“Across Latin America, food is more than a meal. It’s an event. It’s a celebration that’s shared, savored and enjoyed.” Richard Sandoval
The demand for high quality Latin American cuisine is showing no signs of decreasing in popularity around the world. Abu Dhabi has embraced this food trend going from zero to hero in terms of options over the past couple of years. New in town is globally renowned Toro Toro, Abu Dhabi’s newest restaurant opening that comes with a desirable waterfront address. The question on everyone’s lips ‘Does the cuisine and service live up to it’s classy and colourful South American influenced interiors?’
This restaurant is the latest collaboration from award-winning chef Richard Sandoval who himself is not new to this region with establishments in Dubai and Doha. Toro Toro Abu Dhabi has received quite a mixed reception from the capital’s diners and critics but I’m a great believer in experiencing things for myself.
My first visit to this two-story swanky venue was to the Day of Dead party on the upper terrace last month. First impressions were good, it appeared to be a great party venue however that was marred by the almost non-existance service and lack of food. As it was a super busy event I deemed it unfair to judge inconclusively, my second visit was to a more relaxed event and that was much improved. Last week I went back to sample the dinner service in the more serene ground floor restaurant setting.
Once you figure out there is a separate entrance reached without traipsing past the hotel’s pool deck you arrive at Toro Toro’s (meaning bull), marked by two giant white bull sculptures. Prepare to be wowed as soon as you step inside, the vibrant, contemporary interiors and accessories will be sure to impress. The attention to detail is to be congratulated and I for one really like it. The warm palette of red and orange is enhanced by copper accents, bright jade green booth seating and oversized rattan chairs.
It’s hard to know where to look as there’s so much going on with various textiles, dramatic light fixtures, floral lampshades, digital art displays, Latin artefacts, plants and handmade colourful Mexican rugs complete the multifaceted design. In fact the accessories were so covetable I could easily have rolled up a few rugs and stuffed some multicoloured cushions into my bag.
The mixology and beverage options are vast, drinks finally chosen we were left to peruse the food menu offered by Chef de Cuisine Alfredo Lazo Vidaurre and his team. There’s a good selection of dishes including various vegetarian-friendly options with everything is designed to share. Diners can choose from ceviche, antojitos (hot & cold starters), anticuchos (skewers), empanadas (turnovers), a la carte churrasco and grill options for two to four people as well as steaks and sides. The Discovery menu offers a culinary journey with a selection of signature dishes.
My Ultimate Bliss cocktail arrived inside a glass bell jar, the first of many smoking items of the evening. The jar was raised and wafted to reveal my purple hued drink amid the mist, a strong Peruvian gin with parfait amour liqueur, signature large round ice cube and embellished orange peel. A second bell jar was presented signalling the arrival of our Mexican Smoked Guacamole served with tortilla chips, a dish I had previously sampled and enjoyed upstairs in the bar and it didn’t disappoint, perfectly flavoured and a good ‘smashed’ consistency.
The other half ordered the recommended Peruvian (Gary one of our servers was from Peru we only found out at the end) Aguachile Amarillo ceviche. An attractive and tasty combination of seafood that included prawns, scallops, tuna with a spicy yellow aji amarillo (orange chilli) sauce and chilli serrano.
Mains, again recommended by the lovely Joy and Gary, of steak and fries for the other half in the form of a juicy, well-cooked 300g US Prime Beef Tenderloin with his favourite of Sweet Potato Fries. I tried the Peruvian Tacu Tacu de Choclo, rice with corn puree, sauteed vegetables and anticuchera sauce that traditionally is considered a leftovers dish and was very filling. Sides of Steamed Asparagus with a rather goopy hollandaise sauce and a delightful yet carbolicious Potato 3-Ways (creamy mash, topped with sauteed baby potatoes and crisps) completed my meal.
Dessert was chosen from witnessing another tables experience, major fomo influencing my decision. Turns out it was an excellent choice, the most delicious bittersweet Signature Chocolate Fondant served with fruit and flowers topped with ice cream made by Gary himself tableside amid billowing dry ice. Yes, you may have realised Toro Toro is as much about the theatricals as the cuisine itself, from drinks through to dessert something is always smoking.
The bar and lounge areas are as vibrant as the restaurant below. Velvet seating, coloured bull skulls wall art and custom designed high tables in the lounge area sit alongside fantastic views from the recessed seating on the outside deck. The centralised bar is a stage for mixologists and the digital art frames are a constant stream of South American inspired images. Even the corridors and bathrooms are art galleries with eclectic displays and bright colours adorning every space.
From 8th December Toro Toro will be offering Friday Brunch where guests can sample a mix of table service and live stations. A cold buffet station will offer ceviches and salads, meat lovers can enjoy the anticuchos station along with selections of Rodizzo from the charcoal grill. Also on offer will be tacos, empanadas and cachapas with sides served table side. I feel the Pisco station and Mojito trolley will be popular as will the desserts. Sit back, relax and enjoy the live music from the Cuban band and tunes from DJ Katalina.
Sandoval has fifty-two restaurants worldwide, his Toro Toro pan-latin steakhouse concept is popular and successful with outlets in both Miami and Washington alongside those already established in this region. Some resilience may be required in the saturated Abu Dhabi dining scene coupled with it being the third fine-dining establishment to take up residence in a matter of years. Is this standalone venue, that sits under the canopy of Jumeirah Etihad Towers, the victim of an unknown curse or just awaiting the right concept? Only time will tell.
So the answer to my original question is yes, albeit some issues on the terrace, Toro Toro’s cuisine and service does match it’s vivacious interiors and ambiance. It’s a great place to enjoy dinner with friends, smoke some Cuban cigars and drink alfresco cocktails on the upper deck. Dance the night away to the Latin rhythms from the DJ and live Cuban band, with the newly introduced Cha Cha Cha ladies nights and Friday Brunch there are now even more reasons to visit this Latin gem.
Location: Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, West Corniche, Abu Dhabi (taxi drop off/separate valet in front of restaurant)
Telephone: 02 811 5882 or 055 217 5956
Timings: Dinner 7:00pm – 12 midnight. Lounge closes at 3am (closed on Sundays)
Tuesday – Cha Cha Cha Ladies night with chicas each receiving 3 complimentary beverages including mojitos and caipirinhas. Latin beats from the Cuban band and resident DJ. Lounge menu available at an extra cost.
Toro Toro Friday Brunch – AED 295 non-alcoholic, AED 445 house beverages and signature cocktails and AED 545 champagne brunch package.
I was invited to review Toro Toro. All views are my own based on my experience. Unless otherwise stated all photos © Jo Brett 2017. All rights reserved.