SeeFoon wanders Down Under

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.

Restoran Oz
26 Jalan Medan Ipoh 1D,Medan Ipoh Bestari(near Festival Walk).
Business Hours:  11.30am-3pm, 5.30pm-10pm
Closed Tuesdays
Alex Chiam: 016 442 5472

SeeFoon Finds Treasure at Festival Walk

Musings on Food

By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen

I love steamboat. I love everything about it, the steam opening all your pores and ruining your makeup; the decision as to what to put in the pot first; the trawling for cooked bits and making sure that your beef, lamb or fish is not overcooked; the mixing of the various dipping sauces and deciding what to dip into which sauce, and finally the aaahh, mmmm, grunts of satisfaction as one sips the broth at the end of the meal, each soupy mouthful after the other, steeped with all the delectable juices and nutrients of all the ingredients which have all but disappeared down our gullets.

Alas, steamboat is a meal I often avoid. Short of the occasional specially ordered treats at Overseas or East Ocean Menglembu where the chef is admonished to lay off the MSG and make the broth from scratch, all of the steamboat meals I have ever had have been MSG laden nightmares with most ingredients coming from food factories dishing out plastic-ky balls….fish, pork, beef, you name it. Or sticks, as in fish sticks, sausage on sticks, etc.

To my delight, a newly-opened steamboat restaurant called Treasure Pot Steamboat is putting an end to my nightmare on steamboats.

Located a few doors down from Sushi Zento on Festival Walk, this is a well decorated air-conditioned restaurant with both booth seating as well as large round tables for up to twelve people. Heating plates are all induction which do not contribute heat nor gas smells to the whole space and the bigger tables have two induction plates on each table which makes cooking and reaching much more accessible. If there is one criticism to be levied at the design, it’s the noise level which when the restaurant is full, can reach very high decibels, making conversation impossible. So my advice if noise drives you to distraction as it does me, is to go after 9pm when the main dinner crowd would have thinned a little.

The food though is worth sacrificing some of your hearing for though. The first step in dining at Treasure Pot is to order the soup. Unlike other steamboat restaurants where the soup is free, one will have to pay for the soup base which is replenished as much as is needed. If this is the only way to avoid MSG laden broths, then I applaud the move.

There is a choice of the Special Bone Pot (braised from pork bones) at RM20; the Chonqqing Chicken Pot which is my favourite, a spicy broth with special Szechuan peppers or Ma Lat and the fiery dry chillies. RM48 large and RM28 medium; or the Imperial Pork Stomach with Chicken at RM28. There is even a Special Fish Pot for the non meat eaters at RM25. Mixed Pots can be ordered at RM38 per pot.

There is a wide selection of ingredients for the hotpot with a checklist to choose from. Noteworthy in the meat section are the beef, mutton and pork slices, paper thin and cooks instantly. I particularly liked the pork slices which were too fatty for some, coming from the belly but perfect for my fat-loving taste buds – RM9 per portion. Must haves also include the homemade pork and beef balls RM8, although the factory prepared pork balls were pretty delectable RM7. Other items which I didn’t sample were the abalone slices, mussels, Taiwanese sausage and pork kidneys at RM8 and squid at RM9. Noodles are plentiful ranging between RM3-4 including Fish Meat Noodles at RM7.

Seafood is where it gets interesting. There is a row of fish tanks on the right as one comes into the restaurant. Here one can order the fish of the day at market prices. On the day I was there, there were three types of live fish. The regular live Sek Pan or Garupa was going for RM95 per kilo while the special Loong Fu Pan with  vivid black bands across a white body was priced at RM120 per kilo. The night I was there, another table had ordered half of the Sek Pan and I was offered the other half which I accepted. The fish proved to be firm fleshed and utterly delectable.

Other seafood on offer included live medium prawns at RM90 per kilo and our half kilo satisfied our table of six. These prawns were irresistibly sweet and when cooked to the right degree of doneness, was heaven in a carapace. Fresh scallops are available occasionally and like all live seafood, subject to market prices. The standard live fish which is very reasonably priced is the red and black TilapiaRM23 per kilo.

Needless to say, vegetables are plentiful and just choosing from the list can be quite a task. Ranging from between RM4-6 per plate, we found ourselves wolfing down the likes of lotus pods, enoki mushrooms, choi sum, seaweed, tofu, winter melon and bitter gourd. And then came the noodles. Followed by the utterly delectable broth.

This is what I would call a singularly satisfying meal.

Treasure Pot Steamboat
#2-20, 21 Festival Walk @ Ipoh, Jalan Medan Ipoh 1, Medan Ipoh Bistari.
Tel: 05 543 9423
Manager Nick Cheong: 017 690 8919
Business hours: 5pm-1am.  Closed Mondays.
GPS: N 04 37.1 52 E 101 07. 082