Although Hubs would think differently, it’s been awhile since we’ve gone to DIFC. It’s not a ‘go to’ destination for me (even with all the fantastic restaurants). Furthermore, I can’t think of the last time I had Peruvian food. So, it was with anticipation and a dash of optimism that we went to Totora Cebicheria Peruana. Upon arrival (a quiet night at DIFC as we visited on the Thursday of Eid Al-Adha), we were warmly greeted and shown to our table. Most unfortunately, during our meal, we were the only diners in this stunning location (this seemed to be a weird theme during the day — we’d had an accidental private beach experience at the One & Only in the morning).
So, who exactly is Totora? In their own words…
The inspiration for our venue’s name comes from a versatile plant that inspired the imagination of a young man. He first saw this robust plant featured in an edition of the National Geographic. People from the mid-coast region of Peru dry out and weave the reeds to build ‘Caballitos de Totora’, small canoe-like vessels used mainly for fishing expeditions. This eventually translated into an ambition to discover and experience the rich culture of Peruvian life and gastronomy. From the simple yet rugged origins of the Totora plant to its inspirational uses in everyday life, we employ this iconic material to showcase our passion and creativity for a fresh and authentically unique Peruvian experience.
I’m not sure if I ‘got’ this vibe inside, but the interior is one of my favorite in the city — it’s very modern, with dynamic lighting and hip seating. Props to the nicely blended two levels, including a sophisticated upstairs dining room and the too cool for school lounge downstairs.
Another one of the elements that made this an exceptional evening was our waitress, Star, who was one of the best service staff I’ve encountered in Dubai. Full stop. She was warm, engaging and highly knowledgeable about the cuisine. (The closest experience I’ve had to this dynamic level was Intersect or the team at Weslodge). Walking us through the menu, we went over the selections. I never felt rushed or pressured.
With small plates to share, we started the evening with two of the ceviches — mainly the Cebiches Mixto (Sea bass, octopus, shrimps, Leche de tigre choclo and chulpi corn) and the Cebiches Nikkei (Tuna, avocado with Nikkei soya sauce). Reasonably priced at AED65 and AED50, these two appetizers were a perfect start. Hubs was all but licking the plate for the Mixto and declared it one of his ‘lifetime’ dishes (take that to mean whatever you think it means — I’m still not sure and I’ve been with him for 15 years). The serving was a perfect size for two, but could also probably be stretched to three people. Even as someone who is a bit of a wimp when it comes to heat, I’d say the level of spice in both dishes was just perfect and I wouldn’t hesitate to order either of these starters again. If there was any note, it would be to also provide chopsticks with the serving, but that is a minor suggestion.
We also ordered the Empanadas (Beef, aji panca, chimichurri sauce). At AED35, this was a perfect marriage of heat, savory, and a tasty chimichurri.
For mains, the lamb (braised for 36 hours) seemed the most interesting. Officially, Seco de Cordero (Chica de jora braised lamb leg, aji panca, aji amarillo, chifle Peruvian squash), I was surprised when said lamb was quite dry. The consistency was that of shredded lamb, but even the squash puree (a nice blend of savory and sweet) couldn’t save the dish for me. With the larger plate, we also ordered a Solterito salad (Plum tomato, halloumi cheese, black olive, choclo corn, chulpi corn, potato, rocket leaves). Given the cheese and other ingredients, I really expected to like this dish, but it wasn’t for me. There wasn’t enough brightness in the dish (maybe a hit of lime?), but Hubs claimed it was one of the best salads he’d ever eaten. Still feeling a little peckish, at Star’s suggestion, we placed an order for Quinotto (White quinoa, portobello mushrooms, aji amarillo, white wine, parmesan cheese, black truffle oil). This vegetarian dish was a little bit of heaven, and I wouldn’t hesitate to order it again. Even though the lamb and salad weren’t a match for me, I would still give points for presentation — everything that came out of the kitchen was immaculate.
And what’s a meal without a drink? As Totora finally has their alcohol license, I was delighted to be able to try some cocktails off the extensive menu. Of course, I wasn’t going to leave without a Pisco Sour (with multiple varieties on offer, I chose the Amazing Amazonas (Corriander and olive infused La Carvedo Pisco quebranta, falernum, lime juice, egg white, and bitters). Hubs enjoyed (what else?) an Old Fashioned. We then decided to change things up as Star recommended the totally Instagram-worthy Pablo Pis-cola (complete with fake 100USD). I decided on the Lima Colada (Coconut rum, avocado, quinoa milk, pineapple juice, lemon). Of the two, I would order both again, although in a future visit, I would most likely sample something else off the cocktail list.
For dessert (well, we were on a staycation after all), we had not one or two, but three desserts (and I’m so glad we did). Honestly, you’ll want to leave plenty of room for any of the choices. In fact, let me warn you that you NEED to leave room for these sweets. We sampled the Tres Leches (Sponge cake, evaporated and condensed milk, whipping cream, berries), the Lucuma Andean Cereals (Lucuma mousse, Quinoa, sesame, linseed, chocolate pisco sauce) and the chulpi corn ice cream. While I never thought in my life I would want or enjoy corn ice cream, I can honestly say it was absolutely lovely! The Tres Leches was a perfect bite of summer (light, sweet and incredibly moreish) and the Cereals had a not too sweet chocolate sauce to go with the nice crunch.
We have a friend who lived in South America for some time (and knows his way around the kitchen) and after telling him about Totora the following day, we are already making plans for a return visit.
Having looked at corresponding costs throughout the evening, I think Totora is spot on for their pricing — the value for what you receive definitely seems to be in place. (Bonus, their sparkling water is good old Pellegrino).
Do you have a favorite Peruvian dish? Will you be checking out the latest addition to The Gate Village?
A to Za’atar was a guest of Totora Cebicheria Peruana. Opinions are my own, just ask my husband.