The venue Located in the popular Gate Village at DIFC, this contemporary Peruvian restaurant lounge and bar is a funky expression of South American sophistication. The upper-level restaurant has table seating for more formal dining while the lower level casually welcomes patrons to sit at the bar or find a couch to tuck into some delicious sharing plates while the DJ spins tracks.
The design An unlikely muse, the restaurant’s design concept was inspired by the robust totora plant, a native species to South America. When restaurant investor Ali Sidani saw the shrub featured on an episode of National Geographic, the seed of an idea was planted. This eventually translated into an ambition to learn about the rich culture and gastronomy of Peru. Sidani travelled to South America and discovered that the people of the mid-coast region of Peru have used totora plants to build caballitos de totora – small canoe-like fishing vessels – for 3,000 years. Integrating many cultural elements from his travels, Sidani collaborated with award-winning Mena-based architect Fadi Sarieddine to create an abstract Peruvian dining experience. Utilising Peruvian native materials and emulating the country’s topography, Sarieddine creates a traditional Peruvian ambience.
On arriving at the restaurant, the first reference to Peruvian heritage is when you cross the hanging rope bridge, symbolic of Peru’s last standing Incan bridge. The venue is set out over two floors, hinting at Peru’s cascading valleys, with the downstairs Lima Lounge purposefully designed to feel like a secret hangout. Abstract carvings of the caballitos behind the bar evoke the namesake of the restaurant, surrounded by carved-out seating areas reinforcing the feel of the terraced foothills in Machu Picchu.
The experience Stepping in from the bright and modern environs of DIFC, the decor at Totora has an immediate impact, and the authentic flavours are just as transporting. A classic starter of Peruvian cuisine, ceviche – a refreshing seafood dish in citrus marinade – has several variations, but we indulged in two options – the Nikkei with tuna, avocado and Nikkei sauce, and De Barrio with octopus, calamari, sea bass, boiled cassava, chulpi corn and rocoto tiger’s milk. Both proved delicious, ample portions for appetisers. Tiraditos, a Peruvian-style sushi reflecting the country’s Japanese influence, were next on the menu: the tuna tataki with crunchy quinoa, sweet potatoes and camu camu tiger’s milk was our best pick. We followed this with the signature dish, Quinotto, with white quinoa, portobello mushroom, aji amarillo, Parmesan cheese and black truffle oil – incredibly moreish and filling. The desserts are quite a production and both the tres leches with berries and rocoto chocolate fondant with lucuma ice cream were divine. Totora is a great venue for a quick light bite with its tapas-style dishes, but also lovely for a long, lingering dinner with friends.