One of the last tastings I treated myself to this December, was a tasting at Toro + Ko, and not only was it one for the books, but was one of the best meals I’ve had this year, and it makes me feel warm and fuzzy to be closing this year with a good restaurant review. I went here on a media invite, but as always, the opinions expressed within this blog are entirely my own.
As the year draws to an end, I can’t help but indulge in the mandatory mental recap, of how the year has progressed and was different from the last. To say that my blog has grown with leaps and bounds compared to the previous year would be stating the obvious, but it really has, and for that I’m grateful.
On the flip side, I engaged in far fewer restaurant tastings than I did in the previous year, and the reason for this is none other than the fact that I’ve bid farewell of sorts to the fear of missing out, and embraced the joy of missing out and spending my evenings curled up on my recliner at home, with both hands wrapped around a warm mug of tea.
Last weekend, the weather was just far too good to spend indoors, so we decided to head out to Toro + Ko at City Walk, where the skies were clear and the breeze was chilly. Ironically enough, we ended up sitting indoors (albeit by the window), because the outdoors mean uninvited guests at the table in the form of flies.
Toro + Ko is a branch of the Boston original, serving up high-end, Barcelona-style tapas. The word “Toro” means bull, and “Ko” stands for Ken Orington, the celebrity chef who opened the first Toro in Boston in 2006.
I had super high expectations of Toro + Ko (as is always the case if any of my trusted foodie friends recommend a place, atozaatar.com, in this case), which were not only met, but exceeded. For starters, the location is fantastic, as it’s in the “licensed” square of City Walk, and -in my experience- the absolute best dining option in the area.
To make things even sweeter, it’s one of those restaurants that lift your spirits almost as soon as you step in. Warm welcome, AH-mazing playlist (a nod and a half to the late 90’s/early 2Ks), warm vibes, high industrial ceilings, grey floors, leather upholstery, sun-kissed space, and an absolute dream come true for food photography aesthetics.
Here’s a breakdown of what we tried, and how it fared:
The amuse bouche was a single spoon containing a liquified, congealed, spherified olive. Because olives are so old school now, am I right? Ain’t nobody got time to chew on an olive, so they blitzed them up, then used the same magic solution Tresind do for their Pani Puri shots, and created these faux olives (made from real olives) that burst in your mouth on contact. Loved this.
One of the most most expensive spoonfuls of food I’ve ever put in my mouth, and one of the most unforgettable. Quail egg yolk, Servuga caviar and uni. This was (for lack of a less cliche word), absolute umami. This was worth all of the 95 dirhams and a great start to the meal which raised the bar way more than I could have imagined for a place in City Walk to be capable of.
Since this was a tasting, we requested smaller portions, just enough to be able to try a larger variety than we would have had we ordered full portions. So, a standard full portion of croquettes promises you 6 pieces (great bang for the buck, priced at roughly AED 45 for the half dozen). There were 3 types of croquettes, so we just requested one of each kind. Our favorite was the mushroom and truffle one, followed by the chicken, an our least favorite was the cod.
I’m not a fan of sweet corn. I don’t particularly mind it, but its never a preferred order or something I crave. Naturally, I wasn’t too stoked when the manager suggested we try the sweet corn, but he was so sure of it, that I caved and agreed to give it a chance. Verdict: mind blown. That aioli was ridiculous. There was a slight char on the corn and a smokiness in the aioli that was extremely moreish. If ANY of you are going to Toro + Ko (and you should), this is something you need to order without a second thought.
Whenever M and I see octopus on any menu, we need to order it, no matter what. This was a good plate of octopus. The best plate of octopus I’ve ever had is still at La Cantine in Jumeirah Emirates Towers, but this plate didn’t particularly disappoint either. The octopus was tender, the potatoes and sauce was citrusy, garlicky, and fragrant. It was nice.
Paella is another thing I’m not a fan of, and although this squid ink paella was by far the best paella I’ve had in Dubai, I think I’m still not too crazy about paella, and I would have been much happier paying for some of the other (more delicious) things on the menu. One thing that made this paella better than the other paellas I’ve had in Dubai is that they “mixed” it table-side. This ensured that they scraped off the crispy bits of rice stuck to the bottom of the pan, hence ensuring a tad more texture.
We also experienced some inconsistency in the prawns, one of them wasn’t deveined!
Rice pudding: another thing I would normally never order, but decided to give it a chance because (a) that’s what I do and (b) the manager told me he won’t let me leave without trying it. Verdict: I’ve been turned. The blood orange sorbet packed the perfect punch of zestiness and acidity to cut through the rich creaminess of the rice pudding, and this is a dessert I have found myself longing for ever since that fateful meal!
I’m starting to realize that my meal at Toro + Ko was a meal with plenty of instances of “let’s give this another shot”. Churros: I abhor them. I don’t like biting into sugar-crusted sponges of oil, be they churros or doughnuts. I don’t like it when the sugar crystals cling to my lips. However, I couldn’t come to a Spanish restaurant and not try what many were claiming for to be the Best Churros Ever, so I asked them to bring us just two churros and not the full portion. Verdict: we really, really wanted more. The crispy-on-the-outside, soft-enough-on-the-inside, not-overly-sugared churros were absolutely phenomenal. My favorite dipping sauce was the miso dulce de leche (yes, I was confused about how Miso made its way into a Spanish kitchen, but it tasted awesome so I had no complaints), while M’s favorite sauce was the raspberry white chocolate.
Random observations at Toro + Ko:
- The music was Throwback Central. I think the music accounts for 50% of why I want to/need to/have to go back.
- The sparkling water was San Pelligrino. Points for that.
- Service was impeccable. My napkin fell to the ground, a server quickly swooped in to replace it.
- We were brought toothpicks and wet wipes after we finished our corn. You’d be surprised, but some restaurants don’t even have wet wipes!
- The manager came to say hello, and talked to us about the brand and the food. He was a foodie and he knew his stuff. Points for that.
- The manager mentioned that they end up attracting more of the late 20s and early 30s crowd. As Ghetto Superstar played in the background, I understood exactly why, and decided once again that I love this place. I’m in my late 20s to early 30s, in case you’re wondering 😉
- The green tea was Spinney’s private labeled. Better than Twinning’s, but still not Avantcha or TWG.
- Pricing was actually really good. In Dubai, plates of tapas sometimes end up being as expensive as main courses, but prices and portion sizes were very reasonable, and the value for money was great.