More halal restaurants in Singapore now offer high-end alternatives to halal fast food and traditional cuisine.
Backyard Kitchen opened in Jalan Kayu with some glitter, thanks to its chef-owner Haikal Johari, who also heads the kitchen at the one-Michelin-starred restaurant Alma by Juan Amador.
“I think the Muslim community has always wanted to try new food but they had no place to explore,” says chef Haikal.
That’s why he opened Backyard Kitchen – a modern European restaurant with Asian roots – to offer a higher-end halal option that can accommodate both Muslim and non-Muslim customers.
“I wouldn’t say it’s the full experience – it’s called wine and dine for a reason – but it’s a different experience. As chefs it’s our responsibility to come up with ways to adapt a dish, like using pomegranate juice instead of red wine, to mimic the correct flavours while staying halal,” he adds.
At Hararu Izakaya, one challenge is to justify the pricing of its small plates, even though they are in line with most other izakayas.
Explains owner Wahida Wahid: “Wherever we go, the prices set are usually within the range of the Muslim community, so to some people our prices are steep. But compare them with non-Muslim restaurants and they are on par. Also we use high-quality Japanese produce.”
The same applies at Gastronomad, a three-month-old modern European restaurant where head chef Wahidah Jumahat firmly believes in using fresh seasonal ingredients.
Despite being only 26, she has spent 12 years working her way up in restaurants like Jones The Grocer and LeVeL33, except that she couldn’t taste a lot of what she cooked.
“When I was working, I would have someone tasting the food for me. But I had to learn through culinary books, recipes, and through pairing based on flavour profiles. It’s a lot of memory work, because I can’t taste, so I have to remember,” she describes.
Although it requires more effort, chef Wahidah believes it’s worth it in her quest to prove that halal food can be of a high standard too. She adds: “Let’s face it, we’re well-known for oily food like rendang, ayam masak merah, and lontong, plus we wear hijabs as well. When people look at chefs they expect sleeve tattoos, beards, tall ang mohs. So when customers come into our restaurant, they look at us and wonder if we can actually cook. These are mindsets we hope to change some day.”