The words “Fine Dining” gets thrown about in the halaal restaurant space quite casually. Often without qualification. It is worth saying that true fine dining is not merely about plating steak and chips to make it look posh. It is about being creative in the entire process of the meal. Selecting the dishes to serve based on the quality of the ingredients, how it is prepared, constructed and plated and eventually how it is presented at the table.
The Happy Uncles have finally brought a fully halaal fine dining experience to a Muslim market who have waited with baited breath for too long. A chic open-plan restaurant juxtaposed against the urban renewal district in industrial Salt River Cape Town. We got to experience their 6-course menu and chat to Chef Anwar Abdullatief who along with Riedaa Manie and Fuad de Vries, co-own this exciting new venue.
Chef Anwar grew up in Grassy Park in Cape Town and has moved around the Cape from Paarl to Franschoek and now Salt River cutting his teeth in the hospitality space while studying to become a professional chef. He is a behind-the-scenes kind of guy. A shy perfectionist of note he is far more comfortable making sure everything is just so before a single plate goes out than front of house doing the rounds with the guests. His humble demeanour belies his extensive experience in the industry having worked for high-end restaurants like Cavalli, Jordan, Siba and head chef at Rupert and Rothschild.
We asked about his latest endeavour, The Happy Uncles and what inspired it.
“I was working for Clos Malverne when Covid hit. It made me start rethinking my goals and aspirations. I wanted to do more and I wanted to create my own menu’s and cook my own food. I wanted to make all the ideas I’d been writing down and saving all that time come to life” he says.
“Being a Muslim chef in this environment was also very challenging. I would not taste any of the food if there was pork in the kitchen, which made my job difficult. And the industry does not make it easier for you because you’re Muslim.”
“I met Riedaa, my business partner on Hajj in 2018. He impressed me as a very intelligent business man and saw the possibilities then already. Eventually he convinced me that the time was right and we opened The Happy Uncles as a production kitchen focused on corporate and private events, and then started growing our exclusive fine dining offer just about 3 months ago.
Why the name, The Happy Uncles?
“It’s a spin on a restaurant in Paarl that I had briefly launched that did not work out. It was called ‘My Cross Aunt’. We thought ‘The Happy Uncles’ was a fitting name for something we were much happier to be a part of.”
Which chefs inspire you to continually up your game?
Grants Achatz inspires me, though I would have to say Thomas Keller, from the French Laundry is my all-time favourite.
Chef Anwar is married to fellow chef and gorgeous TV personality Yolani Abrahams from “Spyskaart” on Kyknet. We got to meet her too as she was supporting Anwar in the kitchen that night. They first met when she was an intern in his kitchen many years ago. They parted ways but she had left her mark on Chef Anwar. They met again years later and were married in 2021. Accomplished in her own right Anwar beams with respect when he speaks about her.
So what do two dynamic chefs with crazy schedules do in their downtime?
“Yolani decided we had to do at least one thing together outside of work, so we don’t end up living past each other. I let her decide what that would be and she chose that we would gym together”. He laughs ironically and admits that he was never a fan of gyming, but for love…..
We also chatted to Riedaa Manie about his part in this venture.
Being involved in business, when did your food journey begin?
My food journey began whilst on Hajj with Anwar. I was never really exposed to fine dining, but he introduced me to so many different cuisines during that time and that’s where my love for it started.
What inspired opening a fully halaal fine dining restaurant?
When I returned from Hajj, the fine dining experiences still lingered. However, many of the fine dining restaurants offered options that forced me to compromise on my Deen, like offering pork on the menu and serving alcohol. I set out to create a space where fine dining and halaal cuisine could co-exist without compromising one another.
What challenges do you foresee about being in the halaal space?
One of the biggest hurdles we need to overcome is catering to patrons who want alcohol. Fine dining is often accompanied with alcoholic beverages which we as a fully Halaal restaurant cannot cater to. Another hurdle is the fact that fine dining is not traditionally part of the Muslim community. We are often brought up with simple stews and curries, so the theatrics that accompany fine dining doesn’t always resonate with the majority of our patrons. We understand that it will be an adjustment, but we believe that the community will rally behind us once they see the passion we put into our work.
How involved are you with the day-to-day operations of the restaurant?
I am very involved in the day-to-day operations with the rest of the team at the restaurant. Every decision is always discussed and then made as a team. I like to think of Anwar as the genius in the kitchen and we are behind the scenes working our magic so that he has the platform to shine. We are currently a team of 6 and we are working tirelessly to get it to the finished product you see today.
Do you have a vision for opening more restaurants like The Happy Uncle or others?
We definitely have big dreams and are constantly looking at new directions to take our exciting venture. However, we’re just concentrating on making The Happy Uncles a truly unforgettable experience for now.
Who inspires you, and why? Either personally or in the food space or both?
My mother is probably my biggest inspiration. She is a woman of strength and was my Masterchef growing up. My mother’s cooking always has barakah in and she always has a plate of food for anyone who needs it. Her cooking is of the best, but I understand I may be biased when it comes to that.
Here is a breakdown of the 6-course menu we tried at the Happy Uncles.
Pre starter : Puffed rice cracker with salmon tartare and labneh & Tempura curly kale with wild mushroom duxelle, avocado mousse and a sweet n sour dressing.
Accompanied by the drama of dry ice smoke as it is uncovered at the table this dish set the tone for an evening of food theatre.
1st Course: Black mosbolletjie bread with blackened garlic and soy reduction brown butter, cauliflower puree and braised lamb kayangs.
Familiar flavours served in an unexpected way on a completely black palette.
2nd Course: Charred broccolini with broccoli herbed pesto, fresh avocado, edamame, sesame, wild mushroom tea and watercress.
For me the star of the evening was this humble salad. The charred brocolini was perfectly smoky and the wild mushroom tea was poured into the plate at your table and enhanced the simple ingredients beautifully.
3rd Course: Mauritian Seabass ceviche with salted plum, dressed with tigersmilk.
Tart and lemony, the plum added a nice contrast.
4th Course: “Wagyushi” – comprising Wagyu Macon rose, Rump Mushroom nigiri, Tempura California crunch roll.
Probably my least favourite of the courses more because of texture than flavour. The nigiri was very good though.
Palate cleanser: Our palate cleanser was prepared at the table by our waiter. Elderflower granita and coconut flakes frozen with dry ice and topped with edible petals.
5th Course : Grilled Norwegian salmon next to a crispy fried west coast crayfish tail with pommé pavé, lime and roasted garlic foam and confit carrots.
My first time trying a crispy fried crayfish and this gets my vote.
6th Course: Chocolate Torte with pistachio ice cream, chocolate soil and seasoned berries.
A delicious pistachio ice cream offsets this intense chocolate torte and the berries add just the right touch of sweet and tart.
The Happy Uncles is a milestone in the halaal scene in Cape Town. They are learning what works and how to develop this offering for the Muslim market. Show them some support and let’s pave the way for more halaal establishments of this calibre.
4-course menu – R650 per person
6-course menu – R880 per person
8-course menu – R1225 per person
Beverages are not included.
To make a booking contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Find them at 100 Voortrekker Road, Unit 14, The Spice Yard, Salt River.