as extreme as the likes of other recent South American openings (Aji, Coya, BU) but this show of restraint and lack of Inca tribal designs actually works in Waka’s favour. Distinguishing them from the crowd and offering a trendy lounge concept more akin to a hipster hangout in London’s Shoreditch than a stereotype of South America.
We’re greeted with beaming smiles from our waiter Monono (a graduate of The Cheesecake Factory) who offers some of the friendliest and most proficient service we’ve encountered for some time. A man of immense charm and gracious repertoire, whose character shines through and represents a big part of what made dining at Waka so special.
A glance at the menu leaves us with some uncertainties, as the concept seems to be mainly Peruvian but with Japanese and Cantonese dishes thrown in for good measure. The identity is somewhat confusing but perhaps the addition of sushi (not Nikkei) and wok based dishes have been added to boost appeal and add something different to the marketplace.
We decided to stick with the Pan-Latin options and our dining experience got off to a VERY strong start. The Waka-Mole is Waka’s take on guacamole and is probably the best thing on the menu. A mix of avocado, onion, chilli and lime, ththat’sat;s smoked with applewood under a glass dome. The flavours that this process brings are truly remarkable, though quite why the nachos are served in a traditional dim sum steamer is beyond us. We strongly suggest that the team at Waka offer a scaled back portion of the Waka-Mole complimentary to all diners. For it’s a very strong selling point and something truly unique.
Next to arrive is the Carne Y Trufa (wagyu beef tiradito) and the Conchas Y Coral (Japanese scallop tiradito) two completely different tiradito’s that show the versatility of the dish. The Wagyu beef comes amidst smokey presentation and is topped with edible flowers and large slices of truffle. The texture melts in the mouth and the earthy truffle in beautifully pungent, though perhaps a touch overpowering. Comparatively, the scallop plate is a work of art, offering such colourful precision that we almost don’t have the heart to eat it. Served with rocoto and leche de tigre the flavours are well balanced and the delicate nature of the scallop is retained.
Speaking of Leche De Tigre (tigers milk) the classic marinade of a ceviche, Waka has followed suit to with another recent opening, Lima, in offering this Peruvian speciality in a beverage format to be consumed like a shot. While basically drinking a ceviche may not be for everyone, Waka have added a clever twist in the flavouring. We tried both the passion fruit and Pisco (Peruvian liquor) shots and were unexpectedly enamoured with the flavours of the latter.
We should say that Waka successfully managed to subvert our expectations in their representations of Peruvian food and one example of this was the Waka Caliente. The dish is basically a hot ceviche, with the seafood cooked on the table over hot coals. It’s a welcome piece of dinner theatre from Sous Chef Carlo Valentino who gleefully mixes together snapper, scallops, prawns, aji panca and cancha (toasted corn). It’s an ambitious dish of interesting textures but one we wouldn’t hurry to order again.
We had similar feeling regarding the Causa (Andean yellow potato) which has interestingly been turned into a Maki. The mix of potato, crab meat and avocado boasts good flavours but it’s difficult to eat due to its consistency and having had the remarkable Causa at Lima just a few days prior, we perhaps judged it a little unfairly.
The De La Calle (chicken tacos) present tender chicken pieces served amidst diced pineapple, fiery chilli and coriander. Presenting a good blend of flavours with a distinctly tropical edge and are unlikely to last long on the table.
From the Josper Anticuchos (skewers cooked on a Josper Grill) we select plump Tiger Prawns enlivened with Aji amarillo curry and coconut milk, plus the Black Angus Tenderloin. The beef (like all the meat we tried at Waka) is beautifully tender and well seasoned, allowing for the smoky char from the grill to emanate into the meat.
We can’t resist the signature Short Ribs served with a traditional purple corn sauce and corn risotto. Despite good textures the meat is a little fatty but the real surprise comes from the corn risotto, which resembles a creamy mac n cheese and contains corn both boiled and fried, adding an interesting textural element. The corn risotto is currently only served with the short rib but we suggest it be elevated and given its own listing in the menu as a side dish (it’s really that good). For vegetarians there’s a specially crafted ‘Harvest Menu’ which is a delight to see.
Desserts offer some very interesting choices like the Dona Pepa Cheesecake (a Peruvian candy made with aniseed, molasses and chocolate) and a spicy quinoa fondant. We settle on the States Of Lime, an intriguing dish that takes the zesty citrus fruit and presents it in multiple textures — lime sorbet, lime rock, lime curd pie and Pisco sour foam.
Order the Chocolate Bomb and you’re in for a real treat! A monster sphere made of 52% Peruvian chocolate is smashed at the table to reveal lucuma (Peruvian fruit) ice cream, meringues and macaroons — as if a piñata has been transformed into a dessert. Due to the richness of the dish we would suggest that it’s enough for four people to share and if you’ve ever had the Gajak at Carnival by Tresind, Waka’s chocolate bomb is at least double the size.
Waka is a worthy addition to Dubai’s dining landscape in which Pan-Latin is currently the popular trend. The location inside The Oberoi in Dubai’s Business Bay is a definate draw and a good mix of food, drinks (you must try the Waka Ameretto Sour) and lively atmosphere make Waka more than just a restautant. With a ceviche bar, plenty of live cooking and a team of wonderful staff, we know it’s just a matter of time until we return.
We were invited to dine at Waka. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE.