Turkish is the new Peruvian. There – i’ve said it. I’ve always wanted to write one of those influencer statements!
Rüya is the latest blockbuster release in the D.ream stable, a premium Turkish restaurant and lounge headed up by Colin Clague, the British chef who was responsible for Jean George Dubai and Qbara.
Chef Colin must have been pleased as punch to be given the opportunity to develop a menu influenced by Turkish cuisine. Turkey has virtually every produce and ingredient you could dream of and takes from both Levant and Mediterranean flavours and spices. In fact, Turkish food might be a perfect cuisine for Dubai. Rüya is at the Grosvenor Hotel – (a hotel that is pronounced completely differently to how it is spelled, oddly enough) in the old space where Ottoman restaurant used to be.
Rüya is a big, confident production – rather than focus on one strength, their strategy clearly is all about the overall experience and is, therefore, a wonderful assault on your senses. The hostesses are tall, beautiful and dressed in long, flowing ethereal white robes that would have been all the rage at the Sparta Fashion Show, BC 480. Directly behind them is a dramatic open oven where horizontal skewers of dripping meat are tantalizingly turned over bright flames.
Such is the effect; I can image the hostesses kicking customers who arrive with no reservations into the fire pit while screaming “Rüya!” at the top of their lungs. In slow motion. Luckily we had a reservation.
As we followed our hostess to our table, I had a good look around the room – it’s large, with a lot going on. It is centered by a double sided oven and grill kitchen where the meats and bread are cooked to order. There is another open kitchen in one corner, where the dining room can see Chef Colin and his team work their magic, and on the opposite side, there is a bar and lounge that opens to an integrated terrace overlooking the Dubai Marina.
As a main feature behind the bar there is a huge upside down ice dispenser, just because.
If that wasn’t enough, the décor is dramatic, high quality and contemporary, with enough Turkish influences to continue their Anatolia story. Expect browns, golds, and grays, with flashes of Ottoman red and blues.
The menu is elegant and printed on a single white card. They have around 50 items over several sections, for you to choose from; from cold and hot starters to oven, kitchen and grill. However, in the name of authenticity, they have stuck to the Turkish names of dishes, so if you don’t frequent many Turkish restaurants, you’re going to have to do a bit of work here to read what each dish is about. Especially as Turkish food occasionally uses offal, such as testicles, brains, and eyeballs. There is nothing worse than an unwanted testicle on your plate.
Of course, Rüya have considered this prolonged study period and at the top of the menu is a section called ‘To Ponder.’ I can only assume they expect you to order some food while you decide on what food you’re going to order. See – told you they were confident.
After several weeks of reading and studying the menu, we were ready to place our order. The Serb was the first to finish – she flew through the menu, saying that Serbia inherited Turkish food, and as if to further prove her point, she corrected the pronunciation of every word I butchered from the menu.
In Turkey, eating is a very social affair, and Rüya is no exception – all dishes are designed to be shared, and for once, it makes sense. It is clear Chef Colin knows his audience – the menu is respectful and well balanced with flashes of innovation.
Rüya’s staff were exceptionally good – the result of an experienced restaurant group operator. Our waiter and his assistant were a cracking team – attentive, intelligent with some genuine hospitality chops. They were on hand to recommend dishes, without insisting you order the most expensive dish on the menu. They were engaged, had a sense of humour and genuinely seemed to care.
For starters, we ordered the zucchini fritters (mücver – 50 aed), a cornmeal and cheese fondue (kuymak – 80 aed) a salmon carpaccio thing (baharatli Somon – 65 aed) and the cheese stuffed filo (borek – 50 aed).
The fritters were too dark in colour – over fried and underwhelming – a disappointment. The borek were good, the sharp, soft feta blending well with carrots, zucchini, and walnuts against the crunch of the filo. The borek, which is effectively a bowl of melted cheese and cornmeal divided the table. As a fondue, it needed something more to dip into it, but as a variation of grits, then it was perfect. It was an odd dish, a bit like pureed baby food for adults. I think overall; I liked it.
For mains, we ordered clay pot baby vegetables (Guvec 110 aed) pan fried sea bass (175 aed) spicy lamb flat bread (Lahmacun, 60 aed) a fennel pide and a two cheese pide (65 aed).
By this time, the restaurant was buzzing, and the global appeal of premium Turkish food was starting to show. Locals mixed with expats, residents, and tourists – there is nothing quite like seeing a busy restaurant in full swing. There is a quiet wave of energy that builds throughout the evening, with the service team moving through the gears, as they matched the pace. Even the hostesses seemed to float across the dining room as if they were on hoverboards, which of course they were not. Those long dresses would get caught in the wheels.
Our mains arrived on a variety of colourful plates, bowls and boards, turning the table into an Anatolian smorgasbord. The baby vegetables were slow cooked in a fresh and lively tomato sauce, sweetened by red peppers.
The sea bass needs work. The almond crust brought no relief to the overcooked dryness of the fish. A kitchen team still working on their timings probably, but still, at 175 dhs, it was an expensive disappointment.
The lahmacun is a thin flatbread with minced lamb. It was delicious – the bread was crisp yet soft, and the umami of the lamb cut marvelously against the fresh parsley – a dish that epitomised the Turkish emphasis on clean flavours.
Move over pizza; it’s all about the Pide. Rüya’s pides were delicious – the two cheese pide with slow cooked egg was particularly good –the result is a deceptively light crisp base with a salty, buttery cheese filling.
Rüya is slick, with high production values. D.ream are the Jerry Bruckheimer of the restaurant world – with big budgets, special effects, and a strong cast, their restaurants are always confident, loud and unapologetic. And surprisingly for them, quite well priced, considering.
Regarding Turkish authenticity, I can’t comfortably claim Rüya is a true story, but rather inspired by actual events. My suggestion is to get a group of friends, book a table and head down there for some kebaps and pide.