11/11A Cheong Chin Nam Road
(+65) 6466 5052
I’ll be honest. I eat here not because the food is brilliant but because it’s next door to where I live. Having said that, Al-Azhar, opposite Beauty World Plaza near Upper Bukit Timah Road, has plenty going for it. It’s open long into the night and, encouragingly, always busy. The Indian food is cheap: an order of two curries, breads, rice and drinks comes in under $20. And the quality of some of the Indian dishes (Thai, Malay and Chinese staples are also served) is on a par with what you’d find at far glitzier establishments. The butter chicken, for instance, is sinfully rich and flavoursome. The biryanis and pratas rarely disappoint. And I never miss an order of green-pepper dhal.
Al-Azhar is also interesting for people-watching. For one thing, you’ll always find someone hunched over a bizarre Singapore drink. Beverages of choice include Bandung (the alarmingly pink, rose-flavoured kopitiam classic) and a concoction known as the Milo Dinosaur (a regular cup of Milo with a big spoonful of undissolved Milo powder on top). Not to mention the Horlicks Godzilla (don’t ask).
Just as there’s nothing especially Indian about the drinks at Al-Azhar, the soundtrack veers towards “mat rock” (Malaysian rock-and-roll or heavy metal). In their black T-shirts, the servers look like members of an Iron Maiden tribute band from KL. Still, they’re quick and efficient, in a gruff kind of way.
The only things not to enjoy about the Al-Azhar experience are the size of the menu (longer than a Vikram Seth novel) and the disappointing Western dishes, all of which come drizzled in something I’ll charitably refer to as mayonnaise.