VaKaVa, the Pan-Latin restaurant concept at Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers, comes to us from celebrity chef, Richard Sandoval. Set apart from the luxurious hotel in a separate building that juts out into the ocean like the bow of a ship, guests are greeted by two colourful bull sculptures butting heads in front of an ornate turquoise door. FACT’s David Tapley walks through…
VaKaVa’s interiors immediately capture the attention thanks to a visual assault of colours and textures on display through vibrant textiles and elaborate chandeliers. We traverse a long corridor punctuated with skulls and pass a glass case, where the restaurant’s meat is prepared, and cuts of succulent Picanha twist over the open fire. Video screens shoot flames up the walls, pre-empting the frivolity and Latin flair of the evening ahead.
The atmosphere is lively without being over the top and VaKaVa is relatively busy during our dinner on a Friday evening. This in itself is refreshing for Abu Dhabi, where it’s not uncommon to dine in a near-empty restaurant unless it’s a brunch. The food menu presents a concise offering that’s easily broken down into small sections. We begin with the ceviche Amarillo (AED 65), a dish offering a fine blend of seas bass, mango and orange that strikes a pleasing balance between sweet and heat that is inspired. As a staple of Peruvian cuisine, ceviche is always a good measure of a South American restaurant’s quality and the flavours at VaKaVa certainly impress.
The smoked guacamole (AED 60) is another dish that shouldn’t be missed, offering mashed Mexican avocado smoked inside an elaborate bell jar that is quite frankly the stuff of dreams. Whether you order the Lomo saltado or corn empanadas (AED 65), you won’t be disappointed with the flaky warm pastry that encases the generous fillings. Meanwhile, the thinly sliced beef tiradito’s (AED 95) contrasting flavours are rich and robust, combining truffle tartare, chipotle ponzu sauce and shimeji mushroom and results in another must-order dish. The VaKaVa menu also offers an exciting array of tacos, salads and suviche rolls that effortlessly combine sushi and ceviche into a unique fusion interpretation of Nikkei cuisine.
Fully embracing the menu’s sharing concept (it just works so well with these small plates and allows diners to try a little bit of everything) we share the Aregtnitian beef tenderloin (AED 230), a reasonably priced cut of meat that is an absolute pleasure to eat. Tender, full of flavour and served with cinnamon sprinkled sweet potato fries. The Peruvian style grilled octopus (AED145) is just as good and balances the protein against a hard to pin sweetness that left us wanting more.
Never ones to miss dessert, we enjoyed both the red velvet tres leches (AED 55) which are seductively soft and the churros (AED55). In a city that seems to struggle with perfecting the fried dough, VaKaVa’s churros are arguably some of the best in the city. Offering a dough that is crisp on the outside and fluffy within, the accompanying Manchego ice cream is undoubtedly a unique entity and provides a memorable finale to the dining experience.
With an overwhelming positivity towards the food, we’re ecstatic to note that the service has been vastly improved since our previous visit. Staff are fully versed on the menu and display a genuine warmth towards guests which was missing before.
The re-launch of VaKaVa is a welcome return for Pan-Latin food at Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers and a triumphant return for Richard Sandoval to the capital. It’s also pleasing to notice a slight decrease in the menu prices and we are excited to see how Abu Dhabi’s appetite for Pan-Latin cuisine stacks up in the coming months.
GO: Call (0)2 811 5666 for reservations and more information.