When Serina Singhsachathet was 18, she was really overweight. She tried all sorts of diets and exercise plans but soon realised that she needed a complete lifestyle overhaul if she wanted to see tangible, long-lasting improvements.
So she made substantial changes to her diet, lost weight and after she got married and moved from Bangkok (where she grew up) to Dubai (where her husband worked), she started documenting tried-and-tested healthy recipes on her blog A Skinny Dish and developed quite a following.
Later, she moved to Kuala Lumpur with her husband and late last year, launched her passion project: nutritious, clean-eating restaurant Raisin’ The Roof in Plaza Damansara.
“We don’t use wheat, we don’t use anything processed, we don’t use any preservatives. Everything is just clean, real food,” she says.
It’s also totally vegetarian. Serina herself is pescatarian – her husband is vegetarian – but she admits to not really knowing how to handle meat and seafood, so took them out of the equation in her fledgling eatery.
“Fish and chicken are healthy, but it’s not what I’m comfortable cooking. I don’t want to be in a business where, if I need to be in the kitchen, I just can’t touch fish or meat. It’s a personal preference,” she says.
Many of the recipes in the eatery come from Serina’s blog vault, but she says her chefs have adapted to cooking without yeast, wheat, refined sugar and processed food of any sort.
“Imagine that they went to pastry and culinary school and had to throw everything out the window. It’s hard to re-learn everything, so I’m really proud when they are able to innovate,” she says.
Although Serina still supervises in the kitchen, her chefs’ increasing ability to handle the kitchen has allowed her to interact with customers, a facet which she thinks is very important to introducing people to what Raisin’ The Roof has to offer as well as tempering their expectations.
“It’s nice to be able to interact with people and I think it’s important to explain the concept as well. You have to be able to understand that a gluten-free pancake isn’t going to be as fluffy as regular pancakes. It’s not the same! A sweet potato brownie is not going to be the same as a brownie which has yeast and you just have to kind of explain that to people,” she says.
The menu is pretty diverse and even if you’re veggie averse (the restaurant doesn’t use any mock meat, so you won’t get any meat substitutes here), you’ll find something to pique your interest.
Like the shakshouka (RM18.90) which features baked eggs in a spicy tomato and bell pepper sauce served with homemade gluten-free garlic bread. It is honestly really good – the sauce is brimming with spices, the peppers are plump and well-cooked, and the garlic bread is soft and tender with lots of strong, garlicky flavours.
Then there is the pistachio falafel wrap (RM22.90) which is made with wholemeal tortilla, baked pistachio and herb falafel, roasted beetroot, carrot, lettuce, hummus and mint yoghurt dressing with raw vegan chilli sauce.
This is probably one of the best things to come out of Raisin’ The Roof, a sure-fire winner that is healthy but tastes indulgent. The whole ensemble comes together on the palate like a well-rehearsed orchestra where no member is jostling for your attention because they know they’re better as a collective.
“It’s one of our bestsellers. It’s amazing how many of these we sell,” agrees Serina.
The big brunch plate (RM25.90) is a new addition on the menu and is made up of two poached eggs on sourdough toast, pan-seared chickpea and tofu sausage, baked tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, baked potatoes and corn salsa. The sausage tastes a little mealy, more like a rough-hewn chickpea patty than an actual sausage. The rest of the meal is pretty good, with the standouts being the velvety soft mushrooms and piquant corn salsa.
If you’re after something local, the rendang bowl (RM14.90) might tick that box. A spicy homemade rendang paste coats chunks of sweet potato and eggplant, in a concoction that includes brown rice, cucumber and cherry tomatoes. The rendang is a tad sweet, but has some great, fiery flavours. The cherry tomatoes and cucumber are a little incongruous in this context.
The curry laksa (RM16.90) is another Malaysian favourite that has been given a vegetarian twist in this incarnation which includes rice vermicelli noodles, pumpkin tofu, cabbage and green beans. This is spicy with lots of coconut flavours and a motherload of vegetables. The only missing link is the tofu puffs which are much-loved staples in curry laksas everywhere.
Serina says this is intentional as she didn’t want the restaurant to feature too many tofu options.
For dessert, you have choices, including a chocolate lava cake (RM16.90) with dairy-free ice-cream (made using coconut). The cake doesn’t have the promised lava and is on the dry side, but the ice-cream and strawberry chia jam are divine.
There is also the flourless sweet potato brownie (RM9.90), which features a Herculean attempt to nail the flavours of the classic brownie using sweet potatoes. Although you can taste the sweet potato in this, it’s actually really pleasant and texture-wise, is eerily similar to a real chocolate brownie.
For drinks, you absolutely have to indulge in the nut milks on offer. The milks are made by soaking the nuts, blending with water, and straining. The Pistachio Rose (RM19.90) is the most expensive of the lot, but is oh-so deliciously good. It is slightly sweet, and has intense pistachio flavours couched in a creamy, nutty, milk-like drink.
Ultimately, Serina says she hopes Raisin’ The Roof will help change people’s perceptions about what healthy eating is all about and encourage more people to embrace new things.
Raisin’ The Roof
61 Jalan Medan Setia 1
Tel: 03-2011 5313
Open Monday to Thursday: 10am to 8pm; Saturday to Sunday: 9am to 6.30pm