New brunch at: Dubai’s Tortuga

Tortuga restaurant at Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai. Courtesy Madinat Jumeirah
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The location

Tucked away on the lower level of Mina A’Salam on the banks of Madinat Jumeirah’s man made waterways, the venue will make a great place to while away a Friday afternoon and watch the abras glide by in the cooler months. It was still a little warm for that during our August visit, but the cosy rustic interior with dashes of Central American colour is still a perfectly pleasant place to be when the mercury’s too high.

The atmosphere

This new brunch only launched this month, and this, combined with the summer heat, meant it was fairly quiet on our visit. This wasn’t a problem though. We weren’t really looking for a hectic brunch, and the service was impeccable, perhaps in part helped by the relative lack of customers.

A band in one corner of the bar swayed their way through Latin American classics (Guantanamera, though actually Cuban, naturally had an outing), but at an unobtrusive volume that still allowed conversation with your dining companions, which suited this reviewer far more than the high-decibel, thumping pop anthems of some Friday brunches.

The food

I had visited Tortuga once previously, on the recommendation of a legendary Canadian actor who suggested I interview him there during last year’s Dubai International Film Festival. and was so impressed by the crispy chicken dorados on that occasion I’d promised it wouldn’t be my last visit, so when the opportunity to check out the new brunch arose my name was first on the list.

I’m pleased to say the dorados were still in attendance, alongside a host of other Mexican classics. Tortilla soup was a new one on me, and was creamy and delicately spiced. There was a ceviche station for those with a penchant for raw fish, and a selection of tacos, tortillas, enchiladas and fajitas with every filling you could wish for meant it was a perfectly viable option to just nibble away tapas-style over the course of the afternoon.

Main courses were on offer too for the super hungry. I sampled a bite-size portion of chicken abodado in the interest of research, and on a day when I wasn’t faced with a mouthwatering selection of tacos would definitely have eaten more. For me though, Mexican food is all about things stuffed or wrapped inside crispy corn or bread, so that was where I focused my efforts. My dining companion took a more traditional main course approach, and was suitably impressed with a moist, fresh red snapper fillet in a light chilli sauce from the grill.

The desert selection wasn’t huge — traditional churros, tres leches and a fruit flan — but this was more than compensated for by a vast cheese selection — the creamy garlic roulade almost rivalled the dorados.

Who’s it best for

In its current format, the brunch is best for couples, or small groups of friends looking for a pleasant meal out. No kids’ corner means families may find small impatient people becoming a challenge over the course of three and a half hours, while larger groups and parties would probably want to opt for one of the many lively, cavernous options available.

This could yet change though. From November, the brunch is set to team up with the soon-to-reopen Al Muna restaurant nearby to offer a larger scale Mina A’Salam brunch, and the reopening of the outside terraces will further increase the scale of things when the weather cools down.

For now though, Tortuga offers that rare find of a quality brunch with plenty of great food, which remains intimate enough to actually enjoy conversation with your companions, which suited us perfectly.

The verdict

Definitely one to try. I’ve often been underwhelmed by the Mexican food I’ve tried in Dubai. Tortuga is perhaps helped out here by the fact that both chef-patron Oscar Rito and our server, Ana, are actually Mexican. Ana explained that the dishes on offer here are closer to traditional Mexican home cooking than the international interpretations available elsewhere. If that’s the case I’ll be looking for an invite to a Mexican home for my next holiday.

Tortuga's brunch costs Dh265 per person with soft drinks every Friday from 12:30pm until 4pm. For reservations, call 04 366 6730.