For a midweek evening, VaKaVa Pan Latin Grill and Lounge at Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers certainly has a weekend feel about it. Brainchild of Mexican celebrity Chef Richard Sandoval, your tastebuds are in for an incredibly authentic culinary tour of Latin America. VaKaVa takes you on a journey from the ceviches of Peru and the street food of Mexico and Venezuela, to the famous grills of Brazil and Argentina – all combined with a complementary touch of Japanese nikkei and sushi influence.
In a dining concept that is designed to encourage sharing and connecting, VaKaVa combines unique flavours which can be found across the menu snacks, ceviches, tiraditos and tartars, sushi selection and salads, tacos, robata grills and desserts. The perfect way to try a little bit of everything.
The venue is a spectacular and extensive two-storey spot where we enjoy dining indoors under the warm and welcoming tones of dark mahogany, deep reds, burnt orange and teal décor, and later the ultimate evening under the stars at one of the best outdoor terrace spaces we have seen in Abu Dhabi! With beautiful views of the open water and a spirited Latin American soundtrack that just makes you want to get up and dance, there’s no need for anything else to get you in the mood for a wonderful evening ahead.
A combination of dishes roll out onto our intimate table for two. First the spectacle that is the Smoked Guacamole; it is deliciously creamy, with just the right amount of seasoning, and the side of lightly salted nacho chips make the perfect dipping companion. Next comes a sweep of delightful sharing starters; a refreshing Scallop Tiradito (Tiradito is a Peruvian take on sashimi, with a spicy citrus sauce) topped lovingly with delicately sliced asparagus, thinly sliced red chilli and sprigs of seaweed. Alongside it comes the equally delicious Avocado Tiradito topped with cucumber, yuzu, soy sauce, virgin olive oil caviar and cilantro.
Next, an uplifting Beetroot Salad and a beautifully presented pair of Al Pastor Zucchini Tacos join our feast. Served on a bed of avocado espuma, shaved red onion, grilled pineapple and cilantro, these mouth-wateringly tasty vegan tacos are well worth returning for.
As we continue to resist the urge to dance to the South American rhythms, our feast continues. Butterfish Anticucho which are seared to perfection and served skewered on a bed of chimichurri. Lit up by accompanied lightly piquant chimichurri sauce, one of the main highlights is the basket of Corn Empanadas – a warm and crispy crust stuffed with a delicious combination of sweetcorn, aji and manchego cheese.
We are also pleasantly surprised by the Pan Seared Salmon, which is served with achiote ponzu, cauliflower puree, bock choy and mushrooms. Accompanying our protein, a generously-sized Kale Salad which encompasses fresh, crunchy kale leaves, orange white balsamic vinaigrette, heirloom tomatoes, Spanish manchego cheese and ruby red pomegranate jewels. We also tuck into some of the Grilled Avocado served with fragrant corn pico de gallo.
Something entirely new to our palette are the Cachapas, an indulgent Venezuelan sweetcorn pancake bursting with halloumi cheese and sour cream; its rich flavour and fluffy texture is perfectly complemented by the coolness of the salsa served alongside it. This is – without a doubt – the star of the show.
Despite a pleasantly full stomach, I simply cannot resist ending on a sweet note. While we certainly enjoy the moist, rose-infused Red Velvet Tres Leches, VakaVa’s dessert menu has us at Churro. Homemade Churros, dulce de leche sauce and goats cheese ice-cream bring so much contentment for our meal finale.
To conclude, VaKaVa is everything (and more) you would expect from a Pan- Latin American restaurant, and uber trendy without being over-the-top. From the food to the ambience, to the inherently welcoming and attentive restaurant team, it is the closest you will get to an authentic taste of Latin America in the capital.
Smoked Guacamole, AED 60
Scallop Tiradito, AED 80
Avocado Tiradito, AED 60
Beetroot Salad, AED 55
Al Pastor Zucchini Tacos, AED 50
Butterfish Anticucho, AED 75
Corn Empanada, AED 65
Pan Seared Salmon, AED 140
Kale Salad, AED 55
Grilled Avocado, AED 40
Cachapas, AED 65
Red Velvet Tres Leches, AED 55
Churros, AED 55
VaKava, Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers, +971 2 811 5666