The Halal Scoop: The Great Chase

If you read my last post, you would know that I’ve started to become more aware on the subject of tayyib and ethically sourced meat. What sparked this thought process? I have to say, despite being a little aware on the importance of ethically sourced meat, it was my visit to The Great Chase which really opened my mind up to fine dining, halal vs tayyib, and sourcing good quality meat. Meeting Mabruk and Rollo at The Great Chase during the Master Gourmet Meats launch event gave me a great opportunity to understand what The Great Chase REALLY stands for. Find out more about what we found out when we caught up with them!

What does ‘The Great Chase’ stand for?

What does the Great Chase stand for? The short answer is that it stands for a concept we often harp about that we call the unrelenting pursuit. The slightly longer answer is that TGC stands for theunrelenting pursuit of a better way of doing things. The *even longer* answer is that we stand for good food. Responsible business practice. Ethical trade. We stand for paying people what they’re worth. We stand for inclusivity, accessibility and community. We stand for all the things we feel should be common sense and common practice, but which sadly often aren’t. We believe that the TGC is exactly that. CHASEing something GREATer than ourlseves. The Great Chase.

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There are two of you, what inspired you both to go into business together?

*Rollo* From the off, Mabruk’s passion and vision were as clear as his high motivation and excellent work ethic. He’s a shrewd businessman and an excellent salesman. I trusted his belief that not only was there a gap in the market for our ambition, but that there was, more importantly, a market in that gap. More than that though, he managed to sell me the concept of the business as something greater than an investment opportunity. He managed to sell me the idea that we could build a business that
practiced contrary to the ethics that appalled and frustrated us both elsewhere.
It helps, of course, that Mabruk is quite clearly that rarest of things; an intelligent man, as well as a genuinely good one.

*Mabruk* The size of Rollo’s bank account equalled my ambition. Rollo’s expertise in what is needed in a fine eating establishment and flavour profiles. Rollo is hugely passionate about being ethical and believes in community and inclusivity. It was a partnership made in heaven.

What gave you the idea to set up your business?

*Mabruk* Born out of my frustration of taking clients out for corporate lunches and dinners to fine dining establishments and enjoying the wonderful informative service, highly quality and creative dishes but only being able to order from less than half the menu and possibly only 10% of the drinks menu. I then thought wouldn’t it be great to have an option to go somewhere that had similar standards in food, drinks and service. Since I felt there wasn’t one in the modern British/European dining scene, I thought I thought I’d give it a go.

*Rollo*
Ten minutes listening to Mabs casually talking about an abstract desire, followed by two years of research and increasing emotional investment.

What is the main concept of The Great Chase?

*Mabruk* That we provide the finest quality halal and Tayyib food with high quality creative drinks and fantastic service. Create a wholesome and ethical environment that is inclusive for everyone to enjoy. We also do our best to only work with ethical companies. Our meats are free range. Even to our drinks we work with Karma Kola instead of Coca Cola as they give a certain percentage of their profits
to two tribes in Sierra Leone for growing their Cola nuts and are fair trade. We use the rare tea company because they will not buy a single leaf of tea unless they have physically been to the plants themselves, met the owners and the conditions. They do direct trade and pay for the teas even if the crops fail. We want to be working with suppliers and as a business in the most ethical way we can. We also try to help the local community buy funding inititiaves in a local primary school. We have helped Moreland primary school by printing their safety guides for the children on their first campaign
which was anti bullying and the second campaign on grooming awareness. We also joined a charity called toilet twinning. We paid towards to toilets being built in a village in Nepal that had poor sanitary conditions. You can find a picture of these toilets in our toilets. Our male toilet twin and female toilet twin.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

*Rollo* The customers. They are also my least favourite, sometimes. Can I say that? I’m saying it. I’m a complicated guy like that. Honestly though, the customers we get are very often some of the genuinely nicest, most humble, hungriest people I’ve ever come across. The support we’ve received from our customer base has been at times overwhelming. Not only is there an appreciation for the food, drink and service we strive to provide, but also for the ambitions and philosophy of the business. I think that our desire to try and find a better, more open and honest way of doing things strikes a basically decent chord with a people who are at heart basically decent.

On the flip side, if you guys could show up for your reservations and/or let us know that you can’t make it, that would be just swell! We’re a really small business, and it really, really impacts us when regularly 25% of our customers don’t turn up!

What is your definition of halal and tayyib?

Too many people from many cultural and educational backgrounds, Halal is a word  that carries a burden of negative connotation. Halal is synonymous with images of animals rights abuse and poorly drawn cartoons of suspiciously chipper chickens. Halal is a tremendously misrepresented word.

The meat that arrives on your plate which is Halal (permissible according the edicts of Islam) should properly be Tayyab Halal. This means that the animal should be treated with the utmost regard and dignity for the duration of its life. Meat which is Tayyab Halal is, by definition free-range. Tayyab Halal meat comes from animals who are ignorant to the last of their ultimate fate. Slaughtered by hand, individually, and having not witnessed a single slaughter other than its own. Tayyab Halal is in many regards the responsible and practical gold standard for the rearing of animals whose ultimate destination is your plate.

What meat do you use? Is it HMC/HFA?
Currently our meats are HMC certified

How much does halal certification matter to you?
Halal certification is important as we need an authority to be able to give us the confidence that halal slaughter has been done so it is managed and not something left in the air. It definitely gives everyone the peace of mind when going out there to buy halal food. We of course have in the market many halal certifications that follow different methods and state as such which is good for transparency and also informing people which one to use depending on their opinions on the matter. At The Great Chase we have a requirement of high animal welfare therefore our meats are free range and also farm to fork where possible. It would be great to have a certification that was able to monitor
the entire supply chain from rearing to slaughter to consumer. It would be great to have this transparency through the entire supply chain so we have animals that are not harmed, raised and slaughtered the proper way and something that consumers can easily be able to check.

Where does the inspiration for your menu come from?
*Rollo* British cuisine gets a poor press. I remember watching a sketch of an Indian family at an English restaurant daring each other to order the blandest thing on the menu! I wanted to show that British cuisine is as versatile as it’s culture and people. Which is to say we ‘borrow’ from all across the globe! Similarly, we wanted to keep our menu classic, and seasonal. Which is why you’ll see Pheasant come and go. Root veg when root veg is at its best, and not a single strawberry in
December!

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What sets you apart from other muslim-run restaurants?

*Mabruk* We are very lucky in the UK in that we have many great Muslim run restaurants. We have had some of what I like to call the pioneers who started the trends with halal gourmet burger joints and steak houses etc. Regardless of peoples opinions on some of these earlier restaurants in this space, its because of them that The Great Chase exists. They helped start the journey. It wasn’t too long ago that dining out was predominantly Asian inspired restaurants of which many are also great. So its fantastic that we now have options and I just feel The Great Chase is another option in the
market for everyone. We all want to try different things and hopefully The Great Chase is a restaurant can become an establishment that further grows the halal market in good way.

*Rollo* That’s hard for me say. You know. As an upper-class, Public school educated white boy who grew up on a farm in the North. I guess because it’s not just Muslim run? I honestly couldn’t say if – or even really how – different we are from Muslim run businesses. What I can say is that we have been lucky to end up with an excellent and passionate team who know their art (and hospitality done right is definitely an art!). And that definitely helps!

Why don’t you serve alcohol or allow the BYOB policy?
*Mabruk* We wanted a fully halal establishment. Alcoholic drinks are not permissible there we do not serve it. Also we do not allow BYOB as we do not want to facilitate the drink of alcohol in our establishment.

*Rollo* For me, running a dry is a challenge that necessitates invention. It is a challenge that I relish, and I am glad to support Mabruk in his belief.

Our-Drinks
Some people may say that your dishes are a little pricey. What is the rationale for this?

*Rollo* You pay for what you get. Quality ingredients, along with quality staff, cost. If you want to enjoy higher ethic food and drink that has been responsibly sourced, is creatively and passionately prepared, and arrives at your table with knowledge, flexibility and attentiveness, then the fact of the matter is that it will cost you more. Simply because it cost us so much more. I would say two other things. Firstly, that we keep our margins low. Painfully low. We strive and endeavour to make our dining as accessible as we possibly can, while still running a business. We walk a knife edge, and often fall on the wrong side of it. It might be worth remembering (or indeed learning) that while Halal meat is generally cheaper than its non halal counterpart, this does not hold true for our suppliers. Free range, ethically sourced and responsibly farmed halal meat is, pound for pound, significantly more expensive than it’s non halal
contemporary.

Secondly, I would like to suggest that for what we provide, we are actually remarkably not at all pricey. We attract a wide audience, many of whom do not have a halal dining requirement. The size of the bill is often commented on, but in the opposite direction.

What is your favourite dish on your menu at the moment and why?

*Rollo* ARGH! Why couldn’t you have asked this question while we were still running our Sunday Roast (which will be back after Ramadan, FYI)!? Why? Well, a Sunday roast is a fantastic, wonderfully British dining tradition. You get a bunch of people that you love and want to spend your rest day with, you sit them all around a table, and you collectively force yourselves into the deepest of deep food induced comas. What makes our roast special? Two big things. The first is the gravy. Coming from a non-halal dining
back ground I can tell you that making ‘proper’ stock gravy without using wine is like trying to achieve interstellar flight with only a wicker basket, good intentions, and some really pumped pigeons. Chef has, I think, just about nailed it. Not, it has to be said, without long and impassioned arguments, sleepless nights, and some pretty questionable experiments. Mostly on my part, it must be said. The second thing is the meat. Particularly the beef. It honestly breaks my heart to eat roast Beef away from home. Usually because the Beef arrives as a kind of grey-ish brown door wedged that is
over-cooked, dry, and doused in packaged gravy. We used only the very, very best meat. We usually manage to get a whopping 48 day dry aged pieced of rolled Sirloin. It is cooked to perfection, and unless otherwise requested will arrive at your table in its ideal state. Pink, surrounded by excellent trimmings, and with some of the best alcohol free stock gravy you will find!

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What are you trying to achieve as a restaurant and what are your goals for the future?

For now its just to make it a profitable business as essentially we are still a business. We have hard some very hard times so we hope to continue to get the great support we have received and pray that we can continue doing what we are and maybe grow the business into a larger venue or another location to be more accessible to others.

What advice would you give to other young entrepreneurs who want to start an ethically motivated halal restaurant?

*Mabruk* At this stage I think it is very difficult for me to give any advice as we are still so young (less than a year) and also we aren’t even a successful business yet. So we need to see if this business works as any advice right now may prove to be wrong haha. What  I would say though is we should always be ethically motivated not just in a restaurant or any other business but just in life.

Halal is not just slaughter or just food. Halal is a lifestyle, it is associated in everything we do physically and mentally. To strive to go through aspects of life in a halal manner there is no way you’d be able to not be ethical. Islam teaches us only goodness, to have respect for what we and everyone on this earth has been blessed with. So my only advice would be is that what ever you decide to do, try from the best of your ability to do it with the best of intentions In shaa Allah and remember its prayer that is more important than our obsession with the HALAL food.

Any young entrepreneurs and budding restauranteurs are more than welcome to come and have a chat with us and we will try help as much as we can. Maybe we can help you with the suppliers we use or just tell you about what we would do if done again to not miss the obvious things or steer you clear from the many mistakes we have made. We would love to help create a community and see other halal businesses grow as Halal is really only important to Muslims so we need to take more care of it and work together to make it better.

The Great Chase 
Address: 316 St John St, Clerkenwell, London EC1V 4NT
Website: thegreatchase.co.uk
Phone: 020 7998 0640

 

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