Toro Toro arrives - Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, Abu Dhabi

Zuma. Asia de Cuba. Tamba. Bu! Coya. These have been the five most talked about restaurants that have opened in the capital in the last 4 years. These restaurants illustrated that dining is so much more than about food and ingredients. Dining is an experience - a cultural one too. Now you can add to that list a restaurant that we have waiting for since it was announced about a year ago. Following on from the institutionalized success of its sister restaurant in Dubai, renowned Latin American Chef Richard Sandoval has brought his dishes to Abu Dhabi. 

I had the pleasure of trying it during its pre soft opening. Now bear in mind, the point of having guests try a restaurant during this stage is to iron out any issues. It was in this context that I tried it. 

Toro Toro is located at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, in the space that previously housed Michael Caines and Scotts before that. So, there is no doubt that the setting will add  an x-factor to the restaurant. Note though that it is a stand alone restaurant and independently managed.

When I walk in, my senses are beautifully assaulted with colour. In one moment the ghost of these restaurants is gone. There is a child-like sophistication about the restaurant. Childlike? Well, it is bright and cheerful - as if a child had been given crayons and told to create something. At the far end of the restaurant are floor to ceiling windows that will no doubt be the most sort after because of the view. 

The concept at Toro Toro is a sharing one - order small dishes and share them with one another. We order  a Latin American staple, the Ceviche de huachinago - because Chef has chosen to be more subtle in his flavours, I am able to enjoy the seabass even more. A must have dish. Next, the Tuna tataki holds no surprised - nicely seared tuna in the so called tiger's milk sauce, a Peruvian addition that makes this dish. However, the most exciting dish for me of the early orders is easily the US Prime beef steak tartare. Again, it is the delicateness of this dish that wins me over. Steakhouses usually give  a steak tartare a pronounced flavour, especially with tabasco sauce and chives. As much as I enjoy those, it means that the taste can be a bit one dimensional. That does not apply here - the steak tartare is a very balanced version of this steakhouse standard 

Because the restaurant has not opened proper, it is hard to comment on the music, but I hope when it officially opens, the music will be louder and and capture what the restaurant's interior design does so well - that South American spirit of life and exuberance. 

As colourful as the restaurant is, the hostesses hold their own in sumptuous body hugging one pieces. They capture the sensual and almost earthy aspect of the South American people. Beautiful. 

Returning to the dishes, we cannot try anything from the Churrasco & Grill section of the menu as they are fine tuning the grill. This is a shame but make sure you something from here on your visit because based on the Beef fillet skewer, you are in for treat. 

Is Toro Toro a place that vegetarians should steer clear of? Absolutely not. Notwithstanding the name, they do some fantastic vegetarian dishes. In fact, one of my dishes of the night is Wild mushroom flatbread. The thing is, when you have prime beef or gorgeous seabass with which to work, you have so many options to wow the guest and palate. But when all you have to work with is the humble mushroom and you can elevate it to something that makes you pause and go, 'Omg!' it is special. The crispiness of the bread, the perfectly sautéed mushrooms, the balancing goats' cheese and just the right amount of truffle oil all come together to make a 40AED dish worth so much more. 

The only dish I am not sold on turns out to be the Scallops Aguachile - I feel that the scallops take second place to the lime and cucumber in a dish that should really be about the scallops. 

On the other hand, it is another vegetarian dish that has my table mates and me talking animatedly. The Cauliflower, sold as side dish at a very reasonable 30AED, has to be one of the best side dishes I have had in a long time. Like the simple mushroom, it manages to surprise with its intense flavour. 

The upstairs Bar and Lounge
The Foie gras rice excites me. Well, reading it on the menu does. Any ingredient done three ways is going to get me to sit up and take note for this is how a chef  shows his creative side - well one of the way. Confit duck leg, duck breast and a slice of foie gras form the main part of this dish. However, when I try the rice, I comment to my friends that as 'fried rice' it is pretty amazing, with Asian touches clearly evident. I am initially disappointed that the foie gras is not mixed into the rice, but on reflection I realise it will just be lost in the rice. A filling, satisfying dish!

Finally, dessert is an event in itself with two of the three desserts we share bowling me over. Now granted, the Tres Leches is one of those standard desserts you will always have when you try Pan Latin cuisine and yes it is such a cliche, but it does not detract from how well it is executed. This has to be what the angels eat - so light, taking the tongue to the highs and lows of sweet and subtle sour. Wonderful.  The Merengado, while exciting  a friend at our table, is simply fun in my mind. Who does not enjoy pummeling a meringue? Most people will probably like it, but I found nothing holding all the flavours together. Finally, a dessert I had with trepidation because I have had a Chocolate fondant maybe 15 times in the city but I have only ever loved it twice. Now don't expect the chocolate to ooze out of this because the concept is about what else is on the plate and how it balances the dark chocolate. If you look at it like that, you will like it, as did I!

Toro Toro promises to take guests on a journey that will eclipse the quality and flavours of the dishes. It will be a journey that transcends the signature cocktails that will become the cornerstone of its bar service. One word - an experience. I cannot wait for the restaurant to fully open so that I can see how it has sorted out a couple operational issues and create that full experience. But if all you want is food, then this will still be a restaurant to visit, but how sad if that is all you want. The upstairs Bar & Lounge could become the place to be this Winter. And let's not forget about brunch. This will be the one to watch. But until then, make your way down to Toro Toro. I can assure you that in a month of restaurants, it will stand out in memory. 

The Essentials

Toro Toro
Jumeirah at Etihad Towers
Abu Dhabi
+971 2 8115882
+971 552175956

Disclaimer: I visited Toro Toro courtesy of the restaurant.