Musings on Food
By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen
Chatting with Chef Alex Chiam, a Penangite who has lived in Australia for 18 years and who is the proprietor and visionary behind Oz, recently, a provocative question popped up which had us discussing animatedly for the next half an hour. The question, “Is there an Australian cuisine?” brought out a slew of suggestions.
Just as pasta and pizza is synonymous with Italy, Foie Gras and Escargots (snails) with France, Pork Pies and Fish and Chips with United Kingdom, Hamburgers and Apple Pie with USA, we were racking our brains as to what was definitive Aussie cuisine. Of course there is the famous ‘Barbie’ or barbecue which all Australians love but we couldn’t come up with a single item that hasn’t been borrowed or adapted from their Oz ancestors, the early settlers who came primarily from England, followed by an influx of Italians, Greeks and other European countries. I offered the idea of Kangaroo burgers which made Alex shudder, crocodile and emu steaks which he claims are very tasty but hard to come by and we were stuck. And of course, there is the Witchety Grub, the most authentic of bush tucker, a worm with a nutty-flavoured bite that has been enjoyed by indigenous Australians for thousands of years though today’s modern Aussies find eating them raw somewhat difficult – to put it mildly!
The diet in Australia is as diverse and ethnically influenced as that of America. Immigrants from Ireland, Greece, Italy and Asia have all made lasting changes to the Australian food culture and today, Aussie food is an eclectic mix of many cuisines.
The same applies to Oz’s menu, borrowing from Australia’s mix of ethnicities and more focused on quality of ingredients than on fancy recipes. In other words, wholesome food; and as a friend from Kuala Lumpur remarked, at incredibly reasonable prices.
With today’s prices skyrocketing on all fronts, it is a pleasure to find a restaurant that is not hell bent on profit and passing all the rising costs onto the consumer.
It is rare to find a restaurant with good quality food at reasonable prices and where a 4-course meal is RM20, 3-course RM16.50 and for lunch, a main course and drink for RM12.50.
When William Balasingham, who is a champion of new small struggling restaurants striving to produce good quality food, and another of my foodie friends, invited a group of us, the set menu offered Creamed Mushroom Soup or Minestrone which is an Italian vegetable soup with the vegetables cut into chunks. The soup was umami and robust. Five main courses provide a good choice with House Roast Chicken; Fish Mornay which is fish served with a white sauce tinged with hints of cheese; Pork Schnitzel (coated in breadcrumbs and fried to a golden crisp) with Garlic Basil mayonnaise; a Chicken Chop with black pepper sauce; and a savoury Minced Pork Puff (light pastry and a tasty filling).
We ordered a mixture of the set menus and à la carte dishes and shared our food almost Chinese style as we dipped into one another’s plates and tasted each and everyone’s choices.
The Outback Style Aussie Roast Chicken is their signature dish. The quarter chicken is marinated in herbs, garlic and roasted. It is served with an interesting bread stuffing with hints of pineapple as well as a choice of three accompaniments. It is difficult to choose between mashed potato, thick fries, coleslaw, roast potatoes, tomato rice, potato salad, Caesar or Russian salad and onion rings but I would recommend the coleslaw, the thick fries and the onion rings. Choosing a sauce is also a dilemma as they all look so yummy on the menu. I settled for the herb bread sauce which was thick and fragrant but the creamy mushroom and onion sauce looked just as tempting – RM19.90.
A great value for money is their Aussie burger, a generous pattie of your choice of beef, chicken, pork or lamb with fries, salad, pineapple, egg, cheese and onion rings. A meal to satisfy the most ravenous appetite at RM14.50. The Fremantel Fish and Chips, crispy chunks of fish coated in batter and deep fried, served with equally crispy chips which I found irresistible – RM16.90.
Someone at our table had ordered the Aussie Braised Lamb, tender chunks of lamb braised to a succulent tenderness, served with its own braising sauce, thick and redolent with onions – RM23.90.
Pasta Carbonara which is spaghetti tossed in a sauce of chicken, mushroom, cream, egg and bacon was creamy without being cloying and generous in its ingredients. The spaghetti could have been more al dente for my taste and those who like it springy must request for it when placing the order which I did. Otherwise it arrives soft as per local taste – RM19.
Desserts are missing from the à la carte menu at Oz as Chef Alex explained that his clientele primarily come for the mains, however upon request, it’s easy for him to whip up some crepes and top it off with something delectable from the fridge.
26 Jalan Medan Ipoh 1D,Medan Ipoh Bestari(near Festival Walk).
Business Hours: 11.30am-3pm, 5.30pm-10pm
Alex Chiam: 016 442 5472