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Toro + Ko – City Walk, Jumeirah, Dubai

Toro + Ko is New York City’s newest export to hit the UAE shores. Coming straight from the trendy Meatpacking District, their take on tapas is proving mighty popular over there and they’re hoping to replicate this success in the new, licensed section of City Walk. A To Za’atar and I took a leisurely lunch to find out how they fared.

I didn’t really know you could drink in City Walk (other than in the La Ville Hotel), but there’s Galvin, Lima & Toro + Ko (and probably more that I don’t know about) in the “Gourmet Boulevard” (how Dubai!), so it’s decent if you fancy a lunchtime tipple.

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Note that they have now removed the graffiti from the back wall now.

The design of the place is the trendy “industrial-chic” vibe that a lot of new restaurants are going for these days. However, they’ve been heavily let down by whoever the contracting company was. For a brand new restaurant, the tables are already heavily scratched, the joinery is sloppy and it feels kinda unfinished (which was confirmed by one of the staff later in the meal). The vibe is great in the venue though, with a similar playlist to Marina Social (think 90s hip-hop / fun old-school tunes!).

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Dodgy.

We were initially expecting a set menu, but were delighted to hear that the chef was going to cook us a selection of the favourite dishes at the restaurant and serving them exactly how they’d usually serve them, so I was happy to be able to judge the food on its actual merits and potentially try some things I wouldn’t necessarily always pick.

First up, was a delicately plated spooned caviar dish:

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Using Beluga caviar, this was an absolute winner. The delicately poached quail egg yolk giving the mouthful a beautiful creaminess, alongside the pop from the caviar. A wonderful way to start proceedings I must say.

After the caviar, we were brought some Spanish bread to graze on with garlic and a tomato reduction. Although simple, it was delicious:

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Next up, a plate of oysters came over. My fellow diner is not an oyster fan, so I took them for the team – I’m not the biggest fan to be honest, but these were among the best I’ve tried. The plating of them was picture perfect as well:

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Beautifully plated oysters.

A plate of Patatas Bravas arrived shortly after. Neither I nor Courtney have seen them presented in this way, but they looked fantastic. Unfortunately, the triple-cooking of them had not been able to produce the crisp that we were hoping for, but taste-wise they were spot on.

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An unusual take on patatas bravas.

Foie Gras is another ingredient that I’m just not totally buzzed about. I find it too rich and it tends to be served in these big chunks that just disagree with me, so when we were served their take on it, I was a little apprehensive:

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Foie Gras.

Top marks again for presentation. Michelin-star levels of crockery were on show for the entire afternoon. In all honesty though, I wasn’t too fussed about this dish, purely due to my unsureity (YES! A new made up word – not had one in a while) on foie gras as a whole. A little too rich although offset nicely by the crisp, I’m sure fans of the stuff would love this dish though.

A gnarly, charred and cheesy corn dish arrived next and was for sure one of our highlights:

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Lovely bit of corn!

The corn had a lovely smoky flavour, the perfect pop and the cheese sauce was generous, rich and delectable. We were already feeling pretty full by this point, but we almost finished off the whole lot.

We thought we must have been approaching the end by this point, but oh no there was a lot more to come. Another absolutely impeccably plated of roast carrots arrived that were soft, herbaceous and highly pleasing on the eye:

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Some very good vegetarian options to be had.

A tuna tartare was brought over next and again, the serving bowl was stunning. Although the shade of the tuna looked a little unappetizing, it tasted beautifully fresh and had an intelligent mix of texture, tang, richness and creaminess. The chef really knows how to put together a plate of food:

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Deliciosa!

Now, on to unfortunately my least favourite dish of the afternoon. This dish arrived initially looking beautiful but it did have a bit of a funky aroma that put off Courtney from trying it. I had one and although it was cooked wonderfully – very tender and melted in the mouth, it did have a strong fishy taste so I left the rest of it. The chef came over to see how we were getting on and I commented that I wasn’t a fan of the prawn and that it didn’t taste fresh – he was shocked because he said they source the finest seafood from a very high-end place in Europe where they are instantly frozen after being caught and then are cooked straight from frozen to retain the freshness.

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A bit of a let down.

By this point, we were both absolutely stuffed but were informed that we had a few more dishes to go. A pyramid of croquettes arrived and my word they were fantastic:

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The best croquettes in Dubai! (maybe)

Despite both being fuller than a bull’s bum, we couldn’t resist the smoky, cheese filling and polished them off. They. Were. Divine.

****ADDED THIS NEW PARAGRAPH AS I TOTALLY FORGOT****

Just when we thought we had almost finished, another two dishes arrived. An absolutely devilish-looking bone marrow, packed to the brim but was a little too salty and an octopus dish that was cooked expertly demonstrated by our knives gliding through with ease and having great Spanish flavour with the generous use of paprika. 

Thanks to @atozaatar for letting me borrow her photo!

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Last up was their paella. My expectations were high as the dish looked stunning, with a whole lobster being the centerpiece but it wasn’t up to the standards of the rest of the dishes (ignoring the prawns). I genuinely feel they have a bit of an issue with the supplier of fish, as I just didn’t particularly rate any of the seafood in the paella. The lobster was a bit chewy, the prawns again weren’t up to scratch, and all the shellfish was average at best. It’s a little frustrating as I genuinely believe they have a top-class kitchen team but are let down by produce, and in a tapas restaurant – where seafood features so heavily, it needs to be improved.

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We reached dessert and after a slightly disappointing ending to a pretty spectacular meal all in all, we were hoping they could pick things back up again – and oh boy they did in a big way. The crema catalana had a wonderfully crispy top and was perfectly creamy inside. There was an exciting flourish with the dish as well, where for the first time in Dubai, I’ve seen a restaurant actually use dry ice to freeze something – not just to please the instagrammers. The wafers were plunged into a bucket and came out frozen and crisp.

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The churros though. My lord. It’s one of my favourite desserts in the whole world and they were spectacular. Crispy on the outside, light in the middle and the accompanying three sauces of chocolate, dulce de leche and “red velvet” (a raspberry {I think!} based sauce that worked really well!) were perfect. 10/10 for this dish.

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Perfect churros!

After finishing dessert I had a coffee and Courtney and I were both in agreement at how much we rated the place. They are producing extremely sophisticated, high-end tapas and the majority of the dishes were excellent, with everything having being cooked fantastically. The service was spot on as well; yes, admittedly we were invited, so sometimes extra care is taken, but the food came out quickly, our drinks were regularly topped up and our server Maja was not afraid to interact with us and offer up good suggestions for drinks.  The only thing that let them down was the quality of the seafood in my opinion.

I always like to get an idea about what the value of the experience we had was, to give you the reader an idea of pricing – and my golly gosh this place is not cheap:

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Wow!

Yes, we did have a few dishes like the caviar that we never would order, but things like carrots being sold for 58 AED (with 10% to be added on in tax!), mean you’re going to have an expensive dinner or lunch. Just stay away from the seafood though and you could probably keep costs below 1000 AED for a couple….maybe.

Now, the twist.

This is one of the rare occasions where I leave a restaurant and genuinely think about when to come back as a paying customer to treat my wife. It really was one of the most enjoyable dining experiences I’ve had since I last visited Marina Social for dinner a couple of years ago. Then, in the taxi home I started feeling funny and for the next 4 hours I don’t think I’ve ever been as violently ill in my life – this was roughly around 2-3 hours after eating. I just laid on the floor at home wondering what I’d done wrong to deserve this.

I’ve discussed what happened with people and some have told me that you can’t get poisoned so quickly from food, but my research tells me otherwise. I only had the oysters and the prawns that my fellow diner didn’t have and my main suspect was it must have been from one of those. I ate nothing for breakfast and the day before I’d had a homemade vegetable curry with cauliflower rice that both the wife and I ate and didn’t get sick from.

If it was a dodgy bit of a seafood though, I don’t for one second think that it was from negligence by the Toro kitchen team. From the love and precision they put into their food and plating – I feel they care too much to let standards slip to the point of making someone sick. Perhaps the supplier has cocked up somewhere and provided them with a below-par batch or the seafood it’s had an issue in transportation.

Even despite this, I do actually think I will still go back – I just won’t eat any crustaceans!

FOOD: 10/15 – So difficult to score – so many amazingly cooked and plated dishes – but I think something made me spectacularly sick and other than the tuna, none of the seafood really hit the spot.
SERVICE: 13/15 – Very good, prompt and friendly!
DRINKS SELECTION: 4.5/5 – An excellent mix with a great gin list. Monkey 47? YES!
AMBIANCE: 4.5/5 – Loved the music in there, and although it was quiet when we arrived, it started filling up throughout lunch.
DESIGN: 3/5 – It’s an attractive design, but looks a little unfinished and there’s some really poor finishing.
VALUE: 2/5 – Very, very expensive. A lot of the dishes are fantastic, but with an extra 10% on top of menu pricing due to Municipality Tax, I don’t know if it’s justified.

TOTAL: 37/50 – If they sort their seafood out, this place could be one of the best restaurants in town, simple as. There is a chance that I just got randomly sick from something else, but during my dining experience I felt that the seafood wasn’t up to scratch – so whether I got poisoned or not, the mark is the same.

Toro + Ko Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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