When I wrote this review of Toro Toro a year ago, the response from readers was incredible.
Yet, there was almost complete radio silence from the restaurant itself. Not that I expected it from a blogger point of view – That would be arrogant.
But from a customer service point of view, as someone who spent a lot of money and had a genuinely disappointing evening and had told people about it. A call would have been nice.
It was genuinely disappointing for me. I have been a fan of its founder Richard Sandoval for many years. I loved the dearly departed Mexican venue Pampano at The Pearl (now replaced by Tex Mex Isla, a darling of the blogger brigade which makes me a more than leary).
Since then, relations had been frosty.
Until two weeks ago, when a rather interesting email landed in my inbox. Inviting me (and Rachel B who figured prominently in the first encounter) back for a second chance.
Friends and fellow bloggers whose opinions I respect had told me their brunch was excellent. Their food and attitude had changed they told me. I should give it another go.
It was time to see for ourselves. Rachel B was keen for a repeat. We were both game so last Monday saw us tottering through the bull-lined entrance for another encounter.
The space itself is still one of the sexiest in Doha – all warm lights and dark leather – the stuff date nights are made of. The cocktail cart is also still a fixture – this was a highlight of the previous visit. I can also report the prices, especially for the meat dishes, are still a little steep. But things had clearly changed.
The differences were evident from the start. This time, our welcome was warm. The bread was complimentary. And the food…well…with a couple of exceptions, it was excellent (and you know how hard that was for me to say).
Last visit it was the starters that shone through. And this hasn’t changed. For me, Peruvian cuisine, with a food in both Asia via Japan and South American, is one of the most interesting culinary scenes in the world. For every meat and potato dish, there is a delicate ceviche or sushi roll.
Speaking of which, Toto Toro’s sushi rolls like the crispy prawn version we tried are tasty and do the job, but for me the interest lies elsewhere in the new look menu.
Two types of ceviche prove the current culinary team know what they are doing. The standout was the sea bass marinated with traditional Leche de Tigre (Tiger’s Milk) and canchas. The canchas are a type of Peruvian corn, and add a surprising textural crunch to the softness of the fish. The Tiger’s Milk (essentially lime juice and chilis) “cooks” the fish. It was light and tangy. A version with a curry sauce also proved a surprising hit. The creaminess of the curry literally taking you around the world via India in one bite.
Their signature empanadas remain flaky and buttery and stuffed with sautéed beef tenderloin served with avocado sauce are hearty yet also delicate. Rachel B really enjoyed a flatbread with pulled Wagyu beef, I found this a little wanting in the flavor department.
But this is perhaps because I knew what was coming. Hailing from the culinary wonderland that is Venezuela, chachapas are, for me, food of the Gods. These sweetcorn pancakes filled with Halloumi cheese and topped with homemade tomato jam manage to be both sweet and savory. They had me ready to pack my bags and go in search of Venezuelan awesomeness and fried cheese perfection.
I have to be honest, these pancakes alone would lure me back and currently sit in the pantheon of my top five dishes of 2016.
A serving with empanadas, a couple of cocktails and my AZ, that would be a perfect evening. We also tried the same pancakes filled with shredded beef and topped with sour cream – which added a richness which was off the scale.
A spicy Peruvian style calamari dish with potato salad held much promise but was let down by the texture of the squid. I always find our eight legged friend hit and miss in this country. It perhaps wasn’t the best dish to introduce Rachel B to calamari. The spicing was on point but the texture was off.
The main event could only be one thing – meat. We were presented with a pretty magnificent grade 7-8 Australian Wagyu. It was the right side of medium rare for me and the meat itself was treated with respect. Well seasoned and cooked, it was served with just some sliced fried potatoes, letting the meat shine.
Served with a selection of sauces including chimichurri and BBQ, it really wasn’t needed. A potato puree with manchego cheese was the perfect rich accompaniment.
Meanwhile, dessert beckoned. And here the surprises continued.
A piece of greaseproof paper placed on the table was followed by he waiter throwing a globe of chocolate down. The mess is then topped with home made ice creams (the chocolate version even tempted me) and fresh fruit and fruit compotes. Unconventional yes. Fun? Very.
This dish, more than any other we tried that night, symbolized for me the evolution of this restaurant.
When I told friends I was returning to Toro Toro, I was asked if perhaps I had experienced a bad night the first time around. No, that wasn’t it. Aside from the issues surrounding service and food, at the time I couldn’t put my finger on it.
By the end of our extensive meal last week, the penny finally dropped. Our first visit 14 some months ago saw a restaurant almost trying too hard to be hipper than any bearded hipster on the block. Taking itself far too seriously, it was in danger of disappearing within its own self-created myths.
Now, with a new menu and a new spirit both back and front of house, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. One year ago, it had a gorgeous dining room and a stunning location but no actual soul. Now it has service with personality, an extensive menu with some truly great dishes cooked by a team who cares about their craft, and most importantly, a sense of fun.
Cheers to that Toro Toro – you have a new fan.
Marsa Malasz Kempinksi – The Pearl Doha
Ph: +974 4035 5101
*Yep, Life on the Wedge and her trusty sidekick Rachel B were the guests of Toro Toro (we didn’t pay). I can honestly say, that despite their charming hospitality, the view expressed here are my own (and Rachel B’s).I was a little hesitant and worried that people would think that my views changed because I didn’t pay this time. I don’t think it influenced my opinion of what is largely excellent food. On balance I would return and pay without hesitation.