High-end Turkish restaurants have to date been pretty hard to come by in London, with most venues in the capital purveying that particular cuisine being more the kind of inexpensive family-run and family-friendly establishments so prevalent around the north and east of the city.
So it’s not surprising to find one of the more recent entrants to this niche upmarket club in the exclusive W1K postcode of Mayfair – Ruya being one of the only Turkish restaurants of any ranking in Mayfair and the surrounding area.
Its opening in 2018 followed the success of its original flagship venue at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Dubai, and accordingly the London branch is housed in a long corner wing of the ground floor of Grosvenor House Hotel just off Hyde Park.
But tonight my visit is not to appraise the restaurant and its food menu – although I will certainly be sampling some small plates – but to review its bar, named ‘The Mekan’, and its selection of themed signature cocktails.
You can find The Mekan at the front of Ruya London as you step through its doors (Ruya has its own street entrance so you’d never know you were in a hotel). Its heritage as an erstwhile branch of Barclays bank has bequeathed it an elongated space ideally proportioned for a bar and restaurant, with the dining room stretching beyond The Mekan like a bank floor from the reception desk (and with 110 covers there is a lot of space to play with).
Created and designed by Conran and Partners, the interior is opulent: gold chandeliers, dark woods, glinting brass fittings, and smooth and glossy surfaces, all bathed in moodily low lighting. There are also a number of classic Middle Eastern touches, like the traditional geometric patterned wall tiling or the ornamental alembic copper stills for raki (the anise-flavoured aperitif popular throughout the region).
Which brings me nicely onto the subject of what I’m here for this evening. The Mekan’s cocktail list is inspired by, and divided into, the five historical empires which once ruled the Anatolian peninsula: the Hittites Empire, Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Seljuk Empire and Ottoman Empire.
With a few to choose from under each rubric it wasn’t easy to make a decision, and I have to admit some of the ingredient descriptions left my scratching my head a bit (“ice cream” for example – what ice cream?; or “chestnut” – a whole chestnut, or chopped, or a chestnut liqueur?).
In the end I plumped for Ruya’s ‘Black Sea’ signature cocktail from the Byzantine section, which blends Remy Martin SOP cognac, Bulleit rye whisky, black hive honey and black Turkish tea, and is served with a dried spice garnish and an alluring mist which fills the glass. It’s definitely a show-stopper of a cocktail in both taste and appearance, which more than vindicates my decision.
Meanwhile my drinking partner opted for a ‘Nazar Sour’ from the Seljuk Empire page – another inspired choice that’s confirmed by our waiter when taking the order, and proven when eventually brought to our table. Combining cardamom infused vodka, rose syrup, blue curacao and champagne foam, the concoction has a brilliant turquoise-blue shade and is topped by the ‘nazar’ symbol: an eye-shaped amulet believed to protect against the ‘evil eye’.
Although not the focus of this review visit, the selection of bar menu small plates we sampled alongside these standout cocktails, including traditional crispy Börek (filo pastry wrapped feta with carrot and courgette) and Isli Patlican (smoked aubergine purée with walnuts and aubergine crisps), were a perfect, light and tasty savoury accompaniment to the piquant sweetness of our drinks.
When all is said and done, cocktails should be quirky and memorable, and these particular specimens most certainly were. And with the nightly house DJ playing during our evening what I could only describe as electronica with Middle Eastern flavours, it proved to be quite the tastefully atmospheric evening, in what can be an otherwise fusty area of Mayfair.
So, come for just the cocktails at The Mekan, maybe, but you’ll definitely be returning for a full meal too, if you manage to resist the temptation of upgrading to a restaurant table there and then.
Address: 30 Upper Grosvenor St, Mayfair, London W1K 7PH
Phone: +44 (0)203 848 6710