SeeFoon hankers after Italian and finds it at Marianis

Musings on Food

By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen

Ever since Deano and his wife sold Italia Mia in the Sunway area, my hankering for tastes and aromas Italian has gone largely unsatisfied. That trattoria ambiance, with Mama in the kitchen and Papa taking the orders and fussing around to make sure that your meal is okay, homemade pasta served al dente, the smell of garlic and virgin olive oil permeating the room has remained nostalgic in my gustatory memory banks for quite a while.

Now all that has changed with the arrival of Marianis. Located in the De Garden shopping and restaurant complex, it occupies the space where Pappa Rich used to be, just below Daorae the Korean restaurant. Proprietor Dato’ Dr Wenddi Chong and her partner Kim Goo have gone to great lengths to fit out the restaurant tastefully. A bar at the entrance is ideal for drinks as you wait for a table while the kitchen boasts its own wood-fired oven for pizzas. They have even gone to the extent of having their own private restroom for their clients so that one need not traipse the long distance to the public toilets and most likely to face the inevitable stench and mess commonly found here in Malaysia.

Kim who designs the menus with the Chef, comes from a strong Food and Beverage background and manages the restaurant. One evening when I was there, he came over and offered me a Scotch, a Tarans Blended Scotch 18 years old. Being a keen Scotch drinker and never having tried this particular brand, I accepted with alacrity and found it mellow and smooth – my kind of liquid gold. According to Kim, he is the only person serving this particular brand of Scotch in Ipoh and one that I would definitely recommend sampling.

The menu is extensive with ample selections in each of the usual categories of starters, pastas, meats, fish and desserts and of course pizzas from their wood-fired oven.

For starters, their Carpaccio Con Rucola E Grana which is thin slices of raw beef on a bed of rocket salad with lemon and extra virgin olive oil dressing topped with parmesan cheese flakes, is well worth trying if one has no aversion to eating raw beef. The same goes for their Carpaccio Di Salmone which is thinly sliced smoked salmon with a tangy lemon dressing.

This was shortly followed by a pasta dish and on this particular occasion we had the Spaghetti Aglio Olio Peperoncino, which is spaghetti with garlic, extra virgin olive oil and fresh chilli.

What is worth noting on their menu is the admonition on the menu for pasta which stated that if you wish to have your pasta well-cooked to please inform the chef as they cook their pasta ‘Al Dente’ which means still resilient to the bite. However, I was disappointed on this particular evening as the pasta arrived well overcooked! On questioning Kim, he explained that the local taste was for well cooked pasta and his chefs were accommodating local tastes! So a word of advice. If you wish to have your pasta ‘al dente’ stress to the person taking your order that you will return it if it’s overcooked!

I was well rewarded on another occasion when I returned to taste their ‘pièce de résistance’ one of Marianis’ specials of the month. This was an irresistible Aragosta All’Marianis a whole lobster, served with a choice of Alio Olio (extra virgin olive oil and garlic) or Sorpasso which is a spicy sauce. This time I was emphatic about the pasta being ‘al dente’ and sure enough it arrived, the grilled lobster aroma wafting ahead, a juicy whole lobster of around 700-800 gms, split in two, sitting on top of spaghetti that was garlicky, spicy (I chose the Sorpasso) and perfectly ‘al dente’. It was a treat worth the RM138 per portion price and must be pre-ordered as they have a limited number of lobsters. For those who might find this price a bit steep, the same pasta with fresh grilled seafood is equally good.

A dish I would recommend especially for the vegetarians is their Ravioli Crema Di Spinachi, the Italian ‘wonton’ of homemade pasta filled with spinach, mushrooms, white truffle oil and cheese flakes. Again, if you insist on al dente, it will be so but I suspect that a lot of our Ipohite taste buds prefer the softer version.

The Cannelloni Al Funghi E Parmigiano Con Tartufo is another vegetarian delight and a rich meal in itself. These are crepes with creamy mushrooms and parmesan cheese baked with mushroom sauce and drizzled with truffle oil.

For fishterians, I can recommend the Trancia Di Cod, a grilled fillet of cod served with sun-dried tomato sauce and for the carnivores, the Stinco D’Agnello Al Forno which is lamb shank slow roasted in red wine and herbs. This was juicy and fall-off-the-bone tender, the sauce lending a smooth mouthfeel to each morsel.

As I said at the beginning of this review, the menu at Marianis is extensive with items to suit most taste buds and pockets. And I haven’t even mentioned their pizzas and their Focaccias!

There is a choice of 18 pizzas and one Calzone (a folded over pizza like a huge curry puff) ranging from the vegetarian ones with herbs, cheese and tomatoes to the carnivore’s favourites with beef, turkey ham, seafoods, a selection to suit every palate. Their selection of homemade Focaccia (a type of flat Italian bread made with yeast and olive oil and flavoured with herbs) makes for excellent Italian sandwiches. The  selection of vegetarian, Tuna fish, grilled chicken, smoked salmon and beef burger makes for a difficult choice although the Focaccia burger which I sampled was scrumptious.

For dessert, the one item that is a ‘must try’ is their Panna Cotta Alle Noci E Miele, their homemade cream pudding served with walnut and honey sauce. This was velvety smooth, the pudding gliding like silk on the way down the gullet with the crunchy walnuts lending texture to the mouth feel.
I am happy that Marianis is here to stay and not another half-year wonder that we’ve seen in past years. Ipoh needs more dining outlets for the gourmet experience and I hope that the quality of their food remains consistent. So Kim, as General Manager and Executive Chef Sonny Teh, please keep giving us Ipohites something to rave about.

At the time this goes to print, Mariani’s will be awarded a Class A recognition by MBI which is quite an accolade considering that the restaurant has only been open for four months.

Carpaccio Di Salmone with lemon dressing (smoked salmon) – RM26
Carpaccio Con Rucola E Grana (Raw beef tenderloin on rocket salad) – RM28
Ravioli Crema Di Spinaci (Spinach Ravioli) — RM38
Cannelloni Al Funghi E Parmigiano con Tartufo (Mushrooms Crepes) – RM32
Pizzas – RM18-35
Focaccia – RM18-28
Trancia Di Cod – RM48
Stinco D’Agnello Al Forno (Lamb shank) – RM48
Spaghetti Sorpasso (Spicy spaghetti with fresh grilled seafood) – RM48
Aragosta All’Marianis (Whole lobster with garlic and olive oil or Spicy) – RM138
Panna Cotta Alle Noci E Miele (Cream pudding with walnuts and honey) – RM12

Marianis will be offering a special Christmas and New Year’s menu. Priced at RM158+ per person, the 4-course meal includes a glass of sparkling Prosecco Vetriano. Call them for a preview.

Marianis Italian Ristorante (Pork free)
GF 11,12,13 &13A DeGarden, #3 Persiaran Medan Ipoh, Medan Ipoh.
Tel: 05 548 6505; Kim Goo: 014 212 9211
Business Hours: 4pm-midnight

SeeFoon goes from North to South in her Foodie quest

Musings on Food

By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen

The one lament I have about being introduced to ‘Tai Chau’ (literally translated to mean ‘big fry’) restaurants is that the dishes in each are, as the Americans would put it…‘same old, same old’. Meaning that they all serve the same dishes and have similar items on their menus. The only variations are in the preparation styles and the skill of the ‘wok’ person in the kitchen and the flavours he/she coaxes out of the food. And that is what separates the wheat from the chafe. And what brings in the customers like myself and my foodie friends.

For eat we must and daily. And while our eager group will check out any small nook and corner with any new opening bringing one or two of our curious ones to check it out, on the whole, we end up returning to some perennial favourites or adopting some new ones that we discover. While some of these may have been operating for years, like Lo Tian Seafood Restaurant which is in the north of Ipoh close to Jelapang, serving folks from Silibin, First Garden and Taman Rishah, some others like Restoran Likarli are relatively new, catering to up-and-coming communities like the burgeoning one in Seri Botani in the south, close to the Simpang Pulai toll.

In this review, I shall cover both outlets in one go as the menu items are similar and I will highlight only those items that impressed me.

Restoran Likarli
This is a two-shoplot restaurant with well spaced out tables and one side fully air conditioned. The service is brisk and friendly and they are happy to make recommendations.

One of their specialties here that they recommend to everyone is their Mun Cheong chicken, a 90-day old (most market chickens are slaughtered at around 40-45 days) bird of the Wu So Kai or ‘whiskered’ chicken variety. This is steamed and served with a ginger/scallion paste. As the chicken has had sufficient time to grow, the meat is more hearty and voluptuous without descending into stringy toughness which some old birds are prone to do. At an average size of 3kg and above, the serving is huge and it’s advisable to request for half portions if the group is smaller.

The homemade pumpkin tofu served with tung fun or bean thread noodles and garlic had a velvety texture and was scrumptious, as were the green peppers and black beans, the peppers still crisp on the bite with the black beans lending its smoky saltiness to the dish.

Venison Kway Teow or flat rice noodles was delicious, the venison well seasoned and tender, imbuing its gamey flavour to the bland white noodles and raising it to culinary heights. Similarly, the salted egg yolk added to the batter of the fried sotong or fresh squid, lifted this ubiquitous denizen of the depths to another dimension.

Lo Tian Seafood Restaurant
This is another one of my foodie friend, Ginla Chew’s peripatetic finds and considering that its so close to where I live I will be eternally grateful. Apparently, this is a coffee shop that has been open for quite some time specialising in river fish and white pomfret which is always available. As white pomfret is one of my favourite fish, I shall certainly consider making it my local ‘canteen’.

The night we went, we had the wild river fish head which came in a claypot and was absolutely mouth-watering fresh and certainly a dish I would recommend. Next came the soft shell crabs fried with salted egg yolk-crispy and umami morsels that just melt in the mouth.

The Dong Por Yoke or pork belly braised in dark soya sauce was wobblingly delectable albeit a tad too sweet for my palate. However, the next dish of Ikan Bilis Szechuan style made up for it with its sizzling spiciness tempered by the tofu cubes, long beans and onions.

The Salt Baked Kampung Chicken was average with the smokiness overpowering the subtle flavouring but the wonton noodles fried with chunks of roasted pork was tasty and excellent value at RM10. As was the Tom Yam Fried Rice. For a finishing touch we had fried Umeji mushrooms and pea pods or ‘mange tout’ embellished with crispy bits of dried sotong or squid. One dish that we didn’t get to try was their Hot Plate Har Gao or dumplings on a hot plate which I promised to return to sample on another day.

All in all, Lo Tian with its very friendly lady proprietor Choong Poh Foong, is one place I shall frequent.

Restoran Likarli
44 Jalan Lapangan Siber 10, Bandar Cyber, 31350 Ipoh.
Tel:  016 529 0298
Business Hours:  noon-2.30pm; 5.30-10.30pm
GPS:  N 04° 32.528’ E 101° 06.543’

Lo Tian Seafood Restaurant
11, Jalan Raja Perempuan Mazwin, Taman Rishah, 30100 Ipoh.
Tel:  05 528 3575, Madam Choong:  012 556 6557
Business Hours:  5pm-midnight
Closed every fortnight Wednesdays
GPS:  N 04° 36.6’ E 101° 03.32’