“VaKaVa is Toro Toro’s more mischievous twin sister; sharing the same Latin roots but bringing the avours, sights and sounds to another level.” Jumeirah Etihad Towers
There may be a new name on the door but little else has changed at the newly opened VaKaVa Pan Latin Grill & Lounge located at Jumeirah Etihad Towers. Once the home of Toro Toro, VaKaVa is part of the same family of restaurants from celebrity Mexican Chef Richard Sandoval and this resurgence brings his pan-latin flavours back to the capital.
Although you might struggle to spot any changes there is, as someone who has now experienced dining at both concepts, a noticeable difference in staff knowledge and efficiency. Whether this proficiency was because it was the official opening with Chef Sandoval, Jumeirah management and Abu Dhabi’s media folk in situ or it’s the precedent will remain to be seen. Another less obvious change is that VaKaVa, unlike Toro Toro, falls under the hotel’s banner rather than operating as a standalone concept. Personally I always liked the venue itself with its bold, Latin-inspired colourful interiors and cool upper terrace overlooking the water.
As a vegetarian I have struggled when I visited previously due to a shortage of options and usually just ate mountains of delicious smokey guacamole and dessert. On this latest visit myself and my fellow plant eating dining companions were presented with a variety of tasty options. Notable dishes were the aforementioned guacamole (pleased to see it’s still on the menu) served under a glass bell dish and cachapas, a Venezuelan speciality of sweetcorn pancakes filled with halloumi cheese and sour cream. Other veggie options include a kale, pomegranate and orange salad, grilled cauliflower with anticuchera sauce, steamed asparagus with hollandaise sauce and a wild mushroom coco flatbread.
Seafood and meat eaters are spoilt for choice with dish after dish of well presented food that includes ceviche, soft shell crab tacos, Chilean sea bass, Peruvian grilled octopus, grilled meat churrasco, savoury sides and a traditional all-you-can-eat rodizio carved at the table. Waiters offer prime cuts of meat on large skewers on repeat until guests display the red side of the double-sided cards, green signifies keep bringing me more meat.
Watch out for the mobile mixologist and his Caipirinha trolley that makes its way around the tables, offering personalised drinks with Latin flair. Dessert made quite the impact (literally), La Bomba was thrown from above onto a plastic sheet covering the table. The dark chocolate ‘bomb’ smashed to reveal fruit, brownie bites and edible flowers amongst the chocolate shards that was topped with various sweet sauces. Unique and showy, one to order if you don’t mind some dessert landing in your lap.
Dance the night away to the nightly Latin rhythms from the resident DJ and live Cuban band from Monday to Saturday in the VaKaVa first floor bar. Every Tuesday it’s Ladies night with a fiesta offering signature drinks, food and the live band providing an authentic South American vibe. The upper terrace, my favourite part of the two-storey space, will open later in the year when the weather is cooler. Enjoy the skills of the bartenders and mixologists on both the upper and ground floor bars with a menu of creative cocktails and premium beverages.
VaKaVa is flamboyant and this reincarnation retains all the party vibes of Toro Toro but with an improved Pan-latin menu and front of house restructure. Sandoval has fifty-two restaurants worldwide, VaKaVa Pan Latin Grill & Lounge is the first restaurant of this name to join his portfolio. This new concept is presented as Toro Toro’s more mischievous twin sister with the same Latin roots, yet more well-travelled and vibrant. This is the fourth fine-dining establishment to take up residence in a matter of years, questions remain as to whether this venue inflicted with a mysterious jinx or just awaiting the right concept? Only time will tell if VaKaVa breaks the curse.
Location: Level P1, Jumeirah At Etihad Towers, West Corniche, Al Khubeirah, Abu Dhabi
Telephone: 02 811 5666
Opening Times: Restaurant – Monday to Saturday from 7:00pm to 11.30pm (closed on Sunday) The Upper Lounge & Bar will be open Monday to Saturday 6pm until 2am (3am on weekends). Children are welcome in the restaurant only and guests over 21 only in the lounge.
I attended the VaKaVa launch. All views are my own based on my experience. Unless otherwise stated all photos © Jo Brett 2019. All rights reserved. Additional photos used with courtesy of instagram.com/vakavaabudhabi