From the shores of the Mediterranean to the banks of the Black Sea boasts a region rich in history and brimming with a variety of cultures. The area of Anatolia, which forms a large part of what is now modern-day Turkey, provides an array of delightful cuisines from grills to breads and pastries, all boasting an array of flavours from sweet to savoury, and always delicious.
Blending an exciting mix of traditional Anatolian cuisine, a decorous and buzzing interior, and a fantastic central London location, just off Park Lane, Rüya is the restaurant you really need to experience to get a taste of this Western Asian region’s delights.
The Mayfair-based establishment opened in June 2018 and is inspired by second generation restaurateur Umut Özkanca’s Istanbul heritage. Diners can expect a range of delectable dishes prepared by chef patron Colin Clague (previously of Zuma and Caprice Holdings) and team, which showcase a range of the finest dishes from the Anatolian region that have been given a contemporary twist.
I headed to the popular restaurant one Saturday evening in September and was eager to try the seasonal cuisine in this stylish setting. Once seated, I sipped on a signature cocktail from the Mekan Bar, an Anatolian Fizz, which consisted of gin, rose syrup, raspberry, lemon and Champagne and found it to be a sweet, tart, sherberty start to the proceedings. The waiter had tried to steer me towards a different tipple but I’m stubborn, I do wish I had listened, though the drink was nice, it wasn’t necessarily suited to the food that was about to arrive.
Featuring foods sourced from British farmers and suppliers with herbs and spices meticulously secured to provide diners with the best possible expression of Anatolian flavour, the menus offer a little something for everyone with a vegetarian, vegan and gluten free version in addition to the a la carte. I perused the a la carte menu but was soon asked if I would just like a selection to be brought out and my answer will always be yes to this as I find it more fun and fulfilling to sample what the chefs want you taste.
First up was the Isli Patlican; aubergine and walnut puree with crispy coated aubergine and this is the exact reason that I don’t mind not selecting myself as I never would have chosen an aubergine dish. The vegetable surprised me, it’s not my favourite, but this version was a super crispy and delectable one, especially when used to scoop the dip. I want to know how they get it so crispy!
Alongside my dining partner, I enjoyed a selection of starters and appetisers at the same time and so out came Karpuz Peynir – compressed watermelon, sheep cheese, tomato and pine nuts. Again, on any given day I would tell you that I could happily take or leave watermelon and tomatoes, but this oh-so refreshing and light summery salad had me reaching for more and it was a wonderful way to lighten up the following dishes. This also paired really well with the wine, a dry white – Buzbağ – made from Emir and Narince Anatolian grapes (2019).
One of my favourite dishes, Borek, was out next – I always try to recreate this at home as I love it, but I never quite do it justice and this version was a delight. Thin and crispy filo cigars were filled with feta, carrot, courgette and walnut and these delightfully crisp and mouth-wateringly flavoursome warm bites, with their cheesy, herby tastes, certainly pleased my soul.
Lakerda – salt cured tuna with compressed cucumber, tarama and bottarga was up next and was the prettiest plated dish of the bunch. The thin tuna ceviche slices were paired perfectly with the chunky pieces of crunchy cucumber, the creamy tarama and some dill to round it all off. Plenty of beautiful little elements worked together well here, lots of textures and flavours combined to create an explosion of tastes in my mouth – smoky, dill, fish, fresh, creamy, crisp and refreshing – all to create an all-round delicious dish.
Umut’s Bayildi was the next dish, and this consisted of confit of aubergine, slow-cooked onions, tomato sauce and feta. Served in a sizzling pot, this saucy dish was probably my least favourite of the lot, mostly because the aubergine was pretty sloppy as is the nature of the vegetable when cooked this way, but that’s not to say it was a bad dish, I just preferred the others that much more.
From the bread station came an absolute delight of aged Kasar cheese pide with slow cooked organic egg. This warm and wonderful flatbread is served with hot cooked cheese on top and an egg yolk, which is broken up and spread over the cheese at the table. As you sit there snacking on other delights, the yolk cooks and when you tuck into this simple snack, it absolutely warms your heart – such a delectable offering.
Before I had devoured every last morsel of the starters, our mains were ready, so off we went furthermore on our culinary adventure, delving into a remarkably delicious 24 hours slow cooked short rib, huge prawns with pickled fennel butter, pistachio rice and kisir salad. The prawns – Izgara Karides – were a delight; massive, plump and juicy with a flavourful and crunchy fennel salad. Big and bold, this was a sumptuous dish full of moisture, but it was the beef dish that did it for me.
Served with a Turkish chilli barbecue glaze and spiced Konya chickpea puree, the short ribs simply melted in my mouth. Each bite was heavenly; the butter-smooth meat was utterly delicious and truly one of the nicest dishes I have ever devoured. Served with a spicy sauce and one that was less so, I loved the way the meat just fell apart when touched, and the flavours were perfect, too. An ideal accompaniment was the pistachio pilaf with spinach and herbs – I could eat rice with every meal – while the salad, containing bulgur wheat, tiny, cubed tomato, cucumber, spring onion, mint and parsley, offered a refreshing element.
The accompanying red wine (Kayra Buzbağ Klasik Öküzgözü – Boğazkere, 2018) smelled and tasted lovely, a very inviting wine and a good pairing for the beef dish.
Before the dessert course, we sipped on a traditional Turkish coffee, which provided a little hit before the sweets and afforded us a welcome opportunity for a little break. The service had been quick to this point, so it was nice to take a moment to let the food digest before tucking into any more.
Two signature desserts arrived and consisted of Fırın Sütlaç – a traditional Anatolian rice pudding with raspberries, rose ice cream and lokum; and a hazelnut baklava – whipped kaymak and caramelised milk sorbet. The rice pudding was simple, creamy, light, refreshing, cool, tart with the raspberry, deep rose in flavour, and just delicious. The baklava was super thin, so crispy, nutty and caramelly with an ice cream quenelle to lighten the deeper tones of the baklava.
After such a delicious meal, we relished in the opportunity to sit back and take in the beautiful space. Created in collaboration with designers Conran and Partners, Umut and Colin describe the concept as ‘bold, bright and beautiful’.
Our turquoise-topped table sat in the centre of the room where we could catch the action of the chef at the bread station as well as the bustle from the hard-working staff on the restaurant floor. Armchairs provided a welcome and comfortable perch on which to dine, drink and take in the surroundings – I have never understood it when restaurants have uncomfortable chairs, I’d much rather enjoy the food I’m devouring than worry about my leg going numb!
The low-lit setting provided the perfect place for an intimate dinner for two, and even though the restaurant is open plan, it is laid out in a way that offers diners the feel of a private meal thanks to round tables, curved booths, low comfortable seating and dark wood flooring.
There’s an open kitchen so some diners can catch the action in the hub of the restaurant and the décor features an impressive wall display of 30 copper pots, tiled pillars and large brass light features which hang from the ceiling. The music was upbeat and quite loud which creates the buzzing atmosphere of diners chatting, a great alternative to a hushed room where you’re too afraid to talk!
In a nutshell
Whether you are new to Anatolian cuisine or, I certainly recommend a visit to Rüya to have a taste of what they are offering. From tasty cocktails to a vibrant atmosphere and delectable wines to gorgeous plates of food to please, Rüya has the whole package.
Rüya London opens on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for dinner and Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays for lunch and dinner.
See snippets of my travels on Instagram @tashheard_food_travel