El Sur is a causal space where staff are friendly and jovial and unafraid to provide recommendations. During the lunchtime that FACT’s David Tapley visits, there is a distinct buzz on the terrace, as families gather over large dishes of paella and bountiful Spanish cheese boards. Get ready for a lesson in Spanish cuisine 101…
In recent years, the Dubai food scene has followed the trend for Peruvian cuisine which has now subsided in favour of Greek restaurants which seem to be opening at an alarming rate throughout the city. It’s a shame that Spanish cuisine is so often overlooked in favour of other Mediterranean choices, but with such a reliance on differing meat products it’s easy to see why Spanish food has often been a difficult sell in the region.
Thankfully, we have restaurants like El Sur to appease our appetite for chorizo, Spanish tortilla and (of course) paella. Located just off the lobby of The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort, El Sur’s interior offers a compact space that has been uplifted thanks to the clever use of mirrors and a living wall of verdant foliage, in an area that is also home to a rather well-stocked bar. Passing a free-standing sculpture of a bull waving a red flag created from tangled wires, we make a beeline for the outside terrace.
Wrapping around a portion of the hotel’s external façade, the terrace is a pleasant space of simple wooden furnishings and a pagoda-style ceiling strung with dozens of filament lightbulbs. A peek through the palm leaves offers diners superb views of the azure Arabian Gulf waters and the manmade marvel that is the Palm Jumeirah.
El Sur is obviously a popular spot that has attracted what appears to be a loyal following of regular patrons. A simple one-page menu presents the expected tapas favourites, including Iberian ham with brushed tomato bread, marinated olives and patatas bravas. We however are feeling much more ambitious and with El Sur’s premise revolving around traditional tapas with a contemporary twist, we fully embrace the sharing small plates and order a number of dishes. Beginning with the avocado cannelloni with marinated tuna and gazpacho jelly (AED79) the dish is rather ambitious and comprises of what is essentially a tuna tartare wrapped in layers of cool avocado. The tuna is nicely seasoned and the avocado brings an undeniable textural element but we’re left uncertain regarding the gazpacho jelly. The seabass ceviche (AED79) is another interesting choice, topped with passion fruit and accompanied by a raspberry sauce that adds vibrancy in terms of both visual and flavour.
Despite the modern approach to Spanish cuisine, we actually favour the more rustic dishes that really help to emphasise the feel of a trattoria that El Sur so freely promotes. The Iberian charcuterie selection (AED79) showcases salchichon, lomo, jamon and chorizo and is an absolute delight, especially when paired with a glass of grape. The fiery patatas bravas (AED57) remind us of summer trips to Barcelona where we spent many hours strolling along Las Ramblas and visiting the La Boqueria food market.
The paella though is the main draw and we would estimate the majority of our fellow diners ordered the popular rice dish that comes in five variations – chicken, vegetarian, mixed, seafood and negra (black). Following the lead of an adjacent table, we opt for the seafood paella which the staff are proud to inform us is “the best in Dubai.” Adorned with large prawns and mussels, the preparation process is almost ritualistic with the large paella dish brought to the table where it is ‘scratched’ prior to serving. This elaborate process enables the caramelised rice found at the bottom of the pan to come to the forefront of what transpires to be a spectacular and flavoursome dish.
We may have overindulged in the savoury courses but this doesn’t stop us ordering a bag of churros to round out the meal. In our experience, good quality churros are difficult to come by and we’re often disappointed by an overly greasy and soggy dough. The churros at El Sur are made to order, meaning they arrive to the table piping hot and accompanied by lashings of chocolate sauce. With a crisp exterior and a soft interior the Spanish fiesta flair of this dessert is certainly present. With so few Spanish dining options in the city and the region, El Sur specialises in a cuisine that is so often overlooked. With a wonderful terrace, a pleasant atmosphere and a collection of rustic and memorable dishes, El Sur should be on your list next time you’re in need of tantalising tapas! ✤