It’s 2017, Dubai’s has what it takes to be the food capital of the world. Yet, there are no Michelin star restaurants here. Does this matter? That a guide, first published in France in 1931 doesn’t include Dubai? Well, firstly, the reason there aren’t any is that the guides don't cover certain regions yet, and that includes Dubai. However, that is about to change soon according to Michael Ellis, international director of Michelin Guides
'Only a matter of time'
"Michelin is continuing to put the flagpole of the Michelin Guide around the world… obviously Dubai is an emerging market. It is arguably one of the most exciting and dynamic restaurant cities in the world.. And with the Michelin headquarters for Africa, India and the Middle East based here in Dubai, it’s only a matter of time before the Michelin Guide comes to Dubai."
Michael Ellis, international director of Michelin Guides
While the Michelin Guide doesn’t confirm or deny Dubai’s arrival as a top culinary destination of the world, it will do a few things.
With Dubai’s ambition of achieving 20 million visitors by 2020, such accolades will attract more visits. In addition, for an emerging City like Dubai, prestige and recognition from the establishment, no matter what industry, is a sign of arrival.
Judging by the competitive nature of Dubai, once the first one arrives, the race will be to get two stars, and three, or even four! There isn’t a restaurant in the world with four. Right now, there aren’t any, when the guide arrives the race will be on for the first one.
The likely suspects are the 20 existing michelin starred chefs that have lent their names to restaurants here...
...including Heinz Bech, Gary Rhodes, Pierre Gagnaire, Vineet Bhatia, Greg Malouf, Yannick Alleno, Gordon Ramsay, Giorgio Locatelli, Jason Atherton. Although there have impressive establishments here in their own right, the concepts have usually been brought in from further afield
The other possibility, and one we would love to see, is that an original concept true to Dubai wins a star, with a chef who is also a first time winner.
There is a growing sense that Rüya, a relative newcomer that only opened three months ago, is a star in the making. Originally from the Isle of Man, head chef, Colin Clague has been adding his expertise to the kitchens of Dubai on and off for over 15 years, some of the culinary highlights he has been involved with include Jean Geroges, Zuma Dubai and Qbara and he now resides in Rüya at the Grosvenor House in Dubai Marina.
Rüya is labeled a ‘Turkish Restaurant’, but it’s so much more than that.
The inspiration for the menu is routed in Anatolian past, but Colin brings his own contemporary influencer to the food. Rüya is a concept by the D.Ream’ team (Dogus Restaurant Entertainment And Management) and has been carefully crafted. A lot of time and effort was spent getting the venue absolutely perfect for it’s opening in October 2016, there were new Anatolian walls built inside the restaurant to give it that old world feel and a stylish garden terrace was created that overlooks the bay.
What does it take to win a star?
It is about the food, but not just that. Some say the reviewers call a restaurant to make a reservation, and if the phone rings more than three times, that’s an automatic fail. One would wonder, if phone calls are taken into consideration, is responsiveness on social media into the equation aswell? Anyway let’s not question how digitally savvy The Michelin Guide is and stick to the point, officially the main criteria are as follows: (1) quality of ingredients, (2) skill in the preparation, (3) combinations of flavors, (4) value for money, (5) consistency of culinary standards (over time and throughout the menu). All these are clearly based on food, but any restauranteur will tell you that its a full team from the head chef and his team, to the management, to the service team that make all this possible.
Putting Rüya to the Michelin guide test
I’ve been to Rüya three times. At first I was enthralled by the food. It was rich and creamy. It was meaty and tasty. Every dish arrived to the table like a with an entrance. We just watched the show licking our lips. We didn’t want the performance to end of the food to stop coming. I wasn't sure if I was just impressed with the food or the excitement of a new restaurant, the buzz of conversation and frantic rushing around of the staff that goes along with getting things right at the start. So I went back again, And again. The last time I brought someone who really knows food. My mum, who is a professional chef who has had award winning restaurants, so I value her opinion.
She was able to tell me that the white bait that we received as a starter was popular in the seventies in England, perhaps where Colin first discovered it as a young boy who’s mum was also a chef. He has recreated it and it is equally at home on a menu of something like the Midye Dolma (rice stuffed mussels), a variety of the classic Lahmacun and Pide, is a more contemporary way of cooking. It’s this mix of country influences that were a delight to see in front of us.
To properly assess Rüya’s credibly, we will look at the 5 areas of Michelin measurement.
On this occasion we had the Saturday brunch offer for six courses over fours hours.
- Quality of ingredients: The pièce de résistance was the main course which was a large sea bream whole which arrived as a presentation before being done and presently delicately, but it was just show, this dish was good enough to stand out on it’s own after all the small tasty bites that preceded it. There was substance to this. The fish was fresh.
- Skill in preparation: It was deboned masterfully à la table.
- Combinations of flavors: The lemon dressing and spiced herb rub added to the succulence of the fish.
- Value for money: Total price besides beverages was nothing short of a bargain 225 AED.
- Consistency of culinary standards: The bits to start with, the pass around dishes, but arguably the tastiest and most delicately assembled dishes there are the sweets. There is consistency in the food, but it's only been around a short time, this may be the one area where Rüya will come up short.
Another benchmark is how are the other critics receiving Rüya
‘Rüya serves up a worthy, memorable experience, with flavours that will surprise and delight. When my friends come calling, I now have a dependable spot to take them. Those high expectations? Easily met – and then some.’
Stacie Johnson of The National, as good a food critic as we have in the UAE, didn’t hold back with applause
In the short space of time since opening, the Rüya team have tenaciously grafted to create something special.
The menu has changed a lot, perhaps they will get it just right when a real Michelin reviewer comes to this place next year. They’ve also done a lot more with the space. When I visited first in October, I was struck with how impressive a space it was, but the layout seemed to need a bit of fine tuning, it was almost confusing to know where to go on entering. When I went back last week, it was more spacious, the managers desk has moved closer to the terrace area and some adjustments were made to the furniture. There was a new violinist who alternates with a live DJ.
And the verdict, does Rüya deserve one star: "A very good restaurant in its category" as Michelin would put it, or two "Excellent cooking, worth a detour”, or three, ”Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”.
Places deserve Michelin stars when all the little parts come together. Not when something is packaged up and shipped off. When the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Dubai has for years done an excellent job of replicating fine establishments from other cities. When you are in Hakkasan, you could be in any City. It also adds to its great surroundings like any of the places in Atlantis will attest too. However, what makes Dubai a great city is the mix of wonderful people and wonderful cultures. Form young people trying to make a living, to slightly more aged experts who are at the top of their game, to experienced pros who’ve done it all before. All from different nationalities.
When a mix of cultures comes together, and that’s greater than the original concept itself, then it becomes special.
Yes, Rüya, is based on Turkish Cuisine and yes it is designed to look like Anatolia, but it’s the English chef, the French manager and the Serbian waiter than make this special. This is a fantastic effort, well worth a visit, perhaps still young as a restaurant, but recognition at this stage would help Rüya become established very quickly. Time will tell. At this stage in it’s journey, it will gladly accept the first in Dubai, after that, who knows.