Toro Toro in Abu Dhabi, it’s kooky

When life throws you an afternoon of sunshine, breeze and bright blue sky, head to Toro Toro’s new Friday brunch in Abu Dhabi. Served on a stunning waterfront terrace, the offer included beach access, a live Cuban band, DJ, exotic food and unlimited beverages (from AED 295).

P1194415.JPG
As life spoils me with perfect weather every weekend, it was only a matter of time before I ended up sipping refreshing sangria at Toro Toro surrounded by extravagancy and Latin chic. The place itself is a little mystery worth discovering and rediscovering. Leave your car with the complimentary valet service and start a journey through the lobby of Etihad Towers all the way to the beach. Once onshore, spot the peculiar futuristic structure on the right and confidently rush in.

 

A pair of giant fighting yet charming bulls next to the rolled down carpet and an ancient entrance door is the first curiosity object to note. The transformation from exterior to interior is breath-taking. One never guesses the entire spectrum of decorative passion locked inside without spending a couple of hours at this art gallery of a restaurant. Picture a burst of colours, patterns, textures and elements spread in harmony across two floors, creating a Barcelona-like presence. It blew my hard to impress mind that pieces so different in the form and feel were brought together in this kooky collaboration of past and future. It was the call of the giant bell that put me back in my senses.

 

Nesting comfortably in a high backed chair I waited impatiently for the brunch to start. Smoothed by fruity sangria, I was ready to sample and gossip. I smiled very happily when the wide spread of cold and warm appetisers landed on the table. Guests around us seemed to be pleased with a service and very relaxed. I fell in love with the food once the taste of crunchy tortilla dipped in a lightly smoked guacamole overshadowed everything I ever tried before. A simple yet powerful dish of pure passion won me over!

 

The corn bread served steaming hot in a little pan, seafood ceviche with yellow curry and deliciously fresh Toro Toro salad were excellent, with a little unexpected twist of flavours. And it was just the beginning… I’ll say no more as you must visit and share your thoughts 🙂

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 5.44.40 AM

Stalk me on Instagram and Facebook.

Vida la vie de Loca

Do you recall those Friday mornings when you wake up and feel it’s gonna be a beautiful day? So you start with a lazy coffee, scrolling Instagram direct messages or giggling to ridiculous emojis from your favourite WhatsApp people. Then a random pop-up ad on YouTube reminds you of a new amazing dress still with tags longing for attention. For me this was the moment to book my brunch experience at 3in1 at Vida Downtown, the place where weekend lasts forever.

Vida, being a landmark itself, often appears in the news in connection with fashion shows, celebrities and events involving VVVIP+ (something super awesome that only exists in Dubai). The drive through the Downtown of Dubai is a separate treat. Lower speed limits result in extended views of palm trees, a mix of futuristic and stylized architecture and a sneak peak at new restaurants opening here and there. In the winter when Dubaians are spoiled with the best weather in the world, I roll down the windows and wave at folks crossing streets I’ve met some time somewhere. Downtown is a popular neighbourhood!

Friendly security and valet parking teams led my car right through a bit of Friday traffic directly to the entrance. Having complimentary valet over here is as essential as complimentary WiFi and obviously Vida offers both. A few steps down (please do not misunderstand me there is an elevator but I always fancy an appetising walk before a brunch), I was greeted like a star.

P2027113.JPGThe concept of brunch is not new but the Western version of it greatly differs from what we are used to in the UAE. Again spoiled by choice we pick a package that suits today’s budget, mood or driving arrangements (my life). For Urban Picnic brunch at Vida’s 3in1 restaurant I chose unlimited soft beverages over unlimited house beverages (think refreshing Margaritas). I upgraded my choice to a table inside a private cabana and smiled anticipatingly a fantastic afternoon.
P2027056.JPG

And what an epic brunch it was! Picture yourself sitting around a pool on a lovely sunny afternoon with a soft refreshing breeze playing with the silky curtains of your private cabana. The best of Latin dancing tunes including Lambada and Merengue act as the background, adding an authentic vibe to the event. Smoke from the nearby live cooking station encourages you to make another run for the bbq seafood of the day. Your Margarita never gets warm as an attentive server keeps an eagle eye on your happiness. Meanwhile a game of piñata starts somewhere in the corner and a friend hands you over a fun fail video taken at the spot to amuse you.

Believe me when the time is up no one wants to leave and no one rushes you out. Because there is more than one reason this party is the talk of the town.

Stalk me on Instagram and Facebook.

The Blacksmith Smoke House

The Southern part of Dubai Marina was never known for the gastronomy or nightlife. Squeezed between high-rise and a popular neighbours like Jumeirah Beach, it used to be home to families and young office mates. Even tourists barely made it here. The situation changed with the opening of the very affordable, cosy and friendly Wyndham hotel.

P2016861.JPGFocused on bringing together the local community for after hours and weekend entertainment, Wyndham’s team shows strong commitment to organizing exciting events. Just a few nights ago a fantastic new smoke house opened its doors and chimneys to a curios crowd. I was very lucky to witness it.

P2016876.JPG

Blacksmith is easy to find. Just trust your nose. The air around the restaurant is deliciously smoky with irresistible notes of wood and fire. Irresistible to the point that a ride one floor up in an elevator seemed endless and made me dream of the upcoming dinner. My night started with a sip of rich red at the bar right next to the entrance. The bartender wanted to mix something very special for me but anticipating an intense dinner I decided to stick with the classics.

P2016914.JPG

Orelle Young chef de cusinine and pitmaster made an appearance looking awesome in very manly apron holding a long pointy hook. One of those chefs who immediately establishes: “You are in for a treat.” OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Everything I tried: chicken wings generously coated in black pepper sauce, pulled beef with red chillies, ribs and jerk chicken was absolutely exceptional. Tasty, smoky, well flavoured and well spiced, I could feel how much love and soul got invested into every piece. My only complain it was quite impossible to stop and so I didn’t.

Apart from eating, I danced to all time favourite American songs and music. Wyndham’s food and beverage manager participated in a one man show eating the spiciest chicken wings in the world and the audience didn’t hold back with cheers and applauds. The best night out ever!

P2016951.JPG

*Find out more about the Blacksmith here

**Stalk Pitmaster Orelle 

***These are links to my Instagram and Facebook.

 

Maison de Juliette in Dubai

The continuously growing La Mer neighbourhood now has its own casual dining French restaurant and bakery, Maison de Juliette. Decorated in a delightful high tea party theme with spacious outdoor terrace, blue hues, colourful furniture, light reflecting tables and bright giant lamps, this place creates a charming morning vibe that slowly transforms into the romanticism of Provence after dark.

Intended to attract foodies craving simple but absolutely delicious Gastronomy Francaise, and families to share big heart-warming dinners, Maison de Juliette focuses on warm and inviting dishes from the South Eastern region of France bordering the Mediterranean, the Provence. P1265432.JPG

Provence is loved for sunshine, warm climate and rich soil, and is considered by many as the garden of the country. No wonder Provencal cuisine is known for bright dishes powered with locally produced vegetables including aubergine, ripe tomatoes, bell peppers, olives, asparagus and my all times favourite artichokes. The menu at the Maison de Juliette in Dubai is not an exception. P1265438.JPG

Interestingly the restaurant is run by the Parisian Chef Aris, who willingly decided to move away from the stereotypes of high dining in the capital towards the deliciousness of a few ingredients focused cuisine. He seems to enjoy delivering rich, colourful and thoughtfully styled dishes, pleasing both the eye and taste buds. His seared tuna rolled in pistachios, accompanied by a generous portion of a green salad, is my all time favourite. Try goat cheese glazed in honey, creamy burrata on toast, and the warm seafood platter with intense sauce and a bit of foam (they are French after all).

P1265435.JPG
Be surprised by your server suggesting the right beverage to accompany your starter, main or a desert, or offering a mocktail to try based on your current mood. The pastry and desserts are so good, please do not leave without a little taste or two.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Stalk me on Instagram and Facebook.

 

 

 

The House of Waka

Waka is not a regular restaurant but a destination to experience the authentic flavours of Latin American cuisine with a fusion of Japanese influence. The place is decorated in warm earthy colours, with splashes of bright expressive patterns bringing in a cosy homey feeling. So does the art on the walls.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The reception outside the restaurant sorts out calls and reservations, keeping the extra noise away. A short corridor with dimmed lights opens up to a small lounge, beautifully lit bar, and DJ booth. The main dining area, divided in two parts, can easily be transformed in exclusive secret rooms for private events.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The kitchen is divided from the main dining area by a transparent glass wall. Interestingly, while guests can sneak peak on chef’s movements, the window is blackened on the other side. Just like American detective stories but the other way around.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ordering is a pleasure, as the team gets very passionate talking about food and describing dishes. Frequent recommendations are followed by a brief history of a particular ingredient or a dish.

The food is fantastic. Most of what I tried had a distinctive individuality in taste and presentation including many little special effects (dry ice, so hot right now). The finely sliced wagyu steak that resembles salami from a distance gets cooked right at the table with a blowtorch and then quickly dressed with delicious bits and pieces. Chicken skewers served on tiny charcoal grills are deliciously juicy and out of this world. On a personal request a little bowl of fresh chilly sauce was prepared especially for me and was quickly consumed with great appreciation.

Stalk me on Instagram and Facebook.

 

 

 

Mighty Masti, with a License to Pour (update: I’m not happy with the new menu)

La Mer, a beautiful “Arabian coastal chic” neighbourhood spread across the beginning of Jumeirah beach is turning into everyone’s favourite hangout. Delightfully diverse in every aspect, it’s a place to witness cultures of the world mixing together and carrying their own identity. Cheerful crowds in colourful swimwear coexist with locals dressed in traditional outfits sipping tea on Persian carpets. With free parking, Wi-Fi, outdoor showers, street art at every corner, plenty of attractions open and a few more on the way, every visit to La Mer is an exciting discovery. For me things got super exciting when I’ve discovered Masti, where sunset cocktails are no longer a dream.

P1104249.JPG

The first time I heard of Masti was from one of the restaurateurs. “How intriguing,” I thought. It is not common for competitors to speak highly of another business, or insist with a little glimpse of naughtiness that I must check it out immediately (in fairness the conversation took place as I typed my pin code). “Are they open now?” I wondered. The response startled me: “Be there after five”. Obviously overwhelming curiosity won, bringing me there at 5 o’clock sharp, thirsty for a new experience.

Masti translates as “fun and mischief”, a concept that appeals to all sort of cool folks: millennials, hipsters, Instagram stars, desperate housewives, startuppers and “seen it all” DIFC girlz and boyz (these are the categories that popped up first in my head). The restaurant’s approach of blurring limits applies to everything you see, hear, touch or taste. Being the first (and only at the moment) licensed restaurant at La Mer, they are obliged to experiment and amaze.

Extraordinary, but fact: the restaurant with a “license to pour” is not a part of a hotel, but a completely independent establishment at the South side of La Mer. The existence of Masti is a fantastic occurrence on its own, inaugurating a new era in UAE food and beverage business, and paired with some pretty awesome cocktails is an offer one cannot simply miss. The the restaurant consists of two levels, with drinks served after 5pm on the first floor and their fantastic upper terrace overlooking the beach and the Downtown.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

While many may stop to sip the night away, Masti is definitely not just a pretty lounge with epic cocktails. The majority of dishes on the menu represent the change in dining happening all over the globe. Set as Indian Fusion cuisine, the restaurant breaks all obvious stereotypes and expectations by offering food that exists nowhere else. Have you ever tried any of the following: naan pizza with burrata and butter chicken, tuna tartar mixed with crunchy puffed rice, caved in a shell of unsweetened sugar, smoky lamb croquettes with a side of chopped sweet onions, lotus cookie tiramisu in a pool of saffron or a mysterious sounding dessert called “raspberry rose”?

Stalk me on Instagram and Facebook.

 

The Avant Garde of Japanese cuisine

Weird but true: the exercise of observing art always has an intense appetizing effect on me, stronger than any existing aperitif. Just two hours under the “rain of light” dome of Louvre Abu Dhabi, all I could think of was food. All was lost to the most human feeling ever, hanger. A quick look at Google Maps disappointed with only a few exceptionally bland nearby options. Then, a peculiar name popped-up on the screen and a 10 minute countdown to Sushi 99 at the Four Seasons commenced. Grrrrrr…

The drive to Maryah Island, a fancy financial district overlooking downtown Abu Dhabi, from the cultural district of Saadiyat was pleasant with barely any traffic and complimentary valet on arrival. One floor down from the lobby and we were standing right in front of a bronze waterfall, casually serving as a door frame. “Wow,” I thought. “This will be an entrance to remember!”

Other eye-candy placed at the entrance was a giant fish statue with charismatic looks and an ironic eye: “You guys think you’ve seen it all?” This artwork was repeatedly re-printed on beautifully crafted rectangular plates all around the restaurant.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sushi 99 starts with a spacious lounge, a golden bar on one side and a glass window opening on expensive looking bottles thoughtfully arranged behind it. The interior décor includes expressive saturated tones and was highly elusive and slightly deceiving, as in my view it didn’t communicate Japanese. Comfy sofas and dark grey ottomans contrasted with vividly red murals and rugs and balanced the warmth of the light. A similar concept continued across the restaurant, and when my eyes adapted to the dimmed light, I started to realize how carefully the Japanese theme was crafted into the otherwise very chic Mediterranean surroundings. Bonsai trees, for example, did the trick for me.

The table was minimalist, with shiny wine glasses, custom-made cutlery and crockery, a piece of art soya sauce jar and an adorable white cookie that, with water, turned into a hot towel. Greatly impressed and stunned, I mumbled to myself something about sincerity, peacefulness, elegance and passion, however a clear voice interrupted my chaotic sentence: “Japanese with Spanish influence. Not vice versa.” The first Sushi 99 opened in Madrid and quickly turned into five locations including Barcelona. The Abu Dhabi bar and restaurant was the first and only establishment abroad. Alrighty!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A big fan of chic cocktails involving advanced bartending and mixology, I couldn’t resist the temptation to order off the list. So I walked directly to the golden bar and requested to be impressed. Sergey, who immediately accepted the challenge, served me a tall glass filled with a refreshing, punchy mix with everything Dubai girl dreams of (fresh raspberries for example). My second drink, an exotic Mojito put together by Yuli, featured passion fruit as the main ingredient. Yumm!

The repeated theme of passion (think interiors, art and fruit) came up while ordering. Once the menu was open, our hostess started a conversation describing dishes, ingredients and cooking secrets to us. They source the world’s best and freshest ingredients. Their Spanish tuna was so incredible that some parts resembled a marbled Wagyu steak. Don’t believe me?

I placed myself in the hands of the very competent team to feed us with no regrets. Salted edamame, a complimentary starter, got me into sampling mood and the dinner began. It took the first dish, a juicy crab served in its shell, to announce my verdict: absolutely amazing. The best I’ve had in life, and a little spoon on the side made scooping easy.

PC163027.JPG

A few other masterpieces tasted that night included: spicy tuna tartar with a secret Japanese sauce, foie gras rolls topped with sweet raspberries, a selection of salmon sushi flambé with slices of browned lime a top, and slices of tuna soaked in a trio of sauces – coriander, passionate fruit and soya. This was the moment the chef stopped by our table to grate fresh wasabi right in front of us, melting my heart completely.

While we were savouring these luxuries to our senses, the breeze occasionally blew through the open panoramic windows adding a touch of wildness to the experience. We selected a pot of green tea with mochi ice-cream as a final touch to the dinner and sipped the night away. I can’t wait to go back!

PC163029.JPG

P.S. The charismatic looking person casually lounging at the bar is Cris, a fellow blogger and social media influencer. You can find more about him here.

Stalk me on Instagram and Facebook.