Hola Hola Toro Toro brunch, Grosvenor House

By Karen Pasquali Jones

Best for meat lovers

With a name like Hola Hola, a celebrity chef behind the menu and a restaurant in the glitzy Grosvenor House, how could I have resisted a Toro Toro brunch? Located on the waterfront, tucked around the side of the hotel, I didn’t need directions – I just had to follow the gorgeous scent of Latino-style cooking.

The Hola Hola brunch is billed as Latin American hospitality and dining at its best, and it lives up to the hype – and then some. Walking into the uber chic and cosy eaterie – it’s all dark wood, with a giant floor-to-ceiling fireplace and two bull sculptures – just a few moments after brunch began I was surprised to see it was already packed. Luckily we’d booked and our waitress led us to a table right by the window so we could watch the glamorous people in their yachts glide by.

But our attention was soon diverted to things closer at hand: we were each given the set à la carte menu along with two coloured coasters. Green meant ‘keep the food coming’ and red ‘I’m having a rest’, or at least that’s the gist, not the exact translation as it was written in what I presume to be Spanish.

Already flipping their coasters, I could tell the children were going to have fun with this – and we all bet my husband could eat all the meat this establishment had to offer. His large carnivorous appetite is legendary among our family and friends and this was going to be a challenge he, if not his waistline, would love. But before the churrasco grill, bursting with South American flavours, could get going we had to try the starters.

You expect a Pan Latin restaurant to offer tortilla chips and guacamole, but there is guacamole and then there is Toro Toro guacamole: smooth, velvety, with a tiny kick, this was the finest mashed avocado I’ve ever tasted. I ladled lashings on my plate, then dipped in the chips. The children copied, before diving into seafood ceviche, and a first for me, a quinoa tabouli, which was delicious.

There was every type of salad you could think of available, along with the children’s favourite, yuca fries and crispy calamari. My husband loved the salmon flatbread with hot horseradish, while I couldn’t get enough of the zucchini flower empanadas, which reminded me of an Italian dish, but instead of being fried in batter they were encased in melt-in-the-mouth flaky pastry. With each bite, cheese and roasted corn Poblano chilli oozed out. Delicious! To be honest, once I’d devoured them, I was full and so used my red coaster to let the waiters know, but the carnivores 
of the family remained on green.

They dined on empanadas, beef-stuffed pastries and I was worried they wouldn’t have room for the grill. But they were on a roll and we soon became the favoured table for the passadors – the waiters serving the grilled lamb, chicken and beef from skewers. “Tender,’ my husband murmured after a mouthful of lamb. “Yum,” he muttered, tasting the achiote-marinated chicken.

My five-year-old daughter didn’t say anything, she was too busy eating her Brazilian-style Pichana steak. She let her green coaster do the talking, and went for another helping. My husband joined her, oohing and aahing over each skilfully cooked morsel. My son and I watched them with a grin, knowing that we’d saved enough room for the grand finale: dessert.

Sadly, the carnivores were too full so we ate extra large portions of banana pudding with ice cream before turning everyone’s coasters to red. Finally, we were completo. 

Details: The Hola Hola Toro Toro Friday brunch is available from 12.30pm-4pm every Friday from Dh300-Dh400 depending on chosen package. 04 399 8888

La Parrilla, Jumeirah Beach Hotel

By Tabitha Barda

Best for a taste of Latin passion

Brunches used to be all about quantity. Those mountains of meat, forests of salad and fountains of chocolate are both awe-inspiring and overwhelming, and impossible to resist. But the Dubai brunch scene has grown up a bit in recent years.

More and more places are swapping excess for the less-is-more mantra and, while the epic buffet brunch spread will always have a time and a place, I was delighted to hear that the bulk of La Parrilla’s offering is served à la carte.

This makes for a generally more sophisticated experience, which feels more like having a slap-up meal with friends in a top-class restaurant than the delirium of your average Friday brunch.

Located on the 25th floor, La Parrilla boasts stunning sea views all the way around, a large outdoor terrace with views of both the Burj Al Arab and the downtown skyline, and a light and airy atmosphere – all cow-hide chairs and crisp white table cloths. Waited on by slickly turned out staff with impeccable timing and comprehensive menu knowledge, it’s clear from the moment you sit down that everything about this place is a cut above the norm.

But elegant as it is, it’s also a lot of fun. A live Latin American band lends a festive vibe, enhanced by the pair of professional Tango dancers weaving around the tables.

Gliding past the dancers to head to the buffet-style start section, I tucked into the large cold seafood selection and piled my plate with some of the fascinating salady combinations, which included blue cheese foam with strawberries and mushrooms, manchego cream with grilled peach and apple, and tuna carpaccio with red peppercorns. This was accompanied by limitless hot tapas brought to the table, featuring deliciously spicy Spanish tortilla, indulgent cheese croquettes, succulent tangy octopus, and creamy crab gazpacho.

While I could have gone on munching on tapas indefinitely, it was the platos principales where La Parrilla really stood out for me. Each diner may choose one main course, opting from a selection that includes various vegetarian and seafood possibilities, as well as many meaty Argentinian mains.

Now I’m used to enjoying brunch food, but I’m not accustomed to experiencing the gastronomic bliss that my main of sea bass with coconut rice and caper sauce induced in me. The reduced quantity of the à la carte set-up is made up for tenfold by the quality and complexity of the dishes, and this was echelons above what I would usually be more than happy with at a brunch.

However, with a name like La Parrilla (meaning ‘the grill’ in Spanish) it’s the Argentinian beef that is the main event for the more carnivorously inclined. Huge slabs of beautifully charred fire-roasted steak, slicing like butter to reveal a tender pink middle, had the meat-eaters on my table in raptures. All this came accompanied by endless sides of steakhouse fries, truffled mashed potato and various vegetables – there’s no risk of going hungry 

It was around this time that the band got into full swing, and the Tango dancers began picking people out of the crowd to join them on the dancefloor. Diners can be as involved or uninvolved as they wish, and the audience participation made for some hilarious moments.

But if you aren’t strutting your stuff on the dancefloor, this is the time to enjoy the delicious selection of desserts and cheeses, also laid out buffet style – chocolate fountain and all – and, while the quantity is again limited by comparison with the usual selection at brunches of this price point, the quality is streets ahead.

As the brunch wound down we finished off our drinks outside on the beautiful terrace with lots of Argentinian food in our bellies and Latin American rhythm still ringing in our ears. It might not have quite the same decadent excess of the most opulent buffet brunches, but the quality made it hundreds of times more memorable. I’d be back in a samba beat.

Details: From 12.30pm-15.30pm, Dh425-Dh625 per person, call 04 406 8999 or email JBHboxoffice@jumeirah.com

Seafire Steakhouse, Atlantis, The Palm

By Karen Pasquali Jones

Best for sophisticated splendour

A steakhouse isn’t the usual choice of restaurant for a strict vegetarian. But then my husband and little girl are rampant carnivores and my son (a pescatarian) and I are huge fans of Atlantis. So, after checking out the menu, which was vast and varied enough for all our tastes, we happily agreed to head to the five-star hotel’s newest brunch. And it certainly didn’t disappoint.

The atmosphere is smart, sophisticated, and yet family-friendly. “Can I have steak?” my five-year-old daughter asked and I nodded. “But first you have to eat some salad,” I told her, to which she pulled a face.

She was happy enough to come and look at the starters though, but only wanted to try the fois gras at the station. “Mmm, yummy,” she announced, spreading it clumsily on to slices of bread.

My husband soon followed suit, while I had trouble stopping my sweet-toothed son from going straight for the desserts. “But look they’re all so delicious,” he cried, eyeing a giant berry trifle, peach melba and literal vat of bread-and-butter pudding. (This is not a place to come if you’re watching your weight as the superior sweet section just begs for super-size portions.)

I dragged him back to our table with the promise of juicy prawns being cooked to order in a theatrical kitchen behind us, and the threat that I would dance to the band if he didn’t do as I said. “Noooo,’ he squealed, rushing to his seat while I tapped my fingers along to the hit tunes. Peace reigning at our table, I went and helped myself to the chickpea salad, creamy hummus and melt-in-the-mouth mozzarella and tomato salad. Four empty plates later we were ready to order our mains.

They are à la carte here and designed for sharing, which was perfect. The carnivorous side of the family ordered fillets of Seafire’s own brand of ‘Certified Atlantis’ beef from Australia, while my son ate a selection of seafood and I dined on mushroom risotto, which was delicious.

Side dishes included the most divine mashed potato – I kept sneaking extra spoons while my family watched the band – and perfectly cooked veg. I hate it when greens are too mushy. Luckily the band was still playing because we were all too busy eating to talk.

“I’m full,” my husband declared, but after a rest my children and I treated ourselves to something sweet. The desserts tasted as amazing as they looked and it would have been rude not to sample a few. “For research and the review,” I insisted as my husband raised an eyebrow at my fourth trip to the sweet station.

But we all left impressed. The food was simple but expertly cooked, and it lived up to the setting: sophisticated. It’s another reason to visit Atlantis very soon.

Details: 12.30pm-4pm, Dh485 per person. 04 426 2626, restaurantreservations@atlantisthepalm.com

Calabar, The Address Downtown

By Tabitha Barda 

Best for easygoing eating

This chic yet laid-back spot in The Address Downtown has everything you could want for a chilled-out Friday brunch. In the shadow of the Burj Khalifa, the outdoor terrace has amazing views of the tower and the Dubai dancing fountains (which you can also appreciate from inside when the weather is sticky), while the huge rounded dark wood bar, mood lighting, curved sofa seating and bar stools indoors make for a very upmarket atmosphere. Well, with a name like the S&S brunch (standing for suave and sophisticated) you wouldn’t expect anything less.

This is the grown-up’s version of the well-loved Fazaris brunch, whose international selection of sushi, salad, curries and Continental mains is also open to Calabar brunchers and runs concurrently next door. But children aren’t allowed in Calabar and I felt a slight VIP air of exclusivity as I swanned between the two dining sections – Fazaris is open to all, but entry to Calabar is granted only to adults wearing a special wrist band. But aside from the elegant vibe and good views, there are a whole lot of bonuses to brunching at Calabar.

The vast bar is stacked with ice chips, frosted glasses and herbs, berries and citrus fruits of every variety, which can be muddled into the refreshing concoction of your choice by any one of the eager bar staff. The Tex Mex stand offers up crunchy tortillas, tongue-tingling salsa and fresh guacamole, while the ceviche station glistens with shot glasses filled with chopped chilli-infused citrusy tuna, salmon, sea bass and more. I served myself a little of everything and created the fajita of my dreams.

A display of deli cold cuts and a stand dedicated to oysters of all shapes and sizes added to the gourmet feel, while meat-eaters loved the barbecue outside, where swathes of artisan sausages sizzled to order.

I am a big cheese fan, and the fromage selection was epic, with beautifully ripe soft, hard and blue cheeses from all corners of the globe.

For the sweet finale it was back into Fazaris, where the entire room dedicated to desserts felt like something out of Alice in Wonderland. A giant cupcake held hundreds of mini cupcakes iced all colours of the rainbow, great glass cylinders groaned under the weight of thousands of chocolate buttons in milk, dark and white varieties, cheesecakes of every imaginable variety were temptingly moist and delicious, while an ice cream and fresly prepared crêpe stand were the cherry on the top. We took our spoils back into the cool and calm surrounds of Calabar and tucked in.

While I loved the fabulous Fazaris fare and it’s great for large groups and families with children, the relaxed, refined atmosphere and gourmet food selection of Calabar makes it the perfect setting for couples, a ladies’ lunch out or grown up family gatherings. For a sophisticated Friday, it’s the best of both worlds.

Details: 12pm-4pm, from Dh290-Dh425, call 04 888 3444 or email dine@theaddress.com. 

Jazz Friday Brunch, Movenpick, Jumeirah Beach Resort

By Karen Pasquali Jones 

Best for music lovers

It was the perfect guessing game to play with the children. “What goes perfectly with pizza, pasta and sushi?” More clues followed: it was elegant, fun, went well with meat, tandoori and mums and dads loved it. My daughter thought it was tomato ketchup while my son gave up after insisting it was an iPad. “Of course not, silly,” I chastised him. “It’s jazz.”

It didn’t mean anything to my Justin Bieber-loving little ones, but they soon understood when we entered the Talk restaurant at the Movenpick along The Walk, JBR. There, along with live cooking stations galore, a walk-in mirrored cheese room and the elegant diners was a guitarist, Harry Austin, and saxophonist, Matt West. I automatically think of 1980s pop band Duran Duran when I hear a sax solo (anyone remember Rio?) but Matt was far more sophisticated, even though he did play songs that my children could hum along to. It set the scene perfectly, it was chic and discerning. So yes, there was a salad bar and live cooking stations but these were creating dishes that looked like they’d come out of a Michelin-starred restaurant not a brunch buffet.

There were miniature caprese no bigger than thumb nails sitting alongside fresh oysters, and chefs from around the world cooked up speciality dishes that could grace the tables of Dubai’s finest Indian, Italian and seafood eateries.

My children ate nachos with guacamole as good as anything they’d tasted in Mexico, and my husband became a regular fixture at the seafood station, feasting on giant prawns, calamari and fish, all cooked to order. I tried pasta – which was al dente with a delicious freshly made pomodoro sauce and the children tucked into pizza and chunky fries.

Our table was by the window, with a great view of the jazz duo and the huge terrace, which housed the kids’ club. It was hard work trying to keep our children inside, and eventually we gave in and let them play. There is an entire children’s buffet available and the activities are all supervised by staff. My daughter
 had her face painted, while my son played computer games with newly made friends.

It meant we could listen to the music, go back for seconds and then investigate the dessert station and swanky cheese room – it looks like a nightclub with its mirrored walls. I piled a plate up with my favourite cheeses: French brie and creamy Camembert, Italian dolcelatte and English stilton, along with giant ruby grapes, crackers and slices of fresh bread. “We can share,” I smiled to my husband. But it was all too delicious and I soon devoured most of it, leaving him with just the crumbs. He didn’t mind. He was too busy enjoying an espresso – made exactly like he has it in his native Italy – while listening to the music.

It was a fitting end to a perfect brunch. The food is glorious, the setting serene and the jazz music in the background hits just the right note.

Details: Every Friday from 12.30 pm to 4.00pm. From Dh250-Dh350 per person. Email talk.jumeirahbeach@moevenpick.com or call 04 449 8888