A journal, inspired by my love for my daughter, that embraces quality food, service and experiences which make life worth living. In the words of Tennyson's Ulysses, " I cannot rest from travel. I will drink life to the lees." Seeking that incredible dining or hotel experience and writing about it. Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Toro Toro for Pan-Latin cuisine in Dubai - Grosvenor House, Dubai.
There is a rather dramatic feel to Toro Toro as I walk in. lighting is used to maximum effect to create that sense of the dramatic, as are the ceilings. Well spoken hostesses who carry themselves a la Audrey Hepburn guide guests to their tables. The music, unmistakenly Latino sets the tone, as the cliché goes. Rather than go to my table immediately, I ask for my guest and me to be taken to the upstairs bar - the restaurant, bar and lounge span two floors.
As we make our way up the stairs, I feel vindicated in starting off with a drink at the bar. It is a sumptuous bar, also gorgeously lit. Toro Toro is all about cocktails at the bar, although its impressive rum collection will make any connoisseur ecstatic. There are times though that I am so predictable, so I opt for a glass of house bubbly, NV Laurent Perrier Brut, while my guest enjoys a specially crafted cocktail.
Just before moving downstairs for dinner, I walk around the bar and lounge area. I am told that in total, Toro Toro accommodates around 240 guests. I expected it to be much more because it is really quite an expansive space. I make my way down as Amores Como el Nuestro by Jerry Rivera comes through the speakers - amazing sound system and acoustics.
Once downstairs, we are seated, The dining area is cleverly organised into little pockets of space, so I never feel overwhelmed space. The tables are arranged to maximise the fun and enjoyment elements through people's chatter and the clinking of glasses. However, at no point do my guest and I feel a lack of privacy - a really good balance in the layout.
One of the key aspects of the menu in Toro Toro is the sharing concept - simple enough. Order a few dishes to start with and share with your guest/s. This way you get to sample a wider variety of dishes. This is more than about tasting different dishes though - it is also a slice of Latin American culture, where large gatherings around the table, sharing food and stories reminds one that dinner time is as much about warmth, love as it is about food.
While we look through the menu we are served some appetisers - tortilla chips with chimichurri and smoked guacamole. It is the latter that is the real talking point - the smokiness is revealed as the guacamole is placed in front of me. It is very sensuous when one is intoxicated by the aroma of a dish. This is what happens to me with the guacamole - a simple dish that commands so much attention. taste - smokiness confirmed in all its glory.
Dinner proper starts with a selection of ceviches - the Ceviche de huachinango, a sea bass based ceviche with leche de tigre, or tiger's milk, if loosely translated. Lime juice, onion, chilli and fish stock in this marinade does justice to the nicely prepared sea bass.
We also have the Scallops tiradito - carpaccio like scallops are bathed in leche de tigre, while cancha or corn nuts add wonderful crunchy texture to the dish. This is emphasised in light of the avocado slices that also adorn the plate.
Next, we try something vegetarian, as we are served the Quinoa solterito - This is my most intensely flavoured dish thus far with feta cheese and balsamic reduction key in creating the contrasts in flavour. Again, the texture is not short in this dish, with fava beans a real delight and a balancing elements in the dish. Quinoa - of course, you cannot go wrong with this. Nicely done.
Toro Toro, notwithstanding its fabulous rum selection and designer cocktails, offers wine drinkers 16 by the glass options, starting at a very affordable 39AED for a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. However, between a Matua Pinot Noir and Da Luca Primitivo, my evening is pretty much sorted as far as drinks go. My choice is made much easier thanks to my principle waiter, Josif, who is one of those rare servers who knows his product very well, is able to engage guests and make recommendations. It is not easy, with Dubai restaurants often having reputation for impersonal service, the higher up you go. I think it is all about reading the guest, something this Greek native does extremely well. Having said that, I interact with two other waiters and realise that staff training is a big priority at the restaurant. Articulate and opinionated staff are important- something I find in all three servers on the night.
For my main course, I am set on the rib eye steak with a marbling of 8-9, but thanks to some probing questions from Josif, I realise that I can be a bit more adventurous, so we go for the Beef cheeks and the Green pea risotto, as well as a couple small plates of vegetables - Steamed asparagus and Broccolini.
The Beef cheeks are magnificent - 8 hours slow cooked and able to satisfy all the clichés associated with beautifully cooked beef. And for the budget conscious, you must try this dish which sells for 95AED.
The risotto is my least favourite dish of the night, largely because as a South American interpretation of this classic Italian dish, the texture of the polenta is a bit mushy, the way it is made in that part of the world though. Secondly, Mediterranean Sea bass is no substitute for Chilean sea bass. In a Pan Latin restaurant, it simply has to be Chilean. Still, there are some good flavours on the plate with yellow chilli and mango bringing some balance to the taste.
For dessert, there is one clear winner - the Tres Leches, a quintessential Peruvian offering, although that is disputed by Nicaraguans. Be that as it may, this dessert features three kinds of milk, if you will. Evaporated milk, condensed milk and cream make for an indulgent play on one ingredient, but gooseberries and passion fruit sorbet add a welcome sourness to the dessert. This dessert is all about texture and does not disappoint.
Toro Toro is one of those restaurants you have to try in Dubai. When it opened in 2011 it was the first of its kind offering a lounge and restaurant in a Pan Latin context. Since then, others have followed, but 6 years in F&B is a lifetime in the UAE, where people obsess with anything new. While it can be an expensive evening out, it need not be. Two starters, two main courses and a couple side dishes, two glasses of wine can cost in the 500AED region, very impressive for such a restaurant like Toro Toro. Even if you feel like splurging, grade 8-9 rib eye will cost in the mid 300s, something that reflects surprising value for money. Toro Toro is an enjoyable, sexy restaurant with relaxed and knowledgeable service by staff who are clearly well trained, allowing guests to focus on and savour the dishes created by Latin American Chef Richard Sandoval. All in all, Toro Toro lives up to its promise of warm hospitality, great service and superb dishes.