SeeFoon Gets Exclusive on Cowan Street

Whenever I get a hankering for western food, I find myself wishing that there were more restaurants here in Ipoh where the food quality was of a consistently high standard and where I won’t have to mortgage my house to entertain guests. Aside from one or two that meets the foregoing criteria, the choice here is pretty limited.

Now diners who appreciate fine food have yet another venue to choose from. The de Exclusive Venue recently opened with little fanfare and has been quietly serving quality western food for discerning diners for more than two months now. A very well furnished restaurant, the restaurant has a lounge for drinks and snacks upstairs and there is even a Cigar and smoking room in the back.

Situated directly opposite St Patrick’s Pub on Cowan Street, this little gem of a place has two young creative chefs in the kitchen who have come home to roost to share their culinary skills with Ipohites. Kevin Chong and his partner Tang Chee Weng, both originally from Ipoh, have been honing their culinary skills together in Singapore for the past 10 years. Their international expertise shows in the delicate touches which they bring to the dishes on the menu which is compact yet able to please most palates.

Every dish I had on a few occasions were excellent and well worth recommending. We decided to order many appetizers and mains and split up the portions for a taste of each. Here is a sampling: Grilled Prawn Satay and Mango Salad had three skewers of big prawns redolent with lemongrass and turmeric on a bed of lettuce leaves dotted with pomelo, cucumber and surprise of surprises, slices of a local mango called bacang or ‘kuini’  lending its unique pungency to the salad; dressed with a ginger flower dressing. Fusion flavours, delicate and exotic at the same time – RM22.

Tasmanian Black Mussels served in white wine and sweet basil broth with garlic toast was delectable. Unlike New Zealand green mussels which can be chewy, these smaller cousins were tender and juicy and the broth umami and flavourful – RM18. More appetizers followed which were all worth trying. The Tataki Tuna Belly on a bed of avocado, cherry tomatoes and balsamic sesame vinaigrette sauce hit just the right notes – RM22, while the Crisp Black Pepper Soft Shell Crab provided the crunch enhanced by the wasabi aioli sauce lending a touch of Japanese drama to the dish.

I must make mention of their pasta dishes. This is one of the few places in Ipoh where you can get your pasta cooked a’la minute and have it served al dente (how the Italians eat their pasta which is still chewy on the bite). One particularly delectable one is the Hokkaido scallops and Prawn Linguini, served with cherry tomatoes, asparagus, basil leaf and a light cream sauce made from lobster and prawn shells reminiscent of a lobster bisque – RM38.

My favourite main courses were the Roasted Rack of Lamb, two chunky Dorper Lamb chops marinated with Javanese spices, tender, juicy and still pink on the inside, served with potato cutlets and seasonal vegetables. This is lamb cooked to perfection, a favourite of mine – RM48.

Their Grilled Chilled Angus Rib-Eye Steak, topped with truffled butter, served with roasted swiss brown mushrooms, seasonal vegetables and a divine potato puree was heavenly, a raison d’etre for coming over and over to Exclusive Venue – RM56 for 180g portion. Tasting these two meat dishes filled me with compassion for the non red-meat eaters who are really missing out on a taste treat.

Exclusive Venue has certainly made an impression on me. The only caveat is whether these two young chefs will maintain the quality and can the service match up to the quality of the food. May Phoon the very helpful manager has assured Ipoh diners that this will happen.

de’ Exclusive Venue @ 79
79 Jalan Raja Ekram (Cowan Street), Ipoh.
016 5328779 or 05 241 0882
11.30am till 12.00 midnight.
Closed Wednesdays except public holidays.

SeeFoon Dines in Palatial Style

With the Ipoh Echo office in Greentown, I have had, on many occasions, driven past the Excelsior which in recent months has been undergoing a massive renovation. Curious to see the transformation, my steadfast Foodie friend Ginla Chew, organised a humongous meal for a group of us recently at their newly-opened Palace Restaurant.

Located on the 5th floor of the spanking newly refurbished Excelsior Hotel, the Palace Restaurant is cavernous, able to accommodate up to 500 people at one go. A further 500 can be seated upstairs where they have a pillarless ballroom for all functions, serviced from the same kitchen.

Our group sat down to a 12-course meal that had us totally groaning with surfeit. We began with a dainty dish of crispy batter cups filled with stir fried mixed diced scallops, prawns, water chestnut, carrots, celery and fish. The batter cups lent crunch to the delicate seafood and these were wolfed down with alacrity. RM5 per cup with minimum order of 4 cups.

The Stewed Pork Belly served with flower bun (they probably meant flour!) is one of their signature dishes. The pork was smooth and succulent and braised to perfection with the addition of Chinese wine – RM33. This was followed by the Lamb Rack with marmite sauce, melt-in-mouth chops coated in a sweetish marmite sauce. Unlike a lot of other places, this lamb was good quality and was tender to the bite. RM12 per piece. Minimum 2 pieces.

The wok-fried Hong Kong kailan with preserved vegetable (mui tsoi) was unusual and interesting, preserved vegetable lending piquancy to the kailan’s crunch – RM15. The next vegetarian dish was pricey owing to its ingredients of mixed fresh mushrooms and a generous helping of macadamia nuts paired with sliced lotus root and yacon, a tuber that I was unfamiliar with but have subsequently discovered to be full of health giving benefits – RM30.

Baked cod with honey sauce was next on the menu, juicy pieces of omega rich cod, coated in a smooth sweetish sauce – 100g RM25. This was followed by their stewed stuffed beancurd with seafood. This was a delectable dish of homemade bean curd, stuffed with a seafood melange, velvety smooth as it slides down the gullet and the seafood lending its umami sweetness to the otherwise bland tofu – RM3.80 per piece (minimum order 3 pieces).

Fried prawns with Batong sauce followed, the tangy asam or tamarind base tinged with a hint of chilli offsetting the pungent petai or stinky bean – RM30. I found the stewed chicken with special sauce a bit too sweet for my taste but it appealed to some of my other friends – RM15.

Finally, the braised bean curd with golden sauce was divinely smooth, homemade velvety goodness in a carrot tinged transparent sauce.

Certainly the Palace Restaurant in Excelsior will be taking its place amongst some of the top Chinese restaurants in Ipoh. Chef Kum Kin Mun, who hails from Ipoh, has been honing his culinary skills in Hong Kong and Singapore and is now back to wow diners here. Now if they keep their toilets in the pristine condition that I found it just after its soft opening, and maintain its luxurious decor, it’ll certainly be one of the places I’ll be taking my guests to in future.

Palace Restaurant
5th Floor, Hotel Excelsior, 43 Jalan Sultan Abdul Jalil, Ipoh.
Tel: 05 253 6666
Business Hours: 11am-2.30pm; 6-10.30pm