Just how rogue is R Trader

R Trader - Dubai restaurantsWhen I first read the promotional material for R Trader, the new ‘modern British with international influences’ restaurant in DIFC’s Al Fattan Currency House (brought to us by the same team behind Pier 7’s The Scene by Simon Rimmer), I thought it might specifically target a certain type of high-end banker. Between a name that’s self-consciously a play on ‘rogue trader’, the financial district location, and the 1920s speakeasy theme, I wasn’t entirely sure that I was the main audience. So I’m glad that I didn’t allow my preconceptions to cloud my judgement, because R Trader served up some excellent food.

But before we get to that food, I’m going to have another rant about ill-conceived sharing concepts. R Trader’s main menu is divided between ‘raw’, ‘sea’, ‘birds & beasts’, and ‘land’ (menu-ese, I think, for ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegetables’). Each of the selections within these sections is then designated with an ‘S’ for ‘small plate’ or ‘L’ for ‘large plate’. When I asked our (lovely) waiter if these were the equivalents of starters and mains, the reply was the dreaded phrase ‘well, we have a sharing concept, and you can share the small plates’.

Why do restaurants do this? What marketing study tells them that ‘sharing concepts’ have to be shoe-horned into a menu where they don’t really fit? Neither of our ‘small plates’ were brought to the table in a style designed for sharing; they were starters for one. The food at R Trader is well executed, but it grates that there’s a forced ‘sharing concept’ that doesn’t fit the menu or the way courses are served, and doesn’t seem to tie into the larger plates at all. Why not just keep the broader thematic menu divisions and just call the small and large plates ‘starters’ and ‘mains’? Which, realistically, is what they are, and was how we ordered.

R Trader - Dubai restaurantsBut that’s going to be my last complaint about R Trader. I don’t usually play the Dubai restaurant bingo game of ordering foie gras and/or truffles, but I made an exception here. My foie gras and brioche sandwich was served with ‘fairground onions, toffee apples, popcorn’, which might sound like a nightmare combination of fattened bird liver and fairground, but was both deliciously balanced between the rich foie gras and tart apples (with little candy discs on top), and one of the more aesthetically pleasing plates of food I’ve had in Dubai. This set the scene for some excellent presentation over the evening; which wouldn’t save the food if it was mediocre, but is a bonus when the food is this good. It’s perhaps harder to get creative with a serving of caramelised cauliflower risotto (served with Banyuls, a French fortified wine), but they certainly don’t skimp on the shaved truffle. The rice grains were maybe just a little on the firm side of al dente for my tastes, but I appreciate that this is a personal preference (and one that might appal Italians), and there was certainly no problem with the rich, almost meaty, flavours.

For mains (sorry, ‘large plates’) I ordered the hand-dived scallops with grilled leeks, tater tots, and dill. I’m not sure how many Dubai menus make a virtue of their scallops being hand-dived, but – from a marine conservation perspective – I hope it becomes a trend. The dish was served with a remarkable rösti on top that looked more like delicate sugarwork rendered in potato than German Switzerland’s national dish. If I was going to quibble, the rösti and leeks were slightly awkward to cut up – it’s not a plate of food I’d recommend to neat and dainty eaters – but the scallops were perfectly cooked and richly tender. My dining companion ordered the BBQ Welsh lamb with aloo gobi, onion bhaji, and chaat masala. The Indian flavours here were delicately restrained, allowing the lamb to come to the foreground while still complementing the dish (my companion found it just slightly over-salted, but we agreed to disagree). The ‘onion bhaji’ consisted of some excellent Indian-spiced onion rings – a notoriously difficult dish to get right (the onion rings, that is; not the Indian spicing), but which R Trader pulls off with style.

The real highlight of the meal was the desserts. R Trader takes some real risks here, instead of offering safe, comforting options, and this pays off handsomely. The ‘hot & cold’ single bean chocolate with ‘Aztec flavours’ and smoky churros doesn’t hold back from the chilli; though – as any good Aztec can tell you – chilli and chocolate are an excellent match. But my baked Roquefort cheesecake with madeira and pickled grapes was magnificent, the central cheesecake encased in a madeira jelly. The waiter was clearly concerned about what I’d think of this dish, warning me that it was savoury rather than sweet. He needn’t have worried; just think of it as a strongly-flavoured cheese course at the end of the meal – hardly an unprecedented concept – and you’ll be fine.

Speaking of service, our waiter was excellent; attentive, knowledgeable about the menu, friendly without being overfamiliar, and doing his level best to cover for the worrying lack of atmosphere. We were the only table of diners in the restaurant on a weekend evening. R Trader has a good strong concept (‘sharing’ theme aside), wonderful food, a warm wood-toned art deco-tinged décor that matches the 1920s speakeasy theme, and separate bar and restaurant areas so that you can linger over a drink. At about AED300 a head without alcohol, prices are reasonable for what’s on offer – but there are almost no customers. Yes it’s new, but this is the second new DIFC restaurant I’ve reviewed in a row with almost no punters. We were walking out just as the band was about to start to play. Who were they going to play for?

I’d love to give R Trader a four knife rating, but until it can bring in more customers to create the vibe it’s looking for (and hopefully still deliver on great food and service), it’s going to have to be three and a half out of five FooDiva knives.

But I hope those customers turn up, because on the basis of the food, service and pricing, R Trader really deserves to be a success. I’d return just for the Roquefort cheesecake.

How important is atmosphere to you? Are there perhaps too many competing restaurants now in DIFC?

The Man in the White Hat.

So who’s FooDiva’s anon guest reviewer, The Man in the White Hat? He has an abiding interest in both history and food; his holidays tend to combine an intriguing local cuisine with a UNESCO World Heritage site, and he’s eaten his way across some 50 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America, and Australasia. While now based in the UK, his work occasionally brings him back to Dubai.

FooDiva Rating: Knife Rating: 3.5
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7 Responses to “Just how rogue is R Trader”

  1. Tayla Russell March 1, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    Ahhh when did you sneak in? Thank you very much for joining us, we are very happy with our review and we must agree we hate, double hate the word ‘sharing’ to. Naughty waiter telling you that, (we’re taking him out the back for a flogging) we are whatever you want us to be, we are rogue. Dishes are marked as small and large so you can graze your way through the menu and enjoy as much or as little as desired before moving over to The Drawing room for lounging and perfectly wasting time with the house band. We are currently just at the tail end of finalising all these little touches to complete your rogue dining experience and as such we will be closed during weekends until we launch our Friday lunch tasting menu. Rita & The Rogues are just sneaking in a cheeky few weekend jazz and swing sets, practice makes perfect as they say. Our pantry for café style breakfast & lunch and more excitingly our Private Study (if you can find it!) will be launching in April when we will be fully open. Thanks again #teamrogue #roguedining #rtraderdubai

    • The Man in the White Hat March 1, 2016 at 2:13 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to clarify the ‘sharing’ issue, Tayla. But please don’t flog your waiter for getting this one point wrong. He was absolutely lovely otherwise, and was able to address all of our questions about the menu – and then the food as it was served. I think a minor tweak with the training might work better than breaking out the cat ‘o nine tails!

      • Tayla Russell March 1, 2016 at 5:29 pm

        Fair point, we’ll put the whips down for now! Thanks again, and please do come back soon x

  2. JayEim March 2, 2016 at 1:57 am

    Hello MWH

    Thank you for an entertaining read.

    The DIFC maze with overground and underground and flatground.

    The problem with such places are:
    a- You have to be aware of their existence and
    b- You have to find them.

    Add to that, you have to guess out what type of food is offered and their PR blurb which says: ‘modern British with international influences’ does not explain a lot…..in fact what is the difference between ‘modern British with international influences’ and ‘modern International with British influences’ or ‘modern Jodhpurian with Manchesturian influences’.

    I should now add “Influences” to my Foodictionary App and probably I should add how to get to a restaurant once you parked your car……

    As for the classification: ‘raw’, ‘sea’, ‘birds & beasts’, and ‘land’. It is rather off putting words like Raw and Beasts. I do not wish to partake a Beast with my fellow diner….blood et all.
    Food wise, I would not like to have a sweet wine with my Cauli Risotto, but hey, that’s me and I noted your satisfaction with the dish.

    Tater Tots. Hughh. Had to look this one up as I am not a Morrisons or frozen food connoisseur. Grated potatoes with flour….Plueaaaaase!
    Onion Bajis……..I thought these were eradicated with the big turn of the century clean up.
    Baked Roquefort cheesecake with Madeira and pickled grapes . I take your word for it. Madeira it is and there goes half of the clientele out for this dessert.

    I had a look at the menu which strengthened my concept for a Foodictionary App:
    Words like Arepa???? – Choi Sum???? – Nana’s Pickles??? – Duck Siu Mei??? – Obligatory Rice????

    Obligatory Rice????Why? Are they going to Siu Mei if I don’t eat it? Give us a break or in this context the cocktails list includes a Corpse Reviver No.2……..Blimey I would need the whole flippin numerals……1 and 2 and 3…….10 😉

    Me think I will go rogue on this place and give it a wide birth……..hate eateries when they play the irony card….not on my paycheck.
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    P.S. Is the foie Gras d’Oie ou de Canard? Inquiring minds like to know?

    • The Man in the White Hat March 2, 2016 at 10:45 pm

      I think you might have been just a teensy bit harsh on this one Jayeim. I appreciate that elements of R Trader’s approach might be an acquired taste, but it’s a tightly focused concept that’s well thought out (which is more than I can say about some Dubai restaurants), with excellent food, and considerable promise.

      ‘Modern British with international influences’ makes perfect sense in the context of the restaurant. While the occasional South American and Filipino twists might be a little left field, having some international influences on a menu that still has a recognisable British core is hardly outrageous given the influence of the former British Empire on modern British cuisine (and if you’re not convinced by those South American arepas, you can always read some of my peer-reviewed published academic journal papers on the extent of commercial and cultural interactions between the 19th-century British Empire and Venezuela; happy to help there). Modern British cuisine back in the UK can be fairly outward-looking when it comes to its influences, and I thought most of the influences on the R Trader menu made sense (alright, I wasn’t wholly convinced by the Filipino one; but the others, yes). Yes, fusion can be confusion when done badly; it’s done fairly well at R Trader.

      As to some of the ‘irony’, right now some of the themed cheerfulness on show is a little forced, but only because it’s a new restaurant that’s still finding its feet and doesn’t have many customers yet. If it can draw a crowd, I think this will work – and not in an American themed restaurant sense, but as a reasonably organic part of the core concept. I’ll admit that it won’t appeal equally to everyone – these things are inevitably subjective – but I think it can find its audience if given the chance.

      But you’re right about the problems of finding a restaurant in DIFC. It can be tricky enough finding a restaurant in Gate Village. It took me two attempts to find the main entrance to Currency House, and even then I had to ask the reception desk where I needed to go. This is more of an issue, and not necessarily an easy one to solve. But nor is it an insurmountable obstacle.

      And it’s ‘Mancunian’, not ‘Manchesturian’.

  3. JayEim March 3, 2016 at 10:21 am

    I suppose if you wish to stretch the term “Influences” of what was to you “British Empire” and to others British Colonialism”, not withstanding the expletives………….then we are on perfect tune.

    I guess the first man on the moon is also of “British Influences”…..just sayinnnn.

    ….I purposely wrote Manchesturian and not Mancunian for a phonetic reason which seems to have passed you by.
    Come to think of it and with the latest city make up, it looks that the name should be changed to Manchesturian.indeed 😉

  4. Tayla Russell March 8, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    Hats off to you Man in the White hat for a perfectly pitched reply to Jayeim’s ramblings.

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