Two different bodegas in Dubai – Tolosa and Salero

Tolosa Bodega at Souk Al Bahar

Tolosa Bodega at Souk Al Bahar

Of late we’ve seen the Brazilian churrascaria craze engulf Dubai, then the Mexican wave and now it’s the Spanish bodega fiesta – with a dose of French thrown in. El Sur started the trend, and here’s a couple of new restaurants reviewed.

A wine bar-cum-restaurant embracing south-west French fare with northern Spanish influences is enough to capture my attention. Tolosa, the historical name of Toulouse, was the capital of Occitania, France’s south-western region. Meanwhile, bodega reflects the al fresco bars spilling over the border in Spain. Enter Tolosa Bodega hidden in a corner of Souk Al Bahar. The intense rosy and orange brick colours of Toulouse are reflected across the cosy wine bar and restaurant.

A traditional chalk board menu of chef specials frames one wall, whilst the à la carte marries pintxos dishes – the Basque equivalent of tapas – with salads, soups, tartares and main courses. No pork licence here sadly. The shrimp croquettes are creamy and crunchy, and as mini balls pop down far too swiftly – but would benefit from a spicy side dip. Baby red peppers or call them capsicums if you’re posh, arrive prettily presented as an inverted trio stuffed with well seasoned shredded crab. Zesty shrimp ceviche peeks out from a wonderfully hearty tomato and avocado salsa. The sea bass tartare is presented on a slab of slate – diced with avocado, chives, lemon zest and a dash of olive oil – simple and refreshing. A side order of fries are thankfully not chips and come double fried – the kind you moreishly pick on all day long.

Tolosa pintxosThe wine list is on the pricey side especially when the more affordable French tipples are not available, but there’s a good Spanish Martin Codax Bierzo on offer by the glass (AED72). A small platter of Ossau-Iraty cheese well paired with a tart black cherry jam helps polish off our vino. When I return to work my way through the many duck dishes, I’ll save room for the pain perdu and tarte tatin.

Service whilst a little shambolic to begin with because they do not acknowledge my RoundMenu booking improves quickly – perhaps they guess FooDiva’s reviewing – and our waiter, Spanish I believe, knows his menu and passionately articulates his recommendations. We are the first to arrive, admittedly 7.30ish on a week night is not peak period, but luckily the restaurant corner of Tolosa fills up pretty quickly. The bar is sadly rather lonesome all night long, unlike neighbouring Left Bank, a far bigger attraction for some. I’ve never understood ladies nights. At AED143 each, our tapas dinner à deux is very affordable, but be warned, the wine list will more than double the bill. On the upside, book through Roundmenu for a 20% discount off the food bill.

Salero Tapas & Bodega

Salero Tapas & Bodega at Kempinski Mall of the Emirates

Moving on to a more traditionally Spanish concept, a few nights later I should add, Salero Tapas & Bodega at Kempinski Mall of the Emirates. Sitting on one of the banquettes I am fascinated by the quirky décor – it’s not often I find myself gazing above, completely mesmerised by over-sized upturned raffia lamp shades, a clever Kandinsky-like mural representation of traditional Spanish artefacts, and shelves crammed with colourful boozy bottles.

Our Spanish waiter is super relaxed and chatty bringing us slithers of cecina, a cured beef carved on the spot to nibble on whilst we wait for friend number three. The wine list is extensive but expensive. My very drinkable Catalonian, Codorniu cava (the cheapest on the list) is priced at AED76 per glass.

The tapas-focused dinner menu (with pork hoorah!) features a rather teeny selection, but a handful of new dishes will be added this week, our waiter explains. We opt to choose six tapas dishes for AED180. Complimentary ingredients for pan con tomate arrive first – just rub the roasted garlic followed by fresh tomato on toasted bread, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt (salero in Spanish by the way) and you’re ready to roll. A nice touch but watch out, it’s a meal in itself.

Con paneTapasLettuce and anchoviesSeafood paella

A potato salad resembles the Russian version, but with the addition of diced tuna belly – quite a popular dish on tapas menus in Spain apparently. A little non-descript, can’t say I would order it again. A fried eggplant dish highly recommended by our waiter arrives tempura-style, drizzled with cane honey – subtle flavours, but I don’t quite understand the relevance to the Spanish menu. On the other hand, juicy Cantabrian anchovies on crunchy romaine lettuce hearts with sherry vinaigrette is a simple but creatively executed dish. The very traditional patatas brava with a drizzling of paprika sauce, chicken croquettes and Spanish tortilla – the latter beautifully presented in a mini cast-iron skillet –  are tasty enough but nothing to wow my palate. The star dish of the night is the seafood paella, and the centrepiece you see here is the small portion (priced at AED200) but enough to feed four. Oozing with plump prawns and squid, the rice has a good bite to it.

Our waiter’s easygoing, charming nature and in-depth menu knowledge is refreshing in a city stifled with either over-attentive or lacklustre service. And for a Saturday evening this spot fills up rather quickly. The music is too loud (must be an age-thing) but at our request, the volume is turned down pronto. At AED127 per head and with very stuffed stomachs, Salero is extremely well priced in comparison to El Sur – but food-wise lacks the creativity and wow factor that El Sur brings the table. Two very different experiences that can’t be compared.

So there you have it, Tolosa adds some much-needed style and substance to Dubai’s staid wine bar scene with a casual yet classy option at Souk Al Bahar, whilst Salero serves up traditional tapas in a quirky spot hidden away from the crazy mall surroundings – each worthy of a three out of five FooDiva knife rating.

Next up on the Spanish dining scene is the opening of tapas bar, Cielo at Dubai Creek by the restaurateurs behind successful home-grown concepts, Okku and Claw BBQ.

Do you enjoy wining and dining over tapas? Where’s your go-to spot? Have you tried these newbies?

A bientôt!

FooDiva. x

FooDiva Rating:

Tolosa Bodega

Salero Tapas & Bodega

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    Bar, Basque, Bodega, Dubai, French, Licensed, Restaurant Reviews, Restaurants, Spanish, Wine, Wine bar

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6 Responses to “Two different bodegas in Dubai – Tolosa and Salero”

  1. Dave Reeder February 19, 2014 at 9:20 am

    With the Spanish wave breaking on Dubai’s shores, it was interesting to hear Marta Yanci (Marta’s Kitchen) say yesterday that, just because she is Spanish, people expect here to have paella on her menu! I remember too a comment from Rick Stein during his TV series on Spain that the food so often reflects the colors of the Spanish flag…

    • FooDiva February 20, 2014 at 1:50 pm

      That’s understandable really given globalisation Dave…similar to the expectation of pizza on every Italian menu! I have to say this paella was the best I have ever tasted in Dubai. It is a traditional spot, whereas El Sur’s cuisine is more cutting-edge, and they have added a few arroz dishes that I am keen to try next time.

  2. GA February 19, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    Interesting, I am visiting Salero on Sunday as it happen. I have never found tapas here that have been as authentic as Spain. I would like to see some new trends opening, Norwegian, Sweden, Scandinavian etc coming up on the horizon.

    • FooDiva February 20, 2014 at 1:53 pm

      Salero is probably as close here as you will get to traditional Spanish tapas Debbie, but Spain’s tapas scene is changing with more innovative dishes. I agree a Scandinavian concept is much-needed, but their dishes are really based on foraged ingredients and clearly that would be a challenge here.

  3. Marta's Kitchen February 20, 2014 at 10:39 am

    Yep….Dave is right! but as you know my food isn’t necessarily Spanish. I enjoy mixing!
    I will have to try all these places!

    Samantha, Tolosa is also a town in Guipuzcoa (Vasque country), they have the best red beans of all times Alubias de tolosa :) Knowing they have “pintxos” on the menu made me very happy (I have to confess i name my tapas tapas and not pintxos because i thought noone would udnerstand!)

  4. FooDiva February 20, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    OMG that’s incredible Marta – double meaning and very clever branding :) Thanks for the heads up! Love learning every day :) It will be interesting to see how successful Tolosa will be given the mixed concept. It came recommended by a Frenchman in the wine business and from what I could tell when I ate there, diners were French. I’ve responded to Dave’s comment above :)

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