When Leslie Tay, now Asia's Best Food Blog by the Nuffnang Asia Pacific Blog Awards wrote that Bismillah was the best nasi biryani in Singapore...my eyes and tastebuds perked up.
In my travels to the Indian sub-continent, I have tasted some amazing biryanis...in New Delhi (a small restaurant in Defence Colony, whose name escapes me now), in Mumbai (once a superior experience at the Hilton Towers coffee house...yes, next to the Oberoi which was seiged, and many times at Mahesh, and the Copper Pot), and in Karachi. The rice was superior...super long grained, non starchy, very fluffy and absorbent. I even hand carried 10kg of superior basmati rice once back from Delhi. The varieties you get in Singapore's provision shops are way inferior. Read Leslie's article for more information on basmati rice.
Not only the rice is superior, the spices are superior. The cutlets of lamb, often whole rack or leg are superior. Fat, no doubt, but flavourful, wholesome. And the generous amounts fragrant ghee used makes it an aromatic pot. None I have experienced in Singapore comes close.
But a few offer substitures when a trip to India is not possible to enjoy some biryani. I have written about Mirchi, whose Dum Biryani is superb. Almost close to the motherland's, but not quite. And the promise that Bismillah was the equal, lures.
I made a trip to Dunlop Street immediately the next day. True to form, I found the rice wonderful...but the mutton used was very tough, almost to the extent that one has to fight with it...that kind of killed the experience. But within the toughness, I could taste the hints of the spices which the chef had blessed the meat with. And the rice...wonderful.
I gave it a second try, and brought some overseas colleagues there for dinner...including an Indonesian, a Pakistani, and a Korean. All enjoyed the biryani...but the mutton was still being mutton...very tough. I discussed this with Arif, the owner who was there that evening...and he explained that he does not use ghee (healthier), and uses mutton from goat which is more than a year old...so the meat is tougher...a quality he feels should be part of the mutton experience.
So when Cactuskit announce a mini-makan session that lamb curry was to be made available, I jumped again and made my third visit to Bismillah.
The lamb was served in a brown gravy...quite unlike any curry I have seen. Chunks of lamb...making out what I think is probably a whole leg or part of. Another serving, shown above was a rack of lamb...
The meat was very tender...fall off the bone. Very succulent, juicy. Nice flavour...and a subtle hint of the lamb. The sauce was more a brown sauce than curry, was heavy in pepper...The entire ensemble was rather nice. But I felt it did not scale the heights. The sauce was one dimensional, too strong of pepper. And no complexity to play with the flavours and aromas of the lamb.
The dish was served with hand made naan.
I am not sure if Bismillah have a tandoor oven to make the naan, I suspect not...but the naan was very dense. The dough did not rise at the ends to make a fluffy, light bread, but remained dense, and chewy. The taste was ok for naan, but I much prefer the fluffy, fragrant varieties found all over India and in Mirchi.
Not being able to resist, I also ordered a lamb biryani:
Lamb biryani? Earlier Arif had argued that only mutton, with its incumbent tough, sinewy meat was good enough for dum biryani...he had once declared that if mutton is cooked till tender, the meat is destroyed in his mind...but somehow, perhaps the power of Leslie's blog (I and a few others commented that the mutton was too tough), he now offers lamb.
This was absolutely wonderful! The lamb was tender to a fault...fall off the bone...it was served on the bone, and meat on the bone, being closer to the blood supply when the animal was alive tends to be sweeter and more succulent. Indeed this was. The lamb flavour was not overpowering, but subtle, ever present...perfuming the spices instead of the other way round. Very very good. The rice was superb as usual with Bismillah. Truly an outstanding dish.
How does it compare to Mirchi and those in India? Well Mirchi uses ghee...this alone imbues the biryani with added flavour and fragrance...much like pork lard enhances the flavour of char kway teow, the ghee enhances the flavour of the biryani. So still no comparison. But a healtier version (not exactly totally healthy as lamb is high in cholesterol and saturated fats). I am able to live with that...no, more than only live with it...but totally am able to embrace it...as I don't get a guilty feeling of betraying my body each time I indulge. So Bismillah will be a permanent mealpoint for me...to be visited, hopefully sparringly (for health reasons).
ismillah Biryani Restaurant
50 Dunlop Street
11am to 10.30pm dail