When you think of Middle Eastern food, what comes to mind? Houmous, probably; pitta, grilled lamb and feta also spring to mind – all liberally scattered with pomegranate seeds, naturally. But new restaurant Rüya London, based in swanky Grosvenor House in Mayfair, is bringing a determined specificity to Middle Eastern cuisine, with its Anatolian-inspired menu of dishes that have moved firmly on from London’s conventional mezze offering.
Founded by second generation restaurateur Umut Özkanca, and inspired by his Istanbul heritage, the original Rüya launched in Dubai just last year. Earlier this year, the London branch opened, offering an enticing array of contemporary dishes from the Anatolian region of Turkey, which stretches all the way from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. Chef Patron Colin Clague, formerly of Jean Georges, Zuma and Rüya Dubai, is at the helm, and has crafted a menu that celebrates the diversity of the region’s culinary tradition, helping Rüya to stand out from the smorgasbord of Middle Eastern eateries that call the capital home.
Set in one long wing of Grosvenor House, just off Hyde Park, Rüya London has brought a certain polish and sparkle this sometimes fusty area of Mayfair. Created by Conran and Partners, the space is a contemporary riff on classic Middle Eastern themes: geometric patterned tiles compete with charcoal walls and modern brass fittings, while rich jewel colours complement nods to traditional Turkish culture in the alembic copper stills for raki (a popular aperitif in Anatolia) that line the walls. With 110 covers, the space is vast – not ideal for an intimate tête-à-tête – and the mass of staff on-hand to serve diners is almost too noticeable, too. But that certainly didn’t detract from the food.
Divided into nine sections, the menu is a comprehensive journey through Anatolian cuisine. The difficulty of choosing the seven to eight dishes recommended per person is anticipated by the first section: ‘To Ponder’. Isli Patlican, a dish of aubergine crisps accompanied by a nutty, moreish aubergine purée has to be the highlight, here – I could have easily gone back for seconds. But, as another eight sections remained to be investigated, I resisted.
Starters were a mix of cold and hot dishes, including Levrek, a tangy take on the capital’s current trend for raw sea bass (I’ve seen the dish, in various guises, on many a restaurant menu of late), and Acili Kanat, grilled chicken wings with traditional Turkish marash pepper. Mains came in the form of melt-in-the-mouth butter poached lobster, served swimming in a garlic and chilli tomato sauce that was all-too-easily mopped up with the plate of sesame seed bagels. The Çag Kebap was an interesting combination of Wagyu beef and lamb, served together in a heady mix of meaty skewer. A confit of baby artichokes on the side provided a clear contrast, cutting through the meatiness of the lobster and kebap. To finish, there was rocket fuel-worthy Turkish coffee and a deconstructed plate of pistachio sponge with strawberry sorbet to share – an undeniably delicious end to a compelling journey through Anatolian cuisine, which made me want to learn more about this fascinating culinary region
An evening at Rüya London is a slick, sleek introduction to Middle Eastern food, taking you far beyond houmous and pitta bread. The only slight let-downs, bizarrely, are the vast space itself (which is too large to feel at all intimate), and the vast amount of choice, too. The menu – although compelling – was overwhelming with its nine sections; ditto the cocktail list, too. Even so, if you’re in the mood to experience something fresh and vibrant, and the time to peruse sizeable menus, you certainly won’t regret visiting this new Anatolian restaurant.