Review: Hotel Cartagena at U Walk is an escape from reality

Live DJ, vibrant Latin American fare, and party vibes await…

If you didn’t already know, Hotel Cartagena from Dubai has made its way to Riyadh’s U Walk complex. And no, we’re not doing a hotel review here – instead, this new establishment is a Latin American restaurant with a name based on a fictional hotel and character.

Hotel Cartagena Riyadh

When you “check-in”, you’re welcomed by friendly hostesses behind a counter that resembles a rustic-chic hotel reception desk. Get past it, and there’s a bar on your left and a DJ booth on the right to bring the place alive in the evenings with live dance shows.

For a Monday night, Hotel Cartagena has a weekend energy about it. It’s filled with lively groups of friends who share platters of Latin American delicacies, and the urge to get up and dance gushes through your body. A promising start to what seems true to the Latin American spirit.

Hotel Cartagena Riyadh

But what catches the eye is the stunning décor – it closely mimics that of the one in Dubai. The rainforest-inspired interiors are a visual feast with heavy tropical influences throughout, including lush foliage hanging from the ceiling, colourful bird ornaments and a massive birdcage in the middle of the main dining room. The space is outfitted in plush velvet furniture and burnished metal accents, and the dim lighting adds a sense of mystique that lends itself well to the dinner setting.

Vibrant Latin American fare

Like its vibrant ambience, Hotel Cartagena offers fun fusion from Latin America, with lots of surprise flavours throughout the menu. Our dinner kicks off with the classic ceviche (SAR72), featuring delicate chunks of fresh fish languishing in a pool of Leche de Tigre. The edamame and potato add a necessary starchiness to offset the zingy flavours of the dish.

Hotel Cartagena corn chiccarones

Three other starters arrive around the same time. The braised beef cheek empanadas (SAR67) are standout, as are the corn chicharrones (SAR78). Bursting with flavour, who knew corn could taste so good? The icy and hot salad with watermelon and prawns (SAR76) is refreshing – despite its straightforward mix of ingredients – with bursts of sweetness from the watermelon.

Hotel Cartagena salad

Next up, we’re presented with the whole lamb shoulder Asado (SAR484). Cooked on a low fire, the lamb has the perfect balance of charred softness with full-on earthy flavours. It’s also a joy to eat with the mint chimichurri and salsa, which add flavour dimension.

Another hit is the Puerto Rican braised short ribs (SAR196), which are tender and juicy. It is topped with sofrito sauce and served with carrot and ginger puree, creating a feast of flavours to the whole melange. The yuca (cassava) fries (SAR28) that come as a side are so moreish that it is impossible to not have a mouthful in between bites.

otel Cartagena picanha steak

Less impressive, however, is the Brazilian Picanha steak (SAR220), which arrives overcooked – but not completely inedible. We just wish the server had asked how we’d like our meat done (medium-rare, by the way).

As our meal draws to a close, we sample the date and apple cake with toffee caramel sauce (SAR62). Order this if you have a sweet tooth – you won’t be disappointed.

From Latin America, with love

Hotel Cartagena Riyadh

In the bustling metropolis that is Riyadh, it’s always pleasant to escape the city crowd occasionally and unwind over a good meal surrounded by verdant foliage. And, if there’s one spot you can count on for buzzy vibes and warm hospitality, Hotel Cartagena is it. It makes you forget that you’re in Riyadh – even if it’s just for a little while.

While the food may not reach the very peaks of Latin America, there are plenty of highs to sustain several trips to Hotel Cartagena to start unravelling the complexities of one of the world’s underrated cuisines. Plus, a night out here is a fun one, and we’ll spend good money on fun.

Hotel Cartagena, U Walk, An Nakheel, Riyadh, Sun to Thurs 3pm to midnight, Fri & Sat (Weekend Brunch) 1pm to 4.30pm. Ramadan hours: Daily 6.30pm to 1.30am. Tel: 9200 33801. @hotelcartagenariyadh

Images: Provided