2017 is the year that Pan-Latin cuisine finally exploded onto Abu Dhabi’s restaurant scene. When Dubai was going ceviche crazy, diners in the capital were limited to only one option when it came to South American cuisine and that was BU. Fast forward a year and while the bubble for all things South American seems to have burst with our neighbours in Dubai, the cuisine has undergone somewhat of a resurgence in the capital. First came the opening of Coya and now another Dubai import has opened in Abu Dhabi – Toro Toro.
Toro Toro is located in a prime location at Jumeirah Etihad Towers, a hotel synonymous with luxury and already home to a number of high-end fine dining options. Yet, Toro Toro has its own identity, set apart from the hotel in a seperate building jutting out into the ocean like the bow of a ship. Approaching from the beach, we’re hit by the rhythm of Latin Jazz which beckons us across the sandy shore, where we’re greeted by two white bulls, butting heads in front of an ornate green door.
Moving inside, Toro Toro’s interiors immediately capture your attention. Similar in spirit to Coya, the design offers vibrant textiles, Peruvian picture frames and elaborate chandeliers. We’re led to our table through a corridor punctuated with bull skulls painted with tribal designs, while video screens shoot flames up the walls. It’s a visual assault, fully embracing Latin flare and in the process, offers something entirely new to the Abu Dhabi dining scene.
Settling into our seats, it takes a moment to realise just how large the restaurant space is. Large restaurants seem to have become an infuriating trend in the UAE and are notoriously difficult to fill, leaving diners feeling somewhat insignificant in the process. We had our concerns, considering this very space had previously been home to two failed restaurant concepts (including one from celebrity Chef Michael Caines) in as many years. Call it opening hype, brand recognition or a strong marketing campaign, but Toro Toro was HEAVING when we popped in for dinner earlier this week. This in itself is refreshing for Abu Dhabi, where it’s not uncommon to dine in a near- empty restaurant unless it’s a brunch.
It takes us a while to settle on a cocktail we like, as we plough our way through the smoking theatrics of an Angelic Sizzle (too sweet) and the upside down pineapple holding the Tropic Amigo (too strong). We find our groove with the exemplary Brazilian Breeze. a cocktail combining three kinds of rum and a cherry liqueur set alight at the table. We also appreciate the more subtle nature of the Latin Lover, a drink that the menu proclaims will “leave you speechless.” All of Toro Toro’s cocktails sampled pack a punch when it comes to strength and ultimately add to the fun and frivolous vibe, complemented by the atmospheric soundtrack.
While the food menu may follow the beats of other similar venues (we see hints of Dubai’s Waka, Lima and Aji), we do appreciate it’s concise offering that’s easily broken down into small sections. We begin with the Amarillo Ceviche (AED 55) offering a good mix of prawn, scallop and tuna, marinated in lime and covered in a yellow chilli sauce. As a staple of Peruvian cuisine, ceviche is always a good measure of the quality of a South American restaurant, and despite lacking a variation in textures, the sweet and fruity flavours are certainly pleasing. The Smoked Guacamole (AED 48) is a dish that shouldn’t be missed, serving mashed Mexican avocado under a smoked bell jar. The flavour is quite frankly the stuff of dreams.
A recommendation from our waiter brings the Short Rib Coca Flatbread (AED 58). Presenting shredded short rib beef on top of a crispy flatbread with a manchego cheese sour cream, the contrasting flavours are rich and would be our recommended order should you visit anytime soon. We’re also impressed by the tender nature and prominent flavours of the Peruvian style Grilled Octopus (AED 89) which is impeccably seasoned, and the sweet Cornbread (AED 29), presented like a Spanish tortilla with the addition of corn kernels for texture.
While the dishes were strong and full of bold flavours, we were less enamoured with both the Tuna Tataki (AED 65) and Lomo Saldato Empanada (AED 55) which were far from memorable, despite appealing presentation.
Fully embracing the sharing concept of the menu (it just works so well with these small plates and allows diners to try a little bit of everything), we decided to share the 300g Greater Omaha Beef Tenderloin (AED 199). A reasonably priced cut of meat that is buttery and an absolute pleasure to eat.
Never ones to miss dessert we enjoyed both the Dulce De Leche Cheesecake, deconstructed amidst a raspberry sorbet and a selection of summer fruits, and the stunning Tres Leches. Having been subjected to some truly awful versions of Tres Leches over the years (we’re looking at you Loca), the one at Toro Toro is arguably the best in the city. Presenting the ‘three milk’ cake in such a refined format, the delicate nature of the cake is hard to beat and would we make a return visit for this one dish alone.
With an overwhelming positivity towards the food, it’s not to say that Toro Toro is not without problems. The service, while friendly and personable can be perceived as a little intense, perhaps due to the newness of the venture. There’s little doubt that staff are eager to please, but when you have three separate waiters constantly asking how the food is, it comes off as a little intrusive. There’s also little to no explanation regarding the dishes and when we do have minor criticisms, they’re completely misread as complements. Granted the venue is new, we expect a few teething issues, but it does feel as though the service side needs a little polishing.
Toro Toro is likely to be the biggest opening in Abu Dhabi this year (following the Louvre) and has already become quite a talking point. We were also lucky enough to get a sneak-peek at the upstairs bar and expansive outdoor terrace, due to open in the middle of October. The terrace with its central bar is likely to becoming a popular sun-downer spot as it offers exceptional sea views that feel as though you’re on the deck of a ship.
It will be interesting to see how a venue of this scope progresses in the months following its official opening, but at only a few weeks old, Toro Toro has already developed a nice vibe. We’re really hoping for a brunch, but as yet, it’s still early days.,,
We were invited to dine at Toro Toro. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE. Three interior images used ciourtesy of Toro Toro.