Since opening in September 2017 Abu Dhabi’s Toro Toro has had a period of roughly four months to settle into the competitive dining landscape of the capital. Situated beneath the iconic Jumeirah Etihad Towers complex, this waterfront venue opened with such furore and seemingly checked all the boxes — good food, pleasing decor and a lively atmosphere. Yet having visited on a number of occasions since the initial opening, there is one huge thing missing from the Abu Dhabi outpost of celebrity chef Richard Sandoval’s Pan-Latin concept and that’s quality service.
In a city renowned for inconsistent service it’s relatively easy to guess why. A lack of training and high turnover of staff are all considerable factors but there’s no excuse for simple mishaps which can be easily avoided. During the course of our previous visits, we’ve experienced staff arguing, a complete lack of menu knowledge and long waits for food and drinks. As we enter back through the ornate turquoise doors to experience Toro Toro’s brunch we can’t help but hope things will be different… unfortunately they’re not!
Arriving at opening time we’re the first customers to arrive and as a group of four are led to one of Toro Toro’s biggest dining tables which could comfortably seat between 10 and 12 guests. Thankfully, the manager is on the ball and spots the unsuitability of the table and intervenes, leading us to a far more appropriate position with views over the water. Despite remarkable similarities to Coya (another Pan-Latin favourite) there’s little doubt that the decor is appealing and a contender for one of the more elaborate dining rooms in the city. A bright colour scheme, tribal upholstery and walls mounted with skulls all help to add to the vibrancy of the Latin concept.
With the brunch quickly explained (sharing style dishes and a help yourself drinks station) the confusion begins again. As we get up to begin filling drinks from the dispensers of pre-mixed rum punch and sangria, we’re informed that it’s not necessary and that the drinks will be brought to the table. This seems appropriate given that we’re currently still the only customers, but the consistency doesn’t remain and whether we have to get up (or not) is determined purely upon which member of staff is serving our table at that particular moment.
The pacing is also off as we receive ALL the hot and cold appetisers to the table at once, leaving us little room to navigate the plethora of dishes laid out before us. Thankfully the food is up to the same high standards as our previous review, with the sweet cornbread, presented like a Spanish tortilla topped with corn kernels, being our standout choice.
Unfortunately, inconsistency continues to be the theme of this brunch as we’re served the smoked guacamole minus the smoke and bell jar theatrics of out previous visit. At first we assumed this is intentional so as not to impede the brunch (though Hakkasan manage to pull it off as part of their most recent brunch offering), until we realise other tables are receiving this unique aspect of dinner theatre. Portion size is also an issue, as our table of four is served the same amounts of food as a table of two, a brunch faux-pas that’s currently on the rise and one that Toro Toro are not the only guilty party.
Of the appetisers, the golden empanadas (improved since our previous visit) and chicken anticucho are the most memorable. With both the Toro Toro salad and seafood ceviche lacking the depth of flavour that we’ve become accustomed to from the brand.
As opposed to a main course, the midway point in the Toro Toro brunch turns the dining room into a Brazilian Churrascaria, with various cuts of meat served on skewers and carved at the table. The knife work is haphazard at best, leaving for what can only be described as an (at times) uncomfortable dining experience, with the ‘gauchos’ presenting little confidence in their knife grip. Safety aside, the meat is worth it with a tender achiote marinated chicken (boasting flavours of pancha and orange), an exceptional chimichurri lamp chop, a US Omaha grain fed 120 day rib eye, and the pièce de résistance — the picanha. A cut of beef taken from the cows rump that is known for being the most prized piece of meat in Brazil.
The meats continues to arrive… even when the dessert course is served (?) and comprise of a Dulce De Leche Cheesecake (deconstructed amidst a raspberry sorbet and a selection of summer fruits) and the stunning Tres Leches. As mentioned in our previous review “the Tres Leches at Toro Toro is arguably the best in the city.” Presenting the ‘three milk’ cake in such a refined format that the delicate nature of the cake is hard to beat.
Back for brunch the food still reigns supreme BUT the service requires a lot of work. Haphazard would be our word of choice and four months in, these issues should really be resolved. In Abu Dhabi you only get one chance to impress and Toro Toro needs to up their game when it comes to service (the last time we popped in for after work drinks, we waited over an hour for a simple pisco sour).
The venue which is designed like a ship is even more spectacular during daylight hours, providing waterfront views and an exceptional terrace but there’s no espaping the impending sense that this particular venue may be cursed (with two failed concepts previously)! At night Toro Toro is a lively spot abuzz with the sound of Latin rhythms but when the restaurant is not at capacity (as is the case with this brunch) it really shows! It’s a real shame about the lack of atmosphere during brunch, compounded further by the sudden loss of music half way through that never returns.
With food this good we do hope it’s smooth sailing going forward for Toro Toro, but first they need to fix the service.
Out & About UAE were guests of Toro Toro Abu Dhabi. All views are our own and photographs are © Out & About UAE.