January 23, 2017 / Leave a Comment
When the team behind Zuma, Coya and Nusr-et open a new restaurant in Dubai, you can bet it’s going to be the hot ticket in town. Clearly, Ruya is hoping to follow on from the success of Coya and Zuma – they’ve certainly prepared for crowds. (Also it seems they really like two syllable names ending in ‘a’ don’t they? There must be a science behind that.)
Located at the back left-hand corner of the lobby of Grosvenor House’s Tower One (who even knew there was a restaurant there previously?), the venue is HUGE! An expansive, relaxing terrace overlooks the Marina waterways and inside features three expansive (and beautiful) dining areas, all decorated in different styles. It’s like the interior designer has ADD – hey, I feel ya. And why not, it looks good – it’s Turkish style given the Coya treatment. I particularly love the dining area with the wall outfitted in softly draped fabric and mirrors. Very pretty.
Turkish cuisine is having a bit of a Peruvian 2.0 moment in Dubai right now, with Besh and Enigma also proudly waving the flag for (admittedly very good) Turkish food. But as a PSA to the restaurant community, I think we’re just about at capacity now – let’s not have 15 fancy Turkish restaurants within 12 months, a la Peruvian/Pan-Latin, ok? It’s like Dubai has become the ceviche capital of the world…yawn.
Most of the buzz about Ruya has been about its brunch, so I’m expecting big things. Indeed, it’s lovely to be able to sit alfresco in the beautiful Dubai winter and enjoy what it is a visually pleasing fit-out. Live traditional music intermingles with DJ tunes…it’s a nice, laid back vibe. The tables, however, are much too small, mostly round (less space again), and are pretty much the same size throughout the restaurant – our table of four ends up having to commandeer a spare table nearby for storage. If you want people to share dishes, you need to provide more space – it’s as simple as that.
We ask many times for a menu of the food or drink kind, but are told there are none, which makes proceedings a little trickier than necessary. We eventually get hold of a back-of-house copy of the dishes being offered today, but it’s not a customer-facing piece of collateral. I’d have liked to have been able to see a full menu from the start, so I can understand what the offering is, what will be happening, what food will be where and arrive when, and how I need to allocate my stomach space and pace myself. You know, typical brunch strategy. The same goes for drinks – when we enquire as to what the list is, we find out there is a white, red (and after questioning, a rose) option when it comes to wine, with Moët available in the top package). The wines are actually very nice, a rarity in Dubai, whilst still hailing from the affordable end of the spectrum. They’ve been well curated, so that makes me a very happy bruncher. Beer, house spirits and (just) two cocktail options are also included in the house option. Cocktail-wise, one is a Bloody Mary and the other a Tom Collins – which we are told is a whisky cocktail. To the best of my knowledge, Tom Collins is, in fact, a gin cocktail – but we were told whisky twice, so I’m not sure what’s going on there. The menu is definitely missing some good cocktail options – having just a Bloody Mary and one whisky cocktail makes for far too narrow a selection for a brunch. There’s a specially branded Absolut bar sitting outside with bottles, fancy glasses and straws, ready to create some cocktail magic – but it’s not manned, nor set up to serve anything. A bit of a missed opportunity there?
A bowl of whitebait is taste no.1, soon followed by some feta Sigara Borek. I’m usually a fan of this Turkish classic, but this one was a bit strong on the feta side of things for me. Some hot kebabs are served on to our individual plates at the table, and they are really juicy and delicious – absolutely spot on – but I would have liked a) a larger serving size, given how delicious they were and b) to know by that point that there is a cold starters bar, as it really needed some salad to accompany it. But then you’re having to get up and leave your hot meat to go cold while you go and fetch salad…and that’s the tricky thing when you’re doing a hybrid brunch – it’s hard to coordinate. I think just either be a buffet or be a la carte – I understand that they are trying to give the quality of an a la carte brunch but minimise the service effort and kitchen pressure that comes hand in hand with a full plated brunch – it’s not easy to execute. To explain the concept fully, there were roaming hot starters (but again no menu to order from if we wanted to try a specific dish, or wanted seconds), a salad/cold cuts bar near the kitchen, a bread station and a small dessert buffet – plus you chose one main course per person. Earlier reviews mentioned there were stations on the terrace, but these were not present on our visit.
Oh, and there’s eggs, lots of eggs! The dominance of eggs on the (invisible?) menu made it feel a bit breakfast-y for me, and honestly, I’m just not that into eggs. Back to the grilled items though, the chicken wings were INSANE! Absolutely fabulous..but again, so good that I would have liked more than just one.
For mains, we tried a lamb risotto, rib eye steak with potatoes, and lamb chops. The winner by a country mile was the bulgur wheat risotto – I loved this dish, and I think the consensus from the table was that it was the top offering. The steak was a bit too far on the well-done side of the spectrum for me, however (we weren’t consulted on how we would like our steak cooked), so it turned out a pretty dry, which was surprising considering just how juicy their earlier grilled dishes were.
When we’re looking at the battle of the Turkish establishments, Ruya definitely takes out the style crown, it’s got a far more luxe/cool vibe, whereas Besh feels more family friendly/mid market. It’s a mixed bag when it comes to food – Besh only slightly pips it on food as they had some dishes I immediately wanted to return for a second round of (a spectacular mezze and the manti, a very popular Turkish pasta dish that didn’t feature on the Ruya brunch menu, was insane). That was a feeling I didn’t get (well, not yet, anyway) at Ruya. Ruya’s grills, however, were much juicier than rival Besh’s protein offerings, and that’s a very important area of the menu when we’re talking Turkish.
Despite all my nit-picking (which is because I know from this excellent lineage that these guys can, should and will be able to reach top service levels), the food really is great quality and ingredients feel well-sourced. I don’t want to let that message get lost here – I know many, many people who’ve raved about the food at Ruya. The brunch suffers a little from the typical Dubai affliction however – restaurants in our region just aren’t paying attention to the details (sorry guys, but having two glaringly obvious spelling mistakes, in capitals, on the front menu page of a website that’s been up for quite a while now tells me we need to take a moment’s pause to fine tune things). The website also shows no details at all for a brunch that’s been around a little while, and not being able to find the correct info, we ended up not knowing we had been mistakenly booked in an hour after brunch proceedings commenced which really increased the time pressure – if you’ve read any of my brunch reviews, you’ll know I have a moderate disdain for the three hour brunch. I think we definitely would have enjoyed proceedings more had we been able to pace out mains and desserts across the full time allocation, so if you’re going for the full four-hour jaunt I think you’ll enjoy even it more than I. I’d also like to see a little innovation on the menu here, perhaps adding some dishes or fun elements that showcase a modern take on Turkish cuisine, not just rolling out the same super-traditional fare as on other menus around town.
Ruya has a fantastic base on which to build a concrete foundation as Dubai’s star of smart-casual Turkish dining. A great location, great team, and some great food coming out of the kitchen – the market really is theirs to corner. The brunch food is definitely good – it was mainly menu design, organization and functional elements that held it from being a perfect experience. In terms of elevating the brunch experience, I’d love to see the menu be clearly set out for diners from the very start (both drinks and food), see proceedings move to a full plated brunch (especially at the price point it’s sitting at), and add at minimum two more cocktail options into the mix (something herby, something fruity).
I’m positive Ruya will remain a stalwart in the Dubai scene for a long time to come and I look forward to seeing them mature in the market. What do you think of the Turkish revival in Dubai?
The Brunch Verdict:
Range of food: 8/10
Food quality & deliciousness: 8.7/10
Range of beverages: 6.9/10
Beverage quality & deliciousness: 8.9/10
Ambience & Decor: 8.8/10
Overall Rating: 8.2/10
Brunch: Fri 1pm-4pm
House beverages 425dhs, sparkling 525dhs, Champagne 625dhs