Ruya review: Forget the lamb chops, Dubai's returning Turkish delight has a new hero

The fine-dining venue is back in a new location almost three years after closing. And, like most sequels, it's bigger and bolder

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“I had never eaten Anatolian food before … now I can’t stop,” says our maitre d’ with a giggle. And with this one simple proclamation, sleeping appetites are awakened.

Almost three years after the original Ruya in Dubai Marina closed, it has been rebooted at The St Regis Dubai, The Palm.

Like most sequels, Ruya, which is Turkish for “dream”, faces the arduous task of pleasing staunch fans. Can it recapture the same elegance and imagination as before? Will old stars shine or will a new ensemble lead the way? Will anyone remember lamb chops to die for or was it all, ahem, a dream?

The National leaps in to find out.

Ruya has reopened almost three years after closing its original restaurant in Dubai Marina. Photo: Ruya

Where to sit, what to expect

Similar to the Marina original, Ruya on Palm Jumeirah is elegant, darkly lit and has a mix of cosy booths and banquet-sized tables; an array of warm lampshades and contemporary chandeliers; and an open kitchen. It also has a breezy terrace — this time with a pool — and, just like all good returning acts, Ruya 2.0 is familiar, friendly and fun. It celebrates the best of Anatolian cuisine, which is from Turkey's Asian side.

I remember my first visit to the original, circa 2018. Like the maitre d’, I had never eaten Turkish food, not counting the copious amounts of Turkish delight I'd sneaked from my mother’s “for grown-ups only” stash.

I was raised on a diet of ready meals and anything that could be squashed into the freezer; Aunt Bessie and Uncle Ben played a big part in my upbringing, and spaghetti Bolognese was about as exotic as dinners got. Needless to say, when I first opened the menu and saw the likes of borek, pide, guvec, keskek and dolma, I was lost.

As I strained to catch a glimpse of what the table next to me ordered, so I could fall back on an "I'll have what he's having" safety net, the eager waiters ambushed me. Rather than fumbling my way through and suffering the indignity of being the unknowing boorish Englishman, I asked the waiters to pick their favourites and tried to convincingly nod along.

Two dishes they soon brought out that I’ll never forget were the pide topped with stretchy cheese and the blushing pink chargrilled lamb cutlets (the latter was written in English, maybe I didn't quite look ready for the izgara karides, after all).

I’ve been hooked ever since.

The levrek, which is thinly sliced raw sea bass with mustard, apple and radish. Photo: Ruya

The menu

Thankfully, Ruya 2.0 sticks to its guns and offers a menu of mezze, cold and hot starters, grills, mains and sides. It’s a picky, sharing-style menu written in traditional Turkish names, with English explainers underneath. It's pricey, but this is fine dining.

There are two choices when ordering food: to pick your own and hope for the best, or to embrace whatever the waiter and kitchen throw at you. I habitually opt for the latter as it saves the reading, with the added benefit of allowing me to deflect blame elsewhere should I order a platter of disappointment and face the wrath of hangry dinner guests in the car home.

Soon, the chef's recommendations are gliding out of the kitchen. The levrek (Dh90) is thinly sliced sea bass hit with a zing of lemon, thrills of dill and a delicate crouton; the karpuz domates (Dh75) are delightfully compressed cubes of marinated watermelon, herb-rolled labneh and feta, cherry tomatoes and toasted pine nuts; and the zeytinyagli ahtapot (Dh145) are chunky blocks of octopus legs that are softer than pillows and sit on a bed of black-eyed beans, a playful twist in place of more traditional ingredients found in Turkish cooking, such as bulgur or couscous.

Out flows the sis tavuk kebab (Dh100), diced chicken breast marinated in chilli and yoghurt before being kissed by flames, which are as delightful as they sound; while a mix of Wagyu beef and lamb slices served on a chopping board follows. It's meat — gorgeous, gorgeous meat — that's as intense as jerky thanks to crowd-favourite crispy edges, while staying tender and moist. If they sold bottles of the juices, I’d buy a bath full.

The piece de resistance, the 24-hour slow-cooked short rib, provides stiff competition for the dish of the night (more on that later) before a clever hazelnut baklava dessert caps off a triumphant return for Ruya.

Yoghurtlu kebab is a mix of Wagyu beef and lamb, tomato sauce, roasted garlic yoghurt and croutons. Photo: Ruya

Standout dish

In between courses, attentive waiters and bar staff keep plates rotating and glasses filled. We’re served by what seems like a small village of different faces — maybe I exaggerate — but they all have the same message: “You must try the 24-hour slow-cooked short rib.” Oh, OK then.

The seasoned rub and sticky chilli sauce are divine, while the bone has already fallen away from the butter-soft meat when the dish arrives, as if the short journey from the kitchen was simply too far for it to hold on any longer. Forget the lamb chops of old, there’s a new hero in town.

A chat with the chef

Head chef Gokhan Cokelez was born and raised in Turkey, first dabbling in kitchens when he was 15. He has worked at a string of high-end hotels in his home country, Toronto and Dubai. He briefly joined the Marina restaurant before the pandemic, and excitedly returns at the helm this time around.

"I am elated to be the head chef who reopened at The St Regis Dubai, The Palm," he tells The National.

"I strongly believe food should not be complicated. Quality of product is a major factor in producing tasteful dishes."

With that in mind, his recommendations for diners include the mantarli keskek (barley risotto with wild mushroom) for vegetarians; the carabineros with ezme (scarlet prawns with ezme sauce) for seafood fans; the obligatory short ribs for carnivores; and the Turkish rice pudding for dessert.

He describes his cooking style as "simple, clean and honest", three ingredients abundantly clear on the plates he serves.

Price point and contact information

Mezze and bread dishes range from Dh40 to Dh150; mains range from Dh95 to Dh390; and desserts range from Dh20 to Dh110.

Ruya is open from Sunday to Wednesday, 6pm to 1am; Thursday 6pm to 2am; Friday noon to 3.30pm and 7pm to 2am; Saturday noon to 3.30pm and 6pm to 1am.

This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant

Updated: March 03, 2023, 6:12 PM