It’s been a tumultuous time for BU since throwing open their doors 18 months ago with one of the biggest media launches Abu Dhabi has ever seen (and one that people still talk about to this day)!
Granted, the restaurant may have one of the most eye-catching fit-outs in the capital, where New-York loft and industrial chic collide to create a space that feels bohemian. A year and a half in thoug and there’s little doubt that the restaurant is too big. Dine during a quiet period and it feels as though you’re eating in a warehouse, add in an expansive outside terrace (albeit a beautiful one) and the sheer scale of BU is inescapable. As a semi-regular diner at this Pan Latin eatery, we have to admit that the price to portion ratio is also perhaps skewed a little too far in the restaurants favour, though there’s little doubt that the product is excellent, especially if you opt for the business lunch or Friday brunch.
When BU first opened back in spring 2016 they had the unique selling point of being the only Pan-Latin restaurant in the Abu Dhabi. In keeping with the fast pace of the UAE dining scene, BU now has to compete with the likes of Limo, Coya and the newly opened Toro Toro, all looking to capitalise on the trend of ceviche and all things South American that have guaranteed strong revenues in neighbouring Dubai.
Yet the Abu Dhabi marketplace is much smaller, meaning there’s not as much room for mass-saturation, so BU are therefore lucky to have gotten their foot in the door first and earned a stirling reputation in the process. The team at BU have now launched a new menu, offering some exciting new dishes as a means to keeps things fresh ganer the attention of even the most regular of diners.
Every meal at BU begins with their signature guacamole made from avocado, chili, white onion and coriander. Though it may not be prepared table-side like many of their competitors, the offering is very good and an excellent introduction to the bold flavours that the restaurant so strongly promotes.
The first of BU’s eight new dishes is the Wasabi Trufado Ceviche, comprising of sea bass, kizami wasabi, truffle oil, leche de tigre and a black quinoa crust for texture. It’s a surprising dish, for the fact that the strong flavours of both the truffle and wasabi manage to complement rather than overpower the fish. Presented over a bed of ice and topped with edible flowers, the wasabi and truffle ceviche it’s a startling re-invention of the classic ceviche and a worthy addition to the new menu.
The Salmon Maracuya from the tiradito section works in a similar fashion to the ceviche by blending together unexpected flavours. Described as ‘new style sashimi’ the plate looks like an artwork of vibrant colours that adds instant appeal to the remarkable dish. Chunks of salmon are presented amongst maracuya (a species of passion fruit native to Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina) and mint oil, with additional texture provided in the form of a tapioca crust. It’s a dish we wouldn’t hesitate to order again and one that successfully manages to navigate the fine balancing act between sweet and savoury, feeling at times almost-like a dessert, thanks to the bursts of sweetness from the maracuya fruit.
Two new varieties of tacos are included, a hard shell octopus and soft shell chicken version. The Pulpo Enamorada (octopus) was our preferred option due to the simplicity of the filling which adds Japanese mayonnaise and chipotle to the mix. The octopus may be delicate, but the fiery kick provided by the chipotle is not and with the crispness of the corn taco adding additional appeal it’s a fantastic plate.
The soft Polo Pibil (chicken) tacos also provide heat to proceedings thanks to the achiote sauce, imparting a peppery flavour to the chicken and offset via slices of cool avocado. The ‘pibil’ terminology means the meat has been slow-cooked and is a traditional technique of underground cookery deriving from Mexico, and with use of Latin American ingredients ever-present in this dish, the tortillas themselves are available in purple corn and spinach variations.
Filete Anticuchos (meat skewers) are one of BU’s signature dishes and the new beef tenderloin version doesn’t disappoint. Originating from the mountainous Andes, the meat is marinated in vinegar and spices before being barbequed and sold at street food stalls. Here at BU, this notion remains true with a small BBQ presented to the table, the smokiness from the grill certainly adds an element of theatre to proceedings and the meat remains flavoursome and tender.
Two new main courses (platos de fondo) are showcased in this new menu, one meat and one fish. Unfortunately, we felt as though these two dishes were not as strong as the dishes that preceded them. The Cazuela De Bacalao, roughly translating as ‘cooking pot cod,’ uses Japanese miso to bring sweetness to the fish in the form of a glaze. The fish is mixed into the rice, but for us was too stodgy and we would’ve preferred the rice and fish kept separate. The Polo Adobado (marinated chicken) suffered a similar fate, with the beautifully cooked meat offering good flavours but the heavy and vastly under-seasoned sweet potato gnocchi adding little value to the overall dish.
Desserts have often been regarded as one of BU’s strongest selling points (their chocolate piñata has to be seen to be believed) and four are presented to diners as part of this new menu. The Dulche De Leche Alfajor that we remember so fondly from BU’s opening party stands front and centre on the plate, a cookie-like confectionary with crushed hazelnuts nougat and a dulche de leche cheesecake. The Churros on this occasion were disappointing, over-cooked to the point of being hard, which is a real shame, as in the past they’ve worked so well to complement the Mexican coffee ice cream with which they’re served.
There’s a deconstructed Pina Colada which tastes very similar to the cocktail upon which it’s based, but (in our opinion) is a dish that requires more texture, as the coconut flan, coconut ice cream and chicha morada (purple corn) coulis all congeal together into an unfortunate soggy mess, Thankfully, the Domo De Chocolate manages to save the final course. Emblazoned with the BU logo upon chocolate, it’s a essentially a chocolate fondant with subtle hints of chipotle that works perhaps a little too well.
In our first review, we noted that BU offers a “fine showcase of South American hospitality, from a team assembled from all over the region.” While the service levels prevail on repeat visits, it would appear many of the South American faces have not, and the staffing choices offer less authenticity than before.
Yet BU still remains a strong contender in a city that is constantly upping the ante in terms of dining. Unafraid to be bold in terms of both flavour and decor, walls are emblazoned with slogans such as ‘Flesh’ and ‘Spirited’ which help to add to the Latin fervour of BU. Boasting an extensive cigar and bar menu, this Pan Latin eatery is about more than just good food, it’s about having a great time. As you’re taken on a journey from the sandy beaches of Mexico, through to the rolling grasslands of Argentina and the mountainous slopes of Peru.
The name ‘BU’ derives from the Spanish term “buenisimo” which roughly translates as “very good” and that’s exactly how we would describe the restaurant.
Location: The Hub, Level 4, World Trade Center Mall, Al Markaziya, Abu Dhabi
Social: Instagram / Facebook / Twitter
Hours: 5pm – 3am (12:30pm – 3am Fridays)
Phone: 02 666 8066
We were invited to dine at BU! All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE. Interior images used courtesy of BU.