El Sur Tapas brunch

GUEST REVIEW

We met up at El Sur at the Westin Mina Seyahi for a Spanish brunch. El Sur, meaning “The South”  is beautifully overlooking the garden and the ocean and you really get that southern vibe that we northern people love. With a backdrop of palmtrees and blue ocean you get a tapas brunch which is a set menu of selected small dishes, a chioce of seefood or chicken paella and dessert.

Have you ever heard of TAPAS? Who hasn’t right? Nobody ever thinks of Spanish food without tapas, but what are they really?

Traditionally they are small dishes served hot or cold and made to eat with your hands while you sip on a glass of wine. It can be as easy as a piece of bread smeared with tomatoes, a bunch of olives, fried potatoes, a slice of cheese or slices of spanish cured ham or small fried peppers.

At El Sur you get it all served up on a board and in small dishes for you to sample and share. The most important thing about tapas is to eat a bunch of different dishes, socialise and drink your wine. I think the concept includes a lot of talk too because in the mediterranean countries you just don’t eat in silence. If you want your dinner party to be lively and fun and full of conversation the best way to do it is to put a big plate of small dishes, cold cuts and finger food in front of the guests and you are done. The concept is easy and practised all over the world, but the mediterranean people have made an artform out of it, tapas, meze and anti pasti beeing the famous ones.

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Papas arrugadas (wrinkly potatoes) are originally from the Canary Islands. They are basically small or medium sized potatoes boiled in very salty water and left to boil until the skin is all wrinkly and salty. They are said to be boiled in seawater originally because both fresh water and salt were scarce, so if you can imagine how salty seawater is then you know how salty your boiling water should be. They are served with a red sauce called mojo rojo and a green sauce called mojo verde. The red sauce is made from red peppers and the green is made from green peppers.  The best way to eat them is to dip (dunk) your potatoe in the sauce and take big bites and enjoy. Or you can serve the potates and sauce with meat (mojo rojo) or fish (mojo verde). I think that this must be the origin of chips and dip for sure. Salty potatoes and something to dip it in!

One of the tapas you will always find in Spain is Croquetas, that is a ball of dough with ham or cheese that is deep fried. It’s origin is actually in France, but the Spanish have really taken it over. It is a savory simple little treat and everyone loves it. Almost like a tater tot. They should be small, savory and really crispy, but at El Sur they were huge balls and surprisingly sweet. It was so sweet that it didn’t fit in with the rest, but if you like sweet fritters then you’re good of course.

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At El Sur you get a choice of paella with chicken or seafood. Paella is simply described as rice cooked with vegetables, meat and saffron. The word paella is thought to come from the word used for ”pan”, that is the pan that it is cooked in. Paella can be cooked with chicken, seafood or a mix of it. It was the arabic Moors that introduced rice to Spain and the custom of eating rice as a family meal with vegetables and/or meat. But then the Spanish developed that into the paella many centruries later by adding saffron, rabbit, duck, snails and all kinds of seafood. Just as any Arabic or Iranian person knows, the best bit of rice is always the burnt crispy bit at the bottom. A really good paella should have a nice crispy crust of rice with saffron on the bottom of the pan, which means the paella has been  properly cooked in the pan that it is served in. At El Sur they kind of forgot that, there was no crust at the bottom I am sad to say.

If you want to experience a bit of Spain you can go to El Sur and try their dishes. The setting on the terrace is excellent for that medditerrainean vibe and the sangria is cold and easy to sip on hot days. Sangria is also a genious invention from Spain by the way. If you take wine that is not good to drink as it is, mix it with fruit, sugar, orange juice, water and ice, you will get a really nice summer drink. A drink that goes well with your tapas or just on it’s own and gives you the key to open the conversation.

I had a great time at El Sur. It was ofcourse due to the great company, the sunshine and the location but I have had better paella in Dubai. I still recommend that you go there because of the gorgeous view, Croquetas, wrinkly potatoes and free flowing sangria!

El Sur - The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Brunch at Todd English’s Olives.

View my food journey on Zomato!

The opportunity to explore Yas Island had presented itself recently. From teeing off at the crack of dawn at the Yas Links Golf club and splashing about at Yas Waterworld to a relaxing spa experience at the Crowne Plaza, my long weekend has been absolutely Yastastic!

I wanted to end it all on a high note before rejoining the rat race in Dubai. I wanted to dine at one of the best eating establishments in the capital. I wanted to have an experience that would transcend the boundaries of every fine dining experience of my life. I wanted to have a meal that would help us form memories that would last a lifetime.

There are many restaurants on the island and we did have the pleasure of dining at a couple of amazing places but unfortunately, none of the restaurants at Yas seemed to make the cut. We were after all, looking to have the best meal of our lives so we decided to go deeper into the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. The choices were endless and we were just about to toss a coin when one name jumped at us from the search results. I remembered watching reruns of the show ‘cooking under fire’ where Todd English was a judge. I was also familiar with the ‘Olives’ restaurant at Union Square in New York City. I did not dare to venture inside at the time but I did hear later that the restaurant shut down in 2015. Not only was this a chance to join the table of one of the most famous chefs in the world but also an occasion to redeem missed opportunities.

So in a heartbeat, our reservations for the brunch at Todd English’s Olives at the Venetian Village were done. Not exactly ‘in the vicinity’ but the drive down to the Ritz Carlton in Abu Dhabi from Yas Island was definitely worth taking.

We arrived at the venue after a 40-minute long drive from Yas. Just like the traditional sofas that were made modern by the size variation, the burnt orange seating and the dark mahogany ceiling set the tone for the meal. The entire brunch was a contemporary take on a classic Mediterranean menu. None of that stand in line with your plate in your hand business. This was a proper sit-down meal where the food came to you, just the way the best chefs in the world intended it to. We had arrived at the right place.

The charming staff explained the menu to us and ensured that all we needed to do to get their attention, was to look at them. They were discreet yet attentive. Never intrusive but always available. This was paradise for service junkies like me. They could have served instant noodles and I would have taken it down with a smile. I am not sure I remember the last time I experienced service like this in the UAE.

We were started off with cream of broccoli soup which was accompanied by herbed croutons and chili oil. If broccoli is your thing, you have got to try this soup to understand what it was all about. If however, broccoli is not your thing, you need to stop whatever you are doing right now and drive down to the Venetian Village at the Ritz Carlton in Abu Dhabi. This was the kind of soup that could change your life and make you see broccoli in a completely different light.  I don’t usually stuff my face with carbs at the start of a brunch. It makes me full and I have a hard time making it to the last round. The crusted softness of the bread drenched in chili oil was making my brain send only one message to my hands and eyes – EAT.

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The appetizers consisted of grilled shrimp salad, beef pepperoni flat-bread, sweet potato bravas and beef carpaccio. I have had carpaccio about 3 times in my life prior to this occasion. Besides the fascination with the fact that somebody had spent a lot of effort in slicing the beef paper thin before pounding it some more to get the desired thickness/texture, I never really understood the whole point of it. I mean why undertake such a production when you could simply toss a steak on a grill and eat six times the amount of meat in half the time? OK sorry, I may have come across as a bit uncultured there maybe all I needed was to eat at a restaurant like this where I could really get sold on the idea. The beef, which was drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, was resting on a Gorgonzola rosti cake. For those of you, who like me couldn’t make head or tails of this, let me explain further. Rosti cakes consist of coarsely grated, parboiled potatoes. Gorgonzola is one of the world’s oldest blue-veined cheeses which has a soft texture and a nutty aroma. The sauce in question here is made by adding this cheese to Parmesan, salt, pepper and parsley.  Now imagine a soft, grated potato cake drenched in this sauce before being veiled by a paper thin slice of beef covered in olive oil and lemon juice. There was also scallion aioli, more Parmesan, balsamic glazed onions and a bed of mix greens to divert your attention if all this awesomeness got too much for you to handle.

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Beef Carpaccio at Todd English’s Olives

Patatas bravas, also called patatas a la brava or papas bravas, is a dish native to Spain. It is often served as a tapa and was one of my staples in Barcelona and Ibiza simply because it was always served halal! The sweet potatoes were a good twist on this dish and they were given the Todd English treatment with the honey jalapeno dressing, avocado aioli and feta cheese. By the time I was done with this dish, a warning bell went off in my head as my stomach was nearing capacity and was dangerously close to not having any space for the main course. I still did try all the appetisers but the two I have described above were my favourite.

Sweet potato bravas as at Olives
Sweet Potato bravas at Todd English’s Olives

For the mains, we ordered a pan seared sea bass filet and slow braised short rib. The fish had a gorgeous sear and was covered in a lemon butter sauce. It was sitting on a bed of orzo pasta which had an uncanny resemblance to risotto. This pasta was dotted with tangy sundried tomatoes and on top of the fish rested a crown made of green squash. The short rib was unlike anything I have ever seen before and I have seen a lot of ribs. For starters, the bones had been removed. Not much of a rib, I thought. I changed my mind as soon as some of the meat went into my mouth. Remember, the phrase ‘fall off the bone’? In this case, the meat was so tender that it literally had fallen of the bone at some point. You could tell that a lot of effort had gone into this. These ribs had been cooked on a very low heat, for a very long time. I remember closing my eyes and gradually working my way through each strand of meat as I savoured every single bite. That would go on for a while before I would be interrupted by a change of texture courtesy of the candied carrots or the creamy, spring onion whipped potato.

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Slow braised rib at Todd English’s Olives

The drinks were bottomless and my personal favourite was the blackberry mojito, even though the passion fruit mojito was a tough contender. The assorted platter of desserts was really cute and should get full marks for presentation but let’s just say that the earlier courses had set the bar so high that it was hard to keep up.

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Overall, it was an amazing experience. Everything from the service to the food was top notch but the best thing about this brunch was the price. For 290++ with house beverages, this seemed like an absolute bargain. For 190++ you could also opt for the soft drinks package or for 390++, you could go for the bubbly.

Todd English's Olives Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato