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Halal twist on traditional British roast creates appetite for new restaurants

Gillian Duncan

Born and raised in the UK, Mabruk Khan would often crave a traditional British roast dinner: Beef or chicken with vegetables and gravy.

But restaurants serving Sunday lunches did not cater for him as a Muslim because they were never halal. For many years, the idea remained little more than a life goal.

“I could see a roast looked great and smelt great but I couldn’t have it,” Mr Khan told The National. “So, it left a lot of us craving somewhere.”

Mr Khan decided to open his own restaurant – The Great Chase – offering an alternative to the usual Lebanese or Turkish food, curries and kebabs.

As far as he is aware, it is the first fully halal restaurant focused on serving a traditional British roast in central London.

“I identify as British,” said Mr Khan, 37, who has a Bangladeshi heritage and was born and raised in the UK capital. “But I had nowhere I could go to eat traditional British food, like a roast or a beef wellington – or anything of that sort. I wanted to make that accessible to everyone.”

Khan’s business partner Simon Pearson, 36, was sold on to the idea immediately.

“The roast is a fundamentally traditional and quintessentially British experience,” Mr Pearson told The National. “That kind of food and cuisine is the food that British people come together over.

“To have such an enormous section of our society unable to eat that kind of dish was almost insulting.”

London’s culinary diversity

Halal restaurants have become more commonplace as London becomes ever-more diverse and its diners open to new experiences.

They help cater for a growing group of tourists, with GCC countries constituting the second-largest market for the UK and contributing more than £2 billion to the economy in 2022, according to figures from VisitBritain.

There are other fully halal restaurants in the capital, such as Meli Melo, even if they are not as obviously British as The Great Chase.

Bake Street in east London is another. It is owned by Feroz Gajia, who had a similar goal to Mr Khan of opening a halal restaurant that catered to his tastes.

The Great Chase offers halal British cuisine – in pictures

“We wanted to open the kind of place that didn’t exist for us at the time,” Mr Gajia told The National.

Favourite dishes include birria, a traditional Mexican soup, and Hawaiian plate lunches.

“Aside from the food we have a prolific baked goods selection including the creme brelee cookie, the best banana bread that just happens to be vegan, brownies and lemon bars,” added Mr Gajia.

“The rotating menu of weekend specials [Guava Pastelitos, Champurrado tarts, croissant bread pudding] often reflects our head baker Chloe Rose-Crabtree’s background and creativity.

“She is originally from LA and worked in many types of cafes and restaurants. We collaborate on the soft-serve ice cream flavours, which have become something we are known for now.”

VisitBritain research shows that visitors from the GCC have a strong interest in immersive “foodie” experiences.

“So, it’s important to cater to their culinary needs,” said Carol Maddison, the deputy director for Middle East and Asia at VisitBritain.

“London’s increasingly diverse cultural landscape means that the culinary scene continues to evolve, with an increasing number of halal dining options catering to the needs of Muslim visitors and locals alike.

“Restaurants like The Great Chase and Bake Street exemplify this trend, offering fully halal menus that celebrate traditional British cuisine.”

Spicy or bland?

Offering a more niche and narrow menu, it took The Great Chase some time to establish its name after its 2017 opening. A stumbling block was diners’ expectations: Halal food can be quite spicy.

During the first six months, the restaurant had “constant” requests for chilli sauce. Another frequent complaint was that the food was bland.

Mr Khan recalled: “They said ‘all your food is bland because none of it is spicy’. But we had a lot of flavour – there was rosemary coming through, thyme, all the traditional flavours.

“Our diners at the time just came to us because we were a halal restaurant and didn’t think about what it was that we’re providing.”

Originally the restaurant only offered the roast on Sundays. It became so popular they had to start turning people away and then offered the menu on Saturdays as well.

But that got busy, too, so now the entire menu is built around the roast, which it offers all week.

Options for roasts include aged rib-eye beef, beef sirloin, harissa slow-cooked lamb or a vegan tofu and feta tart, with prices ranging from £25 to £32.

All roasts are served with roasted vegetables, roast potatoes, stuffing, neeps puree, tenderstem broccoli, cauliflower cheese and Yorkshire pudding – a savoury baked pudding made from a batter of eggs, flour, milk or water. A selection of steaks are also available, with prices ranging from £36 to £75.

Bake Street offers halal food – in pictures

It offers an extensive tea and alcohol-free cocktail menu. “We curated a tea menu that we can pair with foods,” Mr Khan said.

The Islington restaurant now has a huge following, with some people travelling huge distances to eat there.

“People have driven down from Leicester or places like that, just to have dinner here, and driven back,” added Mr Khan.

“We have even had people come from France on the Eurostar, have their birthday dinner here, then go back to Paris.”

Many people also visit from GCC states, with one family returning every year.

The restaurant, which seats 34 people at full capacity, has a prayer room and is fully halal.

Courtesy: thenationalnews