Izakaya or Japanese gastropubs are casual watering holes where diners enjoy bar bites and drinks.
Naturally, when Hararu Izakaya in Kampong Glam opened last month, the Muslim-owned restaurant attracted much buzz among diners, even though no alcohol is served there. Hararu means halal in Japanese .
Instead, co-owners Wahida Wahid, 27, and Diet Hidayat, 35, hoped to re-create the fun and convivial atmosphere that is often associated with the izakaya experience.
Ms Wahida says: “Halal Japanese food options in Singapore are rather sparse and do not go beyond the usual sushi and sashimi. A lot of Muslims are curious to try what authentic Japanese food is like.”
And the response has been good. The 80-seat restaurant is “overwhelmed”, she says. Reservations are recommended.
The menu comprises about 60 tapas-style dishes that are grouped according to yakimono (grilled dishes), kushiyaki (skewers of grilled meat or vegetables), agemono (deep-fried dishes) and nimono (simmered dishes).
Popular dishes include gyu nitsuke (miso-seasoned beef shortribs, $14), surume ika (grilled squid, $16) and mixed seafood nabemono, or hotpot, with daikon, leeks and Japanese mushrooms ($22).
The menu is the brainchild of Mr Diet, who was an operations manager and chef at an izakaya chain here for 5 1/2 years.
About 90 per cent of the ingredients are imported from Japan.
Drinks-wise, diners can sip on Nippon-inspired mocktails such as The Matcha Egg ($14), a concoction of matcha, hazelnut, egg white and lemon juice; and the Japanese Twisted Chendol ($14), a blend of non-alcoholic Blue Curacao and macadamia syrups, Calpis and mango and orange juices.
The two-storey 2,700 sq ft shophouse unit is covered in murals of geisha and Japanese streetscapes by artist Belz Hermann. On the second floor is a tatami seating section adorned with lanterns.