Last Updated: November 19, 2020
As someone who enjoys food immensely, there is just something so enticing and fun about trying to find the best iteration of a particular dish (like briyani) or pitting famous restaurants against each other. After all, competition is the whetstone of talent, honey.
This time, we are looking at briyani (surprise!)—you know, the plate of fluffy, buttery basmati rice smothered in gravy accompanied with either mutton or chicken? That one, yes.
While there are many reputable briyani joints at our disposal, we decided that for this showdown, we go to OGs and what’s more they are right beside each other. All institutions in their own right, mention either Zam Zam Restaurant, Victory Restaurant or Al-Tasneem and you might even get some rather spirited debate amongst your group of friends.
These three restaurants are all located along North Bridge Road, so you can easily try these golden grains of rice and meat from all three places and decide which reigns supreme.
Now, when you’ve been in business for this long, disagreements are bound to happen. If you’re all caught up with current affairs, you’d know that Zam Zam and Victory did find themselves embroiled in a spat sometime last time year. You can read all about it here if you want to add some spice to your meal.
For this food showdown, we kept it simple and ordered a plate of Mutton Briyani at every restaurant. It comes down to three rubrics of briyani excellence: the rice, the mutton and the dhal that comes along with it. These seemingly basic elements are deceptively simple, but it’s all about their execution. Plus, to stay competitive, all three plates of Mutton Briyani cost S$7.
As you can imagine, it was a ‘tough’ day of judging briyani, but I clearly took one for the team and here are my findings.
When judging briyani rice, you’ll want it to be fluffy, well separated, and buttery. Also, let’s be real; briyani was never known for its looks, so the messier it looks in the picture, the better it might taste.
For Victory restaurant, their rice was a little paler than we expected but tres aromatic and fragrant. We spotted a couple of cardamom pods which nicely perfumed the rice with that warm and rich scent. However, as lovely as that scene was, we found that the rice lacked punch and flavour.
This took a complete 180 degrees over at Al-Tasneem where the rice of their Mutton Briyani came in a decidedly more turmeric-laden hue. In flickering shades of amber and yellow, Al-Tasneem’s rice was more flavourful than Victory’s but was lacking that heady fragrance superior briyani rice is known for.
It seems like a case of Goldilocks when it comes to these three restaurants. We know about Zam Zam’s reputation and die-hard following, and while I was sceptical about it, I could see why.
Zam Zam’s rice was fatty, nicely separated, and redolent with cardamom, cloves, and a pronounced peppery kick. It was both flavourful, aromatic, and even had an addictive salty bite.
The cucumber achar that came with the plate was sweet and tantalisingly acidic—thoroughly well-balanced for such an inconsequential part of the plate.
Mutton can be quite a polarising meat. Most people shun said meat for the apparent gaminess and its propensity to be hard as rubber. It’s a challenging piece of meat to prepare, which is why we put it to the test in this briyani showdown.
With both Victory and Al-Tasneem, we found that the mutton was pretty comparable. It took some effort to pry the meat loose, even when the mutton has soaked up a considerable amount of gravy. It was adequate, with good resistance, albeit needing some effort, but we weren’t complaining.
Things seem to take a different and dramatic turn at Zam Zam—the mutton was tender and fell off the bone. I don’t want to sound hyperbolic, but our jaws hit the floor with how good the mutton was. Slightly pink in the centre, the meat was soft and required only a spoon to separate meat from bone.
A slightly fattier cut than the previous two stalls, the mutton had a better mouthfeel and paired more heroically with the basmati rice. We hate to sound like a broken record, but Zam Zam had emerged the clear victor for this round.
An accompaniment to briyani, the dhal is the final piece of the briyani puzzle. Over at Victory, the dhal was tasty, slightly spicy and rich though it was running a little thin.
At Al-Tasneem, the dhal took on a much starchier consistency and was more prominent with the spice level.
Zam Zam’s dhal was just a notch more flavourful with more depth and a thicker, and more viscous consistency. Here, I would say we found the dhal of a similar standard and apart from the consistency there was nothing that was of consequence.
The decision was unanimous, and the moment we had the first spoonful of rice, it was clear that Zam Zam Restaurant had the superior Mutton Briyani. It’s a tight Goldilocks situation, where Victory Restaurant and Al-Tasneem were both tasty in their own right but just fell a tad short of Zam Zam. You could say Zam Zam Restaurant was a cut above the rest.
Of course, no restaurant is defined by a single dish, and while Al-Tasneem and Victory lost this showdown, their legion of longtime fans and supporters would tell you otherwise. Whether you agree or disagree with this verdict, we can be certain that our love for briyani runs deep, and though preferences will always remain divisive, we will always find comfort in a plate of steaming hot spiced rice with whatever choice of protein you prefer.
Let us know which other briyani stalls we should do a showdown at. Who knows, your suggestion could very well unseat today’s reigning champion.
Zam Zam Restaurant: 697-699 North Bridge Road, Singapore 198675 | Tel: +65 6298 6320 | Opening Hours: 7am – 11pm (Daily) | Facebook
Victory Restaurant: 701 North Bridge Road, Singapore 198677 | Tel: +65 6298 6955 | Opening Hours: 7am – 10pm (Daily) | Facebook
Al-Tasneem Restaurant: 709 North Bridge Road, Singapore 198681 | Tel: +65 6291 0709| Opening Hours: 8am – 11pm (Daily) | Facebook