(THE SUNDAY NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Al Meroz in Bangkok is Thailand’s first fully halal hotel, with every facility a practising Muslim could need and, of course, non-Muslims are welcome too, the latter enjoying the terrific fine-dining restaurant Barakat as much as anyone.
The hotel has a prayer room and separate swimming pools for men and women. All the guestrooms are oriented towards Mecca, and women guests travelling alone can stay on one floor with female staff on duty.
Barakat has a wide range of Arabian and Mediterranean halal-certified dishes, meaning they adhere to Islamic dietary rules – no pork or pork by-products and no alcohol. Poultry and other meats are processed according to halal requirements.
Assurance is given in the Halal Certificate displayed from the Central Islamic Council of Thailand.
“‘Halal’ refers to the entire production process, including storage and the utensils and equipment used,” says food and beverage manager Saksit Sarovat. “A high standard in hygiene is essential. When you mention halal food, most people think about chicken biryani and oxtail soup, but at Barakat we offer new experiences - dishes in the Arabian and European styles and a large selection of steaks.”
High windows let natural light in, illuminating the Islamic patterns in the iron fretwork, upholstered chairs and the decorative golden trim of the tableware. With seating for 45 diners, it all feels quite posh, though the open kitchen also adds a friendly, welcoming vibe.
“We have chefs from India, Pakistan and Nepal,” says Mr Saksit. “The hotel also has the all-day-dining restaurant Diwan, with halal-certified, international cuisine. People find both restaurants cosy and tranquil. They come here to avoid the usual noisy drinking crowd.”
Executive chef Aphiruk Manaaphooa says that, in place of red wine in the steak dishes, grape mustard balsamic sauce is used and the halal bakery shuns gelatin, which is derived from animal protein, instead using pectin from fibrous protein.
Given the dietary limitations, the menu is surprisingly extensive, including Lebanese-style grilled meats, Indian tandoori and Australian beef. All prices are net as quoted, so there are no surprises when the bill comes.
A lovely starter is the Lentil Soup (200 baht, S$8.40). Chef Aphiruk says the lentils are boiled for eight hours and cooked with butter, milk and salt.
A nice cold mezza starter, Chickpea Hummus (160 baht) has the chickpeas blended with olive oil until the mix becomes a creamy puree, then cooked with lemon juice and salt. Pita bread is provided for dipping. Hummus is considered a good source of plant-based protein and is high in vitamins and minerals.
For a hot starter, the Samosa (120 baht) is stuffed with potato and vegetables, or lamb if you prefer (200 baht) or chicken (160 baht). It arrives with mint, mango and garlic aioli dipping sauces.
That beloved Lebanese street food Lamb Kibbeh (250 baht), the “Mediterranean croquette”, is made with cracked wheat, fine-ground lamb and spices and fried until golden brown.
Perfect for sharing is the Mixed Grilled Platter (550 baht), which features skewers of grilled beef, lamb and chicken that have been marinated in spices and salt. On the side are plain naan and grilled vegetables.
For Butter Chicken (300 baht), the meat is cooked with ghee (clarified butter), masala, tomato, chopped parsley and onion, and served with naan.
The biryani is certainly on the menu – chicken, lamb, beef or vegetarian, and there is also a fancier variant, Lobster Biryani (600 baht). It is half a Canadian lobster sitting on the bed of rice.
Dry aged beef from Australia goes into Beef Tenderloin Steak (1,495 baht) – 200g of 55-day-old cured meat lightly seasoned with pink Himalayan salt and pepper and served with gravy sauce. The plate is beautifully decorated with a mock floral vine rendered in small cubes of tomato, carrot, beetroot and potato, butterfly-pea flowers and sprinkled “crumbs” made from gravy sauce and wheat flour.
End a perfect meal with Baklava (160 baht), the rich, sweet dessert of layered filo pastry, chopped nuts and syrup, or Strawberry Ice Cream (140 baht) topped with rice pudding and crushed almonds and pistachios. If the sweets are not sweet enough, says chef Aphiruk, just ask for extra syrup or honey. “In our other dishes,” he adds, “the taste is authentic, but they’re not too strongly flavoured with spices.”
Among the beverages, the Passion Fruit Mojito with mango, mint and lemon is refreshing and recommended, as is the Coffee Date Frappe. Each costs 90 baht.
Barakat is at Al Meroz Hotel on Bangkok’s Ramkhamhaeng Soi 5. It is open daily from 11.30am to 10pm. Call (02)-136-8700, extension 4305, or go to www.AlMerozHotel.com.
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