R Trader has a DIFC address but in the Al Fattan Currency House, which has been described by some as the overflow parking for DIFC restaurants. R Trader is a prohibition themed restaurant serving a ‘modern British menu with international influences’. I booked a table with nervous anticipation.
R Trader is an elevator ride up to the second floor. Please be warned to gather full composure before exiting the lift, as you will immediately come face to face with a group of friendly and attractive hostesses. There is no time for readjustment, physically or emotionally – your night has started – be ready.
From the people that brought you The Scene by Simon Rimmer, R Trader promises “rogue dining” in a prohibition style environment. They have certainly got the rogue dining part right, but more about that later. The staff are approachable and attentive, with good knowledge of what they serve. They are dressed in 1920’s-ish attire complete with suspenders, (the American kind, not the British) and Ipads.
The restaurant is a smorgasbord of leather and purple, stained wood and low lights. Cigar smoke hangs sweetly in the air, and the chatter of patrons is reduced to a pleasant murmur. The restaurant is intimate, and the Serb was very impressed with the wallpaper – apparently her grandmother and R Trader share the same tastes. The beverage list has some excellent choices, and I mentioned to The Serb in one of my moments of showing off, that this was the work of a good sommelier. She looked suitably impressed and asked how I knew he was from Somalia. I’m going to assume she was making a joke – it’s better for the relationship that way.
Flavour and texture combinations are the foundations of any recipe creation. You can be the love child of Gordon Ramsey and Nigella Lawson, best friends with Ferran Adrià and have René Redzepi and Angela Hartnett and as your godparents, and you still wouldn’t be able to produce a decent meal, if you have the wrong recipe. Menu development is a time consuming, difficult process, whereby hundreds of recipes end up in the menu graveyard. Chef Dom Robinson knows this very well and delivers a menu that is overall, well constructed and at the very least, innovative. There is no doubt Dom is a talented chef – his work at the ill-fated Supper Club was excellent, and you can see flashes of his genius on show across his menu.
However, his menu really has nothing to do with the rest of the experience of R Trader. There are so many elements of cooking, yet they are ultimately part of one experience. An experience that should be continuous and complete, all components working towards a common goal.
The inconsistencies with R Traders identity are somewhat confusing. The done-to-death ‘sharing plates’ concept contrast against the ultra-traditional bar environment, the heavy, masculine interior design against a minimalistic table setting is like sandpaper and silk. Even the menu titles, (Raw, Birds, and Beasts, Land, etc.) jar against the finesse of the presentation of the food. R Trader is a complicated concept, and they have either nailed it or got it horribly wrong. It’s a fine line between genius and gee whizz and only time will tell.
Let’s talk about the food a little more. I’ll start with the obvious – it was a master class in plate presentation. All our choices were beautifully constructed dishes, plates that improved visually, the more you inspected the details. Whether it was cut, diced, sliced, layered, dripped, quenelled, smeared or seared, every part of the dish was immaculate.
We ordered four dishes; two small and two large. The two small dishes were cauliflower risotto, black truffle with Banyuls and the burrata with green olives, almond, and balsamico.
The two large plates were BBQ Welsh lamb with aloo gobi, onion bhaji and chaat masala and the twelve hour braised beef cheek with amandine potatoes and raclette cheese.
When one talks of the contrast of flavours, there still needs to be a balance and harmony – a marriage of opposites that work in unison. Similar to the Serb and myself, one might say.
Typically, Buratta is served with some basil and tomato inspired enhancement, and there is a very good reason for this. The flavours work – they harmonize and compliment each other. Although olives and cheese often go well together, for me, these olives didn’t work – the acidity overpowered the delicate burrata, and I got the impression they were tinned olives or brine-cured olives. You don’t get that bitterness from water cured olives.
The risotto, on the other hand, was cracking – risotto is a notoriously easy dish to both overcook or undercook. R Trader got it right, and the Banyuls, (a fortified dessert plonk), added a touch of sweetness to the dish. The nutty, slightly bitter taste of the parmesan cheese provided the balance needed to make this an enjoyable risotto. Usually, a risotto benefits from a bit of a musky stink, otherwise known as black truffles – but for some reason, the truffle shavings here didn’t do anything to the dish except raise its price.
I was concerned about the Indian influence in the BBQ lamb dish. Lamb is naturally a heavy, flavourful meat, (especially Welsh lamb), and there was a danger the Indian spices might turn it into a mosh plate of undefined flavour. However, Chef Dom controlled the balance admirably. Indian spices can be quite delicate when done right, and the lamb was allowed to stay center of attention while the spices danced lightly in the background.
The beef cheek is slow cooked for 12 hours and therefore melts under the slightest pressure from a fork and explodes with an intense flavour in the mouth. The mashed potato was encased in a raclette cheese skin and finished off with some pickled onion – one of the highlights of the whole meal.
We finished off with some dessert, called single bean chocolate – a spiced chocolate cake with churros. The churro was magnificent – it reminded me of fresh hot doughnuts on a cold Brighton pier. The chocolate cake was overdone with the fusion of chilli or whatever spice they used. Chili and chocolate can go well together, the sweetness of the chocolate with a slight kick of heat at the back of the finish – but this cake was far too spicy from the start – it was a hot slap in the face from the get go and it needed to be toned down a little, in my opinion.
The disconnect between the menu layout, the dishes presented, the service style and the theme make R Trader difficult to place in a box. They are unique, eccentric and eclectic. There are flashes of genius mixed with rogue streaks of mediocrity. However, overall, I think I quite liked it – and I think you might too.
Meal for two – 650 Dhs.