Meet Chef Colin Clague of Ruya Dubai
Ruya’s Chef Colin Clague is a very familiar name in the Dubai restaurant scene. Previously the head chef of Jean Georges, Zuma, and Qbara, he happened to meet restaurateur Umut Özkanca who was blown away by Qbara’s Middle Eastern concept and mentioned wanting to do something similar but with Turkish cuisine.
This turned out to be Ruya and when Chef Colin decided to move on from Qbara (it was very well-received but, as the chef says, “the location wasn’t the best”), he knew where his next stop would be.
With the number of restaurants that light up like fairy lights in Dubai (and burn out like fairy lights), there’s one brand that keeps nailing it time and time again.
Ask any Dubaian about their fave places to grab a cocktail and a bite to eat while hanging out with beautiful people and you’ll likely hear the same handful of names—Zuma, La Petite Maison, Coya. The common denominator among these restaurants is d.ream Group.
And now, new baby brother Ruya will undoubtedly be added to that list!
Located in Grosvenor House in Dubai Marina, Ruya sits on the first floor. I had heard whisperings about this restaurant from a few weeks prior so I was, of course, intrigued and had to see for myself what the buzz was all about. To make it extra special, I decided to pick up the phone to find out if buddy and world-renowned Lebanese-Australian Chef Greg Malouf might accompany me for dinner! After all, what’s better than getting a chef-on-chef take?
As far as first impressions go, Ruya absolutely nails it. Dark, sexy, and just a little bit moody, the design of the restaurant flows beautifully. Inside, you’re greeted with fabulous bespoke tiles inspired by Turkish ceramics, an oversized light fixture, and an open kitchen with an impressive freestanding bread oven. Against one wall are shelves filled with gorgeous, shiny traditional metal Rakι distillers and in the open shelving that separates the kitchen from the dining area, jars of preserved lemons and various ceramic ware are displayed. All throughout the interior you’ll see splashes of turquoise accenting the sophisticated palette of earthier tones.
Heading out onto the terrace, you can lap up stunning views of the marina whilst nestling into the rope chairs and enjoying one of their delicious cocktails. A tree, almost like an enlarged bonsai, sits in a large planter box right in the middle of the terrace, which reminded me a bit of Ours in London—the concept of bringing the outdoors in. An unexpected element for an outdoor deck in Dubai but absolutely lovely and a great statement piece!
Next to the tree, on the other side of the glass, is the bar with a slick black counter and bottles of liquor displayed in open shelving that hangs above the bar. As the sun goes down, the lanterns twinkle overhead and chill lounge music plays in the background (which picks up in pace and mood as the evening goes on). Settle in and let your gaze rest upon the lush, thick foliage wall at the far end, creating that feeling of being far removed from the city, even if just for a few moments before the towering building just across the marina grabs your attention!
The staff were absolutely spot-on. When I arrived (ahead of my dining partner-in-crime), the man himself Umut Özkanca was already working the room like a pro. He eventually, and enthusiastically, came over to chat with…Chef Greg. I wish I could say that it was me but Greg stole Pra’s limelight! 😉 The staff were also incredibly attentive and again, not just because Chef Greg was there. They looked over every customer with equal amounts of grace and hospitality. When Chef Greg decided on a “take no prisoners” approach and did a serious bit of grilling about the dishes and the wine, the waiter and sommelier didn’t even break a sweat as they aced all of his questions.
So how about the food, then? This is the part where we sing the praises of Executive Chef Colin Clague! With him behind the steering wheel, I was pretty confident that we’d love whatever was put in front of us…and he and his team didn’t let us down!
We tried a little bit of everything off of the menu, beginning with a couple of cold starters. The Cig Köfte (beef tartare with bulgar and wrapped in baby gem lettuce leaves) was a delightfully light, as was the Levrek. This fresh and flavourful dish is composed of sea bass sashimi with mustard, apple and shaved radish, and I gobbled it right up! They were a nice contrast to the hot starter, the Tavuk Cigeri, which had spiced chicken livers with cornbread and herbs.
Moving on, we nibbled our way through the Grilled Eggplant with Meatballs, a relatively hearty dish served with smoked tomato sauce, yogurt and herbs. We also thoroughly enjoyed the Izgara Bildircin, which was grilled quail with spicy kisir salad, a bulgur, tomato, and chilli salad. To balance it out, we also ordered the Confit of Baby Artichoke, a warm salad accented with pine nuts and pomegranate…and then also munched our way through a side of chips that had been triple cooked in duck fat and flavoured with Turkish chilli (a hip-loving delight, I might add!).
The standout of the meal, though, was the 2 Cheese Pide from the Black Sea topped with a slow cooked egg! This was salty, cheesy, rich, and absolutely delicious. Considering I’m not usually one for rich, heavy foods, this Pide won me over. It didn’t hurt that there was a truffle performance, complete with weighing it at the table and then delicately shaving it over the dish.
Finally, to end our decadent meal, we enjoyed the Firin Sütlaç, a traditional Anatolian rice pudding topped with raspberries, a scoop of rose ice cream and lokum (which you might know as Turkish delight). The floral nose of the ice cream and the tartness of the raspberries was a beautiful contrast to the richness of the rice pudding.
Ruya ticked off all the boxes for us that night—vibe, audience, décor, and food—and once we’ve run off all of the calories we inhaled, we’ll certainly be back!
Q&A With Chef Colin Clague
Ed. note: some answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.
What made you decide that this was the right move for you, keeping in mind the heavy competition in Dubai?
After visiting Turkey and seeing the massive diversity of the cuisine, I was hooked. I kew they had 2,000 years of history and recipes that could inspire me and I feel that this restaurant has the potential to go overseas.
In your eyes what does the Ruya brand stand for—what’s the USP?
The Ruya brand is all about authenticity and tradition, whilst taking it up a notch in order to make it more restaurant friendly. Our aim is to make Anatolian food recognised as one of the world’s best cuisines, which it is, and to teach guests that there is more to Turkish food than kebabs.
I would say the unique selling point is diversity. There really is something for everybody from the very simple Pide and kebabs right up to the whole grilled fish and the slow cooked meats, whilst also catering to the vegetarians out there.
In such a saturated market, how do you ensure as Executive Chef that the restaurant aligns beautifully with the front of house?
I have always had a good rapport with the front of house. In fact, all service charges and tips are divided equally between both and staff meal times are set up so that front and back of house sit together.
I’m not one of those Exec Chefs that scream, although I have my moments. How ever great the food is, you will fail if the service isn’t up to it, so the front and back teams have to work together seamlessly.
Where will Ruya be in 12 months?
I would like to think it will be recognised as one of the culinary highlights of Dubai. I would also like to think we’ll be preparing to open another site overseas to really establish the brand
Tell us about your background. Most culinary legends learn from other culinary legends. How did you learn your trade?
Firstly I’m a long way short of being a culinary legend, but I was educated at a culinary college on the Isle of Man. After graduating, I moved to London where I had the luck to work with some of the big names of the day—Peter Langan, Anton Mosimann, Sir Terence Conran—before getting itchy feet.
I started to travel the world and worked for Hyatt in Australia were I met Rainer Becker. I ended up opening The Burj al Arab here in Dubai before getting a call from Rainer asking if I wanted to be the Head Chef of a Japanese restaurant he was opening in London called Zuma…The rest is history, I suppose.
Which culinary legend do you rate and why?
As I said, I have been very lucky to work with some greats, including Jason Atherton and Jean Georges, but I would have to say Rainer Becker. His taste, knowledge, and eye for detail are amazing. Every day, he would push you to do that extra 5%, which is the difference between great and awesome. He walks into a restaurant and will see a bulb out behind the bar in a flash—you have to have your wits about you.
What’s your secret behind creating your menu—where do you gain inspiration?
History. I research the origins and traditions of recipes.
For this restaurant, I have Umut and Rasim Özkanca amongst my partners and they have an encyclopaedic knowledge on all things related to the cuisine of Anatolia. It’s also a joy talking to Mr Rasim Bey—he’s got thousands of recipes up his sleeve. I’ve only just started to scratch the surface.
Please talk about your number one key signature dish?
One of my favourite dishes on the current Ruya menu is Levrek.
This really illustrates where it has come from and where I want to take it. The original is a standard mezze dish from the Aegean where sliced sea bass is chilled in iced water before being dressed in a mustard yogurt dressing. We have taken this recipe and presented it in a more fine dining way. Taking my knowledge of Japanese food from my Zuma days, I slice the sea bass like a sashimi. The dressing is made of the same ingredients as the original, but I use yogurt, walnut mustard, red apple juice, and quince vinegar. It is then dressed, served ice cold, and garnished with herb oil, various cresses, and toasted simit slices.
What’s one culinary trend you cannot stand?
I don’t have anything against any trends—they all have a place in the industry. I’m not too enamoured with molecular, but that’s more to do with the fact I’m not clever enough to understand all that science. And so many restaurants go down that route before mastering the basics. It’s more important to know how to roast a chicken, than the foam you will serve with it.
Visual presentation is as important as taste. What does the best colour and texture match look like for you?
Being a Celt, I love all things green, so I try to keep things earthy and natural. Must be the Druid in me.
How do you choose your suppliers to ensure the best ingredients?
I have been in Dubai so long now that I have a great relationship with the suppliers. They know the standards that I stick by, and they know that anything not perfect will get sent back. I would rather remove items from a menu if it’s not up to standard…try telling customers in a Japanese restaurant you don’t have tuna!
What’s your take on motivating your team? Is it all about shouting orders in the kitchen?
I think one of my best skills is kitchen management. I’m lucky that when I open a new place, so many of the chefs that have worked with me before come back.
I’m very old school. I shake everybody’s hand when they arrive in the morning and I shake their hands and say ‘thank you’ when they leave. If on the rare occasions I’ve gone berserk, the next day is a new day and it’s forgotten. Learn and move on.
What qualities do you look for in your staff?
Honesty, integrity, hard working, and a willingness to learn.
One word to describe you as a leader
One word to describe your restaurant(s)
Chef Colin Clague is a star in the kitchen, producing incredibly flavourful dishes that hit all of the right spots. Book a table on the deck, indulge in a cocktail or two, and order a handful of plates off the menu—you won’t be disappointed!
All in all, we had a fabulous night at this Anatolian hotspot and it’s always nice to see a restaurant with a new vibe successfully enter the scene. The Turkish touches, the décor and design—Umut, you and your crew are nailing it yet again!
And finally, we have to give a big shout-out to the d.ream group for proving, yet again, that you guys really know your way around this whole hospitality thing. What an impressive and strong consumer and employer brand—no doubt it’ll be hard to contend with you as a whole!
1st Floor, Lobby Level
Al Sufouh Road, Dubai Marina