A round-up of some of the best Latin American dining in the UAE, featuring cuisines from Chile to Peru.
Latin flavours spread across the UAE
Latin American cuisine has come a long way in the UAE. Gone are the days when anything “south of the border” was grouped into one category. Now, with more venues on the market and highly educated consumers, we are spoilt for choice not only when it comes to pan-Latin options, but specifically to the regional delicacies.
Among the classics are Pachanga at the Hilton JBR, Asado at The Palace The Old Town and La Parrilla at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel. These restaurants were the first of their kind on the market and forged a trail in sourcing culinary talent, produce and protein that did justice to this type of South American fare.
Incorporating a churrasco style of eating with copious amounts of meat, these eateries created a solid reputation early on. More recently, with Toro Toro at Grosvenor House and Gaucho in DIFC, the focus remains mainly on the grills, something Dubai residents are familiar with. And although all of these restaurants have extensive menus, they are best known for their carnivorous options.
One of the first to be recognised for its meat-friendly style of service was the exclusively Brazilian churrascaria Chamas, located in the InterContinental Hotel Abu Dhabi. According to the executive chef Danny Kattar, since opening its doors in 2009, Chamas has grown in popularity and is especially famous for its “all-you-can-eat meat” concept: the waiters, known as passadors, tango around the dining room to a Latin band, making regular rounds to the tables with generous skewers of beef, lamb and chicken. From Brazil on the east coast to another regional powerhouse of flavour on the west coast, The Act in Dubai’s Shangri-La hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road has highlighted another popular South American cuisine: Peruvian. A supper club-style concept featuring eclectic live performances on Sundays and Thursdays, this venue not only entertains but delights with its culinary offerings. The Peruvian Alta menu created by the head chef Roberto Segura Gonzalez, a native of Peru, represents the flavours textures, tastes and colours of the food from his country, which has just been named World’s Leading Culinary Destination at the World Travel Awards 2013. Gonzalez prides himself on sourcing the most authentic ingredients to keep his food true to the originals. One of the signature dishes includes tuna tataki with a tumbo (similar to passion fruit) reduction, which captures the diverse range of influences in modern Peruvian cuisine. Another speciality item available at The Act is the arroz con pato, a confit and roasted duck with coriander wet rice and an orange/nectarine reduction, which can be described as a modern interpretation of a classic.
The Act opened its doors in March this year and has kept people coming back regularly with a menu that rotates every three months. Although Gonzalez puts his passion into his work, he feels there is still a way to go before South American cuisine is properly executed here in the UAE. He says: “As a chef, making sure the right ingredients are sourced will make an effect and with more products imported, anyone hailing from that region will have a better selection and quality to offer their guests.”
The theme of dinner and entertainment continues with IZEL, an all-new supper club concept at the recently opened hotel The Conrad Dubai.
Dubai has a whole new experience of Latin American style flavours, sights and sounds. Not only has Brian Bendix, the founder and chief executive of IZEL, done his due diligence to create a unique atmosphere with traditional Mayan/Aztec-like accents, but he has hand-selected some of the most vibrant musical talent from across Latin America, who will be featured every night from Tuesday to Saturday. The menu at IZEL is as compelling as its entertainment, with items such as merluza negra (Chilean sea bass) as well as a Peruvian favourite, octopus with an olive sauce. It also offers a succulent array of meats from El Teatro, a modernised version of the churrasco grill. The supper club also presents a multidimensional entertainment platform with a range of musical acts and a cigar lounge.
Luis De Hoya, the chef de cuisine at IZEL, believes the standard of this type of cuisine in the UAE has changed for the better. “There is fierce competition in the region to establish unique concepts that stand out from the crowd,” he says. “Not to mention Latin American cuisine has left an imprint and has been gaining traction when compared to its European counterparts.”
Tataki en salsa de tumbo
3 oz tuna
4 tsp salt
2 tbsp corn oil
2 tsp togarashi (Japanese chilli peppers)
5 tbsp salsa tumbo (recipe follows)
2 tsp fried black quinoa
1 tbsp chopped red and green chillies
For the salsa tumbo reduction
4 tbsp coriander
3 oz fresh ginger
100ml leche de tigre (recipe follows)
2 tbsp sesame oil
Bring the honey, ginger and coriander to the boil. Reduce until half and reserve. Add the leche de tigre and sesame oil and set aside. (Note that 1 ¾ pints of passion fruit juice can be used in place of the salsa tumbo)
For the leche de tigre
9 oz white onion
5 oz garlic
5 oz ginger
1 ½ oz red chilli
2 ½ pints lime juice
2 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
20 ice cubes
Blitz the ingredients in a blender then pass the liquid through a sieve and reserve in a cool place.
For the tuna
Coat the tuna with salt and togarashi then sear in a hot pan. Cut the tuna into 1cm slices and place on a plate. Pour over the salsa tumbo and top with the black quinoa and chopped chillies.