The Spanish invasion

El Sur at the Westin

El Sur at the Westin

The Spanish restaurant scene in Dubai has been hugely under-represented for a while now with the rather jaded Seville’s but more authentic Al Hambra. Am talking licensed establishments by the way serving booze. Well luckily that’s now changing with El Sur at the Westin and Salero at Kempinski Mall of the Emirates…or at least I hope so. Here’s FooDiva’s take on El Sur.

Replacing the bar haven renowned for its post-Bubbalicious shenanigans, El Sur which translates to ‘south’ has a rather austere art gallery feel, the restaurant in particular, along with a bizarre wire sculpture of a bull-headed matador greeting us on arrival. Concrete walls, a living wall, high communal oak log dining tables and a terrace for al fresco munchies make up the rest. Even though we have a table booking for the restaurant, it’s not as buzzy as the bar area despite plenty of diners, so we perch ourselves at the high tables…well on the posh stools that is. Strictly speaking only bites are served here but the waitress obliges with the main menu which marries traditional Spanish tapas and some rather cutting-edge fare.

Friend and moi opt to share four appetisers to get us going (yes we should have restrained ourselves given the large portions). The four croquette balls ooze creamy goodness and specks of Iberian ham, with a smearing of a paprika-infused dip. Slithers of crusty bread brushed with tomato and grazed garlic, along with generous slices of delectable Iberico Guijuelo ham make for our second traditional platter. It’s then onto the clever stuff – seabass ceviche on a tartare of guacamole with lashings of citrus, perhaps a little too tart for my liking. And the star starter of the night goes to the sticky and crispy caramelised spider web of a tart topped with finely grated Mahon (a white medium hard cow’s cheese from Menorca) and orange zest. So sublime, I ram one in swiftly before it falls apart like confetti.

Seabass cevicheMahon cheese tartsWagyu rib eye with Padron green peppersTorija

I order a pricey Grade 6 Wagyu rib-eye main for the accompanying Padrón green peppers alone. If you’ve never tried this perky plump gem I urge you to visit El Sur – here they are chargrilled, mild and sweet – just pick them up with your fingers and munch away. I’d love to see a platter of these alone. The steak is served sliced with a sprinkling of rock salt and a small portion of coarsely potato mash. My friend assures me the mushroom-filled ravioli with manchego cheese foam impresses.

For dessert I can only stomach a bite of torrija, Spain’s version of pain perdu – a caramelised brioche served here with lemon ice cream. Not quite a match to La Serre’s…needs a little more crust…and a big appetite :).

The beauty of El Sur is the affordable wine list by the glass which will give the likes of the Agency and even neighbouring Oeno a run for its money especially as the impressive food sets it apart. On the flip side, at AED285 per head (if you stick to three courses), the fare is expensive given the casual ambience, but you’re also paying for mostly Spanish staff whose genuine, sweet-natured service comes at a price.

El Sur makes for an innovative, home-grown addition to Dubai’s dining scene and whilst the team may shy away from tapas references, the highlight are those communal bar tables for a few bites and a glass or two of vino. The terrace is also an option but sadly the high balcony blocks any view. Here’s to a three out of five FooDiva knife rating.

Any peeps out there tried and tasted El Sur or even Salero? How do they compare?

The two for one main course offer via the new Entertainer app has just expired, but perhaps given one of the El Sur partners is the co-owner of Entertainer we’ll see it featured in the 2014 edition. Otherwise Lime & Tonic has a tapas and Sangria deal on Monday evenings for AED 145 – if you’ve not yet registered click here for an AED 50 credit exclusive to FooDiva readers. Note the new information box below. 

A bientôt.

FooDiva. x

FooDiva Rating: Knife Rating: 3
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    Dubai, Dubai Marina, Hotels, Licensed, Restaurant Reviews, Restaurants, Spanish
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17 Responses to “The Spanish invasion”

  1. GA December 3, 2013 at 9:41 am

    Viva la Diva! 🙂

    • FooDiva December 3, 2013 at 4:29 pm

      Viva El Sur GA 😉

  2. IshitaUnblogged December 3, 2013 at 10:11 am

    I like the communal table, the huge dramatic artwork that hangs on the wall behind and the uncluttered decor. I remember the croquette balls. Also there was this organic chicken which was very nice. My initial disappointment was that I probably expected some fancy MG fare, given the El Bulli credentials of the Chef… but later I came back really satisfied. Will be going back soon. I prefer El Sur over Salero. And what’s that ‘free-flowing lunch deal’ that you mentioned? BTW, the new information box looks very nice – info settles into the brain easily.

    • FooDiva December 3, 2013 at 4:35 pm

      Thanks Ishita. Agree the orange roasted chicken with corn from the tasting was good – it’s on their final menu. They are no longer referring to the chef’s El Bulli stint so either they don’t want the cuisine to be labelled molecular or there’s a new chef! Here’s the deal on the weekend lunch

      • IshitaUnblogged December 3, 2013 at 7:30 pm

        Thanks FooDiva for the link. Would surely check on that:)

  3. Natasha December 3, 2013 at 10:26 am

    Definitely one to try very soon. Hubbie and I love noting more than sitting at a high bar munching our way through lots of little plates. La Boqueria style – Barcelona or Pacharan in HCMC which has the most beautiful copper bar.

    • FooDiva December 3, 2013 at 4:37 pm

      It’s a bit more slick than La Boqueria in Barcelona, Natasha but the bar area is definitely the place to sit. I was in HCMC in July and didn’t come across Pacharan, mind you I was very focused on eating Vietnamese only!

  4. noreen - the vanilla bean dream December 3, 2013 at 10:32 am

    Very excited to try this one! I have always felt like dubai needed a quintessential tapas place, so it’s refreshing to see some new Spanish restaurants popping up!

    • FooDiva December 3, 2013 at 4:40 pm

      Couldn’t agree more Noreen. Would love to hear your thoughts once you’ve dined there. 101 at the One & Only Palm has a Mediterranean menu with many Spanish tapas dishes incase you haven’t been. And I’ll keep you posted on Salero 🙂

  5. Keren Bobker December 3, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    We ate there a few weeks ago and were impressed with the food. We cheekily asked for a plate of pardon peppers on their own and they were delicious. The croquettas were divine and I loved the ceviche. Overall we were very happy, as was our guest a well known chef who has published six cookbooks.
    One gripe – they had just one sherry on the menu and I’d have expected to see a number of finos or manzanillas on offer.
    The staff were superb, but I understand that many are on six months contracts, so it might be better to go sooner or later.
    We’ll definitely return.

    • FooDiva December 3, 2013 at 4:44 pm

      Good for you Keren, I should have asked for the Padron peppers alone, would have been a lot cheaper than that Wagyu dish! Chef GM? 😉 When is his restaurant opening at DIFC? You’re right about the sherry, let’s hope they take note. Six month contracts…gosh that’s even worse than the usual one year contracts. Real shame, so get there quick everyone!

  6. noreen - the vanilla bean dream January 2, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    Just following up as we just visited El Sur this week. We opted for the spanish cheese plate, the sea bass ceviche, patatas bravas and the wagyu rib-eye. It was great to see a local dining scene emerging with home grown concepts, but I found myself wanting more from El Sur. The steak was cooked to perfection and the peppers were a great side, just the mashed potatoes on the side seemed almost too pedestrian. I was a little frustrated as the waiters didn’t explain anything about the dish once they put it down, like with the cheese plate we had no idea which cheeses they were. Having eaten at Toro in Boston (you can view the menu here, one of the best tapas places I have ever been I found myself quite unsatisfied after El Sur as did my fellow diners, also not to mention the hefty price tag. I really hope Dubai chefs can push the boundary a bit more with more inventive pursuits satiating the adventurous palate in their concepts. But this is a great start regardless and we need to support it!

    • FooDiva January 4, 2014 at 10:04 pm

      Generous feedback Noreen thank you! I do agree that El Sur is pricey for what you get. The menu is a real mix of classic tapas and some more inventive dishes, which is a safer bet for the Dubai market rather than going down the route of a completely cutting-edge menu. I understand some menu changes are forthcoming. Not sure if it will bring it on a par with the likes of Toro (love that menu!) but at least the restaurant scene is changing here for the better, albeit slowly. As an aside one of the Spanish partners is also the owner of Story – the rooftop lounge atop Holiday Inn Express at Knowledge Village. The menu is Peruvian influenced and very affordable – review coming this week, but it’s worth a visit.

  7. Dave Reeder June 25, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    Had a couple of previous experiences of El Sur which hadn’t impressed me too much – a Lime & Tonic tapas sampler evening and a Voss water media meal – but dining last Monday on the special gastro menu was a great evening.The largely Spanish staff are friendly and efficient in equal measures – the restaurant manager has some serious credentials on his CV, which must help – and the food was inventive, delicious and intelligent. Apart, I’m afraid to say, for one elBulli dish – the deconstructed Spanish omelette which was seriously over-rich and a massive portion at the stage in the meal; it was served. El Sur now definitely on my shortlist for a return, probably when Chef Juan returns from holiday and standards get even tighter again…

  8. Dave Reeder June 27, 2014 at 12:35 am

    Not sure how long Chef Juan is away, but he left a week ago so I’m guessing he’s only back second half of July…

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

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    […] as Vista. Don’t let the location put you off, this joint is co-owned by one of the partners in El Sur. Lucky me, it’s within footsteps of my home. One of the two terraces has direct sunset views […]

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