Deepavali, the festival of lights, is upon us, so it’s time for that biryani fix. By S. Sakthivel
No festival of lights is complete without a festive feast of murukku, Indian sweets, and most importantly — biryani.
Don’t fret if you haven’t snagged an invitation to a Deepavali shindig this weekend, this handy list will point you in the right direction, long after the festivities.
We have picked nine popular biryani spots, oft recommended by foodies, to find the one that really hits the spot.
In this tasting, seven tasters graded the biryanis on three criteria — rice, meat, and the overall flavour and presentation of the dish. The scores were totalled up to see who came up tops. To ensure fairness in the comparison, this taste test pitted mutton biryanis from nine well-known shops.
To bring the list to a thrilling climax, here are the Top Three picks…
$13.80 with curry
To provide a little change of pace in the top three, Barrels is more bar than restaurant. But don’t let the pint glasses and bar stools fool you, they also offer a formidable menu of authentic North Indian food.
The most striking or even jarring thing you will notice about their mutton biryani is that there no sign of the familiar large cut of mutton. Instead, they shred and mix the mutton (with a splash of gravy) into the biryani rice — a novel interpretation of the dish.
The rice was well cooked and had attractive splashes of red, orange and brown, it was unimpressive in terms of taste but then again, it would never be eaten on its own. The meat and the curry/gravy were satisfactory, mildly spiced, and tender thanks to the shredding, it is very easy and pleasant to eat. The gravy itself is nothing to shout about, probably a dalcha. The magic, as they say, is in the mix.
It’s so far unknown what kind of late night kitchen frenzy catalysed the invention of this “biryani” but it was surely an inspired move. Mixing up plain biryani rice and shredded mutton with dalcha should not work, but it does to surprising effect here. This biryani, if you could even call it that, is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
Those afraid of heat should be wary — the biryani comes with a handful of chilli padi mixed in, that pack a delicious punch. If you need a little bit extra on the side, the dish is served with a mild North Indian style korma, reminiscent of a kofta curry.
The overall taste was good but it won’t blow your socks off. The differentiation in style, however, really impressed the tasters, propelling the otherwise lacklustre mutton biryani into the top three. Though the priciest, at $13.80, it is sizeable enough to be a lot more than a bar snack.
Barrels may lose out in flavour to the top two, but it’s a must try for its novelty.
34 South Buona Vista Road
2. Islamic Restaurant
$10 with with curry and achar
With a history that stretches almost 100-years, Islamic Restaurant is one of Singapore’s most lauded biryani joints. They have become known for their consistency over the decades and they proved their worth with gusto at the taste test. Six out of seven tasters put them in their top three.
The rice deserves special mention — with its soft, long grains interspersed with the spice mix/gravy, it was a joy to eat (even on its own). It can be on the drier side for some, but a good mix with the meat and spices should take care of that.
The mutton was lean and came with a generous helping of the spice mix/gravy. The fork tender mutton, together with caramelised onion, gravy and rice made for sumptuous bites. It comes with a side of curry but that was rarely touched or even necessary.
Islamic’s mutton biryani is a full-bodied dish; some may find it over spiced (sometimes powdery), or too saucy at times. That and its excessive greasiness may be the only concerns in this dish. The second priciest on the list, the large portions of both meat and rice make up for the premium price.
Business as usual it would seem as Islamic Restaurant lives up to its fame with ease.
745 North Bridge Road
1. Victory Restaurant
$6.50 with dhal and achar
To Victory Go The Spoils
It started the test as the dark horse but Victory Restaurant’s mutton biryani crossed the finish line in glorious gallop. While relatively unknown for their biryani, they are not newcomers — Victory has been serving Indian Muslim food at Kampong Glam since 1910.
Over the years they have been locked in a fierce murtabak war with neighbours Singapore Zam Zam for the best part of the last century. Amid all the hubbub their biryani has gone all but unnoticed.
With its light coloured rice and no additional sides, the dish isn’t much to look at but looks can be very deceptive indeed.
The rice, while light coloured and sparsely flavoured, was fluffy, long grained and delectably delicate. It provided a platform for the scrumptious mutton with gravy to shine. The tender chunk of mutton was boneless and came without any annoying bits of gristle or excess fat. And it was bathed in the luscious gravy/masala that was a real eye opener. It offered nothing fancy, no hints of exquisite spices or herbs or any spectacular bells and whistles but it was expertly balanced. It wasn’t in your face, the natural flavours of the meat intermingled with the spices to create a harmonious mix that kept inviting you to take bite after bite (after bite).
Balance is the reason Victory’s effort stood above all others. The rice and meat (and gravy) all combined for a final product that was quite simply very good. The accompanying dhal also offered up another nice little surprise — the creaminess and delicately understated flavour added another layer to the already excellent biryani. And at $6.50, it offers great value too.
On Fridays, Victory rolls out the dum biryani, which, at $9 is a totally different taste experience. The meat is tender and can be peeled off the bone with the blunt edge of a fork, and the rice is deceptively spiced.
Next time you are in Kampong Glam, skip the murtabak (or add to it) and go straight for the biryani at Victory Restaurant. It is a true hidden gem.
701 North Bridge Road
Do you agree with our list? Don’t keep you objections to yourself. Share them with us! Rant and rave or add to the list in the comments section below.
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