Dubai’s Souk Al Bahar offers a plethora of dining options under the guise of an authentic Arabian Souq. Take a short hop over the bridge connecting Souk Al Bahar to the adjacent Dubai Mall and the restaurants change from franchised chains and fast food favourites to something more representative of fine dining. The advantage Souk Al Bahar holds over its bustling retail neighbour is the glorious views over the Burj Khalifa fountains, with most restaurants occupying a premium vantage point, perched close to the waters of Dubai’s favourite tourist attraction.
Gunaydin is the newest restaurant concept to open inside the souk, occupying a large ground floor unit. Gunaydin (meaning Good Morning in Turkish) serves up a selection of Turkish fare and is home to an expansive terrace, likely be very appealing once the winter months roll around. Inside is just as nice, with floor to ceiling windows offering the same views (albeit with the extra comfort of the AC). In the centre of the restaurant is a show kitchen, full of life during our visit on a Friday lunchtime. More interestingly is the butchery, where the meat is prepared for the restaurant and from where you can purchase meat to take home (should you choose). Hung with animal carcases, it’s a sight we’ve not seen in a UAE restaurant before and adds a distinct authenticity to this meat lovers paradise.
With everyone currently obsessed with social media phenomenon SaltBae and his Nusr Et steakhouse, it appears Gunaydin has crept into the market offering a similar concept at a far more reasonable price point. The reality is a little different, with Gunaydin starting life in 1965 as a small butcher shop in İstanbul’s Bostanci district, before transforming into a steakhouse concept with over 40 locations in Turkey alone.
The lack of an alcohol license may be a little off-putting, for many customers opt to dine at Souk Al Bahar in preference to The Dubai Mall for the licensed premises. Yet if you can get over this fact then Gunaydin offers much appeal with its selection of meats which are imported from Turkey, rich in flavour and cooked over a traditional charcoal grill.
Gunaydin’s decor is particularly pleasing opting for a light and inoffensive colour scheme veering more towards minimalism than Turkish stereotypes. It’s a smart move which allows diners attention to focus on the waiters (or should we call them meat masters?) as they chop meat table-side. Dining at Gunaydin is an interactive experience that takes the expected dinner theatre up and notch and perhaps one step too far! Those who don’t like their personal space to be invaded may find dining at Gunaydin more than a little uncomfortable.
Things start simply enough with the cold mezze, a standard beginning to any Middle Eastern meal. Having lived in the region for some time, items such as hummus become part of the daily routine and unless it’s truly remarkable, it becomes difficult to differentiate one serving from another. Though Gunaydin’s hummus may not have been particularly memorable, the Patlican Salad (a mixture of barbequed eggplant and onions) was fantastic. Another impressive dish was the Gevurdagi Salasti, a salad bearing some resemblance to the Lebanese fattoush. Mixing cubed tomatoes and onions with Turkish herbs and the addition of pomegranate molasses, which add an appealing tanginess to this traditional Turkish salad.
Gunaydin has become famous for their Lahmacun, a flatbread topped with ground lamb that is presented to the table upon a wooden board, before being sliced with a curved blade resembling a mini machete. This ‘Turkish Pizza’ is a dish that we would especially recommend, for the meat is seasoned with such depth, offering hints of paprika, cumin and cinnamon that we truly relished. It was at this stage in the meal that things started to get interesting….
The Doner Portion takes thin slices of grilled meats and strips of bread, giving the impression that guests will need to make their own wraps. We’re therefore, a little surprised to discover the wraps are prepared for you at the table, before being presented to you by your waiter, as if it’s an ice cream cone ready to be licked. Such interactivity is a novel idea but the vision of someone else touching your food may be a little too much for some diners. For those looking for #SaltBae inspiration, the team of waiters happily complete the salt sprinkling ritual with such fervour and are more than happy to pose for pictures (it’s free publicity after all!)
The meat course also involved Adana Kebab, a chopped lamb kebab seeped in Turkish spices that provide a rich and aromatic flavour to the meat. The restaurant’s signature Gunaydin Special is definitely a must order, taking a Chateau Fillet and pan frying it in butter, before being sliced and presented with bread and rocket leaves. An exceptional piece of dinner theatre that really enlivens the senses, but one that lost its edge slightly for us, purely for the fact that we had been presented the exact same dish the previous evening while dining at The Grill at Abu Dhabi’s Marriott Al Forsan Hotel. Obviously, this is no fault of Gunaydin but it our opinion the version at the Marriott has a slight edge.
Desserts are very strong at Gunaydin with their Katmer being of particular note. Flaky pastry steeped in butter and stuffed with pistachio nuts makes for an interesting variant on baklava that is elevated by the insertion of mastic ice cream into the pastry. The mastic ice cream cuts through the sweetness of the katmer and its elasticity complements the flaky pastry very well, much like an ice cream sandwich. The Baklava is also particularly good (and the portion is more than generous) and paired with a cup of traditional Turkish tea, we were momentarily transported back to our travels through Turkey in the spring of 2002.
Dining at Gunaydin is certainly an experience and one that proves to be a lot of fun. Generally speaking, the food is very good but we did find the service to be somewhat lacklustre. Granted, these guys are performing and living up to a certain stereotype but aside from Ozgur who was looking after our table, the remaining waitstaff seemed bored and disinterested which is a real shame.
There’s little doubt that a resurgence in Turkish cuisine is taking place in the Emirates and with such a prime location in Downtown Dubai, Gunaydin has the potential to do very well. This is definitely one for the carnivores…
We were invited to dine at Gunaydin. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE.