A Interview with Picanhas' Restaurant in Club Street
You’ve probably had beef cuts like tenderloin, brisket, ribeye and even flank, but Picanha? Few have even heard of it.
Shaleh Jati, founder of newly-opened, Muslim-owned Picanhas’ restaurant in club street explains, “Picanha, also referred to as the rump cap, is a cut popularised in Brazil and the South American region. It is known for its distinctive strip of fat, similar to a sirloin. As a secondary cut, it contains a lot of flavours and is beefier.”
Our interest was piqued. Why serve a cut that isn’t popular? Wouldn’t diners prefer familiarity over something new? What is it exactly that Picanhas’ is trying to market?
We sat down with Shaleh to chat about this particular cut of meat (if you couldn’t tell by the name, that’s the only cut of beef they serve in the establishment), as well as the challenges he faced while opening a restaurant in the pandemic.
Share with us a little about your background.
I have been in the industry for the past 25 years and I’m looking forward to the next 25 years with Picanhas’. That said, I don’t like talking about myself. Let’s talk about the food, the mocktails, and the people behind the scenes.
What is Picanhas all about?
It might sound basic, but we fire up steaks for the people. “Steaks for the people” is our slogan that you might see a lot of in our small restaurant and on social media. Picanhas’ is about giving the best version of ourselves through the dishes and the drinks; the atmosphere; the friendship. It’s about caring not only for our customers but also for our staff — anyone that walks through Picanhas’ doors. It’s about the people and will always be about the people.
What are the challenges when it comes to preparing this specific cut of meat?
The challenge we faced working with this cut of meat is getting it tender, rendering the strip of fat down to maximize the flavour of the meat. The whole process can be quite tedious, and the team spent many months of research and development to get it right and be finally satisfied with the result.
You guys have an interesting mix of non-alcoholic cocktails — could you share a little more about that?
The mocktails are concocted by our mixologist, David Kit (formally of Nutmeg and Clove). We wanted to create an experience with our spirits-free drinks driven by an unexpected twist of ingredients. These mocktails are concocted with the same care and attention as one would with a cocktail.
As a matter of fact, when we launched, we had customers asking if they could buy them by the bottle. We received a decent show of interest because they wanted to take the mocktails home and introduce them to their spirited friends.
Launching a restaurant during a pandemic is a big risk — why now?
That’s a very good question. There is really no “right” time to start a business. I believe it’s about having the right people around you and having the shared vision of creating a product that reflects the best version of ourselves. It could be a pandemic today and something else tomorrow.
As long as we maintain a safe and welcoming environment that delivers a high-quality product, I think there’s an opportunity to create longevity. The demand for our steaks was actually heartening when we started delivering. Pandemic or not, people still enjoy a good meal and it’s human nature to want to connect with others. We hope that we can be part of that for a long time.
What were some of the most difficult aspects of setting up shop during this time?
Firstly, the uncertainties of the pandemic are beyond our control indefinitely. The research and development process was probably the most difficult aspect as we wanted our product to represent the best version of ourselves. Sorry. I’ve been saying “best version of ourselves” a lot because since we opened with full bookings and along with the stress of launching a restaurant, that’s all I’ve been replaying in my head: we need to be the best version of ourselves — always.
We heard that most of the team came from Feather Blade, could you expand a bit more about that?
Yes, most of them were from Feather Blade. They were left jobless after the restaurant decided to close. Instead of finding new staff, and since I’ve worked them before, I decided to hire all of them.
Maybe that’s the equation. To deliver “steaks to the people”, we must continuously strive to be the “best version of ourselves.” There is definitely room for improvement, but we only wanna give back to the community the best version of ourselves. Oh, I did it again.
The dining scene around the Ann Siang/Club Street area is pretty saturated — what would you say are some of the most distinctive features Picanhas’ has compared to other casual steakhouses?
For us, it’s about the whole dining experience — from the moment you walk in to order your food, savouring the dishes, enjoying your time, and leaving with not only a full stomach but also a full heart. We mean it when we say “steaks for the people”. It’s central to everything that we do.