SeeFoon Discovers New Hope for Foodies in Bercham

Three years ago when I went to the Ray of Hope Kafe in Bercham, I found myself raving not only about the food but over the cleanliness of the place (in fact it’s got the cleanest toilet of any food outlet in Ipoh and possibly Malaysia).

Recently, I went back and discovered another element that makes this Kafe so endearing. Not only is the food cooked with love and care but the service is delivered with such focus and concentration by the learning disabled staff that it is a joy to experience and truly a credit to the trainers. There is a cheerful camaraderie that is truly palpable, supervised by two full time volunteer Mums whose sons were given vocational training at the centre and now work in the Kafe. Here is where their motto “Every Life Counts, Every Person Matters”, comes alive as I watch their smiling faces and the friendly jousting that goes on.

Non-profit, Non-religious

Most food outlets exist to serve food to those unwilling or unable to cook for themselves and hope to turn a profit in the process. Some special food outlets have a dual purpose: serving food as well as helping those who serve. The Ray of Hope Kafe is one of these food outlets that not only serve good food but in the process, do good as well.

The Ray of Hope is a non-profit, non-religious multi-racial centre set up by St Peter’s and St Augustine’s church, Ipoh. Its sole objective is to give hope to people with learning difficulties.

Datin Mary Yeoh who is the dynamo behind the centre and the main mover and shaker for the centre came down to say hello and self-deprecatingly said, “I’ll leave you to our new star in the kitchen. Datin Grace Lee will take care of you”. And take care of our little group she did.

Grace Lee who could be playing mahjong or lunching with her friends as the lady of leisure that she is, has instead dedicated herself to helping out in the kitchen, working with the chefs on new dishes to freshen up the quite extensive menu. Given that she is an impressive cook, the Ray of Hope Kafe has now found itself a new ray of sunshine who not only shines in the kitchen but also with the learning disabled staff who all hang on her every word and call her Aunty Grace.

We were there to try some new dishes which Grace puts on the menu as specials. And to revisit some of my other favourite dishes here.


Extensive Menu

The menu is extensive. There are more than 13 different rice dishes and a similar number of noodle dishes not to mention spaghetti dishes and western dishes like chicken chops with a big choice of sauces and fish and chips. Now, with specials like the delectable Taiwanese Beef Noodles which we had that day, a fulsome broth with robust body (no MSG), the beef chunks and beef tendons (yes beef tendons….now how often does one find that?) yummiliciously tender, with a choice of noodles and topped with flat leaf parsley; or the herbal chicken which comes with a rich broth redolent with Chinese herbs and chockful of cloud ear mushrooms, the menu offers more exciting possibilities. A must-have but alas only on certain days or ordered in advance in quantity. Taiwanese Beef Noodle RM17.90 (worth every bite) and Herbal Chicken RM9.50.

Also new on the menu is the Baked Sambal Fish with long beans and ladies fingers. An impressive presentation in tin foil, the fish was well imbued with spices and there was just enough sambal gravy to spoon on the fish. RM12.90 for the normal and RM22 for the special which has to be ordered in advance.

An unusual new item is the Grilled Chicken Roll stuffed with spinach and black olives. Served with a cranberry puree, the chicken was just charred on the skin, tender and moist, the stuffing lending hints of the mediterranean.

Of course, I also revisited some of my old favourites here, tasting as delectable as I remembered them from my past visits. I will mention the few items which I consider the ‘must-haves’. The Asam Laksa was a generous portion, the soup/broth had a fulsome body to it unlike some others I’ve had before which can be plain watery. I could taste the fish that had gone into making the broth as well as the various herbs and spices which are critical to its turning out successfully. Chunks of fish with pineapple and cucumber slivers, topped with a sprig of fresh mint, complemented the smooth white ‘lai fun’, enveloped in the broth – RM10.90.

The Nasi Lemak is for me one of the best I’ve ever tasted. Served with pandan flavoured coconut rice, the traditional one served with ikan bilis, peanuts, sambal (very tasty), and  chicken rendang, topped with a fried egg, is heavenly – RM9.90. There is also a special Nasi Lemak with the same rice and egg but served with a salt fish pickle and fried chicken – RM12.90.

My old favourite of the Cornish Pasty is now back on the menu. This giant puff is traditionally filled with beef but here at Ray of Hope, this is a chicken Cornish Pasty, with potatoes and onions. The pastry was light and fluffy and one pasty is enough to satisfy an average appetite – RM8.50.

Star Bakery

But it is the bakery that shines as the star of the show in the cafe. I sampled their cookies,  their different types of bread, their sweet and savoury buns, and particularly noteworthy are their new Durian Puffs. To be ordered in advance, these delectable Puffs are a steal at RM4.50 for a box of three. Order them for birthdays, or celebrations or gifts but do order them. Equally delectable are their Lemon Cheese tarts. At RM2.50 each, they were melt-in-the-mouth yummy and I, a professed non-sweet eater, found myself reaching for a second one. Their Tiramisu is most impressive considering that it’s halal and no alcohol is added – RM6.50. As is their Moist Chocolate CakeRM6.50.

Other items from the bakery which make great party offerings are their boxed cookies and their biscotti, paper thin crisps encrusted with almond and pistachio slivers, an Italian favourite of mine that is great with coffee or just for nibbling.

So for all my dear readers out there who read this column, remember that the next time you feel the urge for some confectionery, need to bring a gift to someone’s house, or organising a gathering, remember to place your order with the Ray of Hope Kafe and while there to pick up your goodies, linger awhile and try some of the items on their menu. Their catering services are excellent as I have personally used them. Not only will you enjoy the taste treat but you’ll be helping a good and worthy cause.

Ray of Hope Kafe (Halal)
24 & 26 Persiaran Bercham Selatan
Taman Sri Kurau
Tel: 05 548 8796 Open Mon-Fri 9am-4pm
GPS: N 04° 37.459’  E 101° 07.455’

SeeFoon Gets the Freeze on Sweet Sour Pork

Sweet Sour Pork on ice? Surely not I said, incredulous at the thought. But sure enough, there it was on the table in a basket, each mouth sized morsel glistening, on a bed of ice cubes, topped with lemon slices.

Aside from whimsical molecular cuisine from Simon Lee at Citrus Wine and Dine, this had to be one of the more unusual Chinese dishes I have ever encountered in my entire culinary adventure in Ipoh. Some of my friends wrinkled their noses in disdain at the mention of it but in reality, the taste was actually quite spectacular. If you like cold food that is. And I do…..always being scolded by friends and family for my love of too much ice in my drinks and eating too much cold food by my Ayurvedic doctors. Now I can indulge behind their backs!

Iced sweet and sour pork is even crunchier than its warm cousin and this version at the Mandarin Kitchen appealed to my taste buds….not too sweet and not too sour, with just the right blend of flavours in the batter. Definitely worth ordering for the experience even if you’re not into cold food – RM16.

Mandarin Kitchen is a relative newcomer to the restaurant scene in Ipoh having been set up 4 years ago by a husband and wife team with Chef Ng Wen Lih helming the kitchen and his wife Chong Lee Yong taking care of service. Chef Ng who has worked in the Nilai Convention Centre and was head chef at Tai Thong in Ipoh, dishes out some other unusual creations like the Blueberry Prawns, deep fried battered prawns, crisp and crunchy on the first bite revealing fresh succulent prawns inside and smothered with a creamy mayonnaise laced with blueberry juice. An added flavour which I found quite delectable. RM19 for a small portion.

Signature dishes here are their Red Yeast Rice residue (the dregs from making rice wine) with chicken, their Tong Poh Yoke, and their fried Shanghainese ‘Nian Gao’. The Red Yeast Rice Chicken, a Foochow dish, which arrived in a claypot, was kampong chicken braised in the dregs of rice wine called ang chow or lees (a Malaysian Foochow-specific rice wine) was sweet and redolent of the pungent alcoholic paste – RM20Tong Poh Yoke was superlative, tender morsels of belly pork, the meat succulent and the fat and skin a jellied consistency, sure signs of a good Tong Poh Yoke, served with steamed Man Tou or white buns – RM18.

The Shanghainese ‘Nian Gao’, flat slivers of a dried rice cake which is rehydrated and stir fried with bean sprouts, small prawns, pork slices and dark soya is a rare find in Ipoh. The ‘Nian Gao’ was the perfect texture, still slightly chewy, wonderfully contrasted with the crispy bean sprouts and the slippery Wan Yee or cloud’s ear mushroom – RM12.

The vegetables came in the form of stir fried Kailan or Kale with different varieties of crunch provided by a clever combination of crispy prawns in their shells, cashew nuts, crispy dried squid and the fresh green crunchiness of the kailan stems. Superb – RM13.

The fish dish was a special Red Tailed Cat Fish, braised in soya sauce, the fish fresh, with not a trace of muddiness and braised to perfection. There is a choice in preparations style for the fish. Ask for the choice. Seasonal price.That day: 1kg RM50.

We even managed to polish off a heaping bowl of vegetable curry consisting of long beans, eggplant, ladies fingers, cabbage and Dao Kun or Soy Gluten. The curry was mild but had great flavour and was well liked by all at the table – RM14.

On another occasion I had the opportunity to sample their mini ‘Fatt Tiew Cheong’ or ‘Buddha Jumped Over The Wall’ which appeared remarkably reasonable to me at a starting price of RM29.90 per tureen for one person. Knowing what this would cost in other restaurants, I decided to order one to see what the ingredients were as we all know that some Chinese ingredients cost an arm and a leg. To my surprise, the tureen had all the usual goodies, minus the sharksfin and the fish bladder or ‘Fa Gao’ which are the most pricey. The soup was umami (I didn’t have an MSG attack afterwards) and it had spare ribs, black mushrooms, sea cucumber, dried scallop, goji berries and even one sliver of abalone. Certainly great value for those wanting to treat themselves to this special dish.

All in all I would rate the Mandarin Kitchen as a great place for family style meals. It’s not quite the banquet style restaurant of its neighbour down the road, the Kim Wah but certainly can hold its own in terms of quality of food and creativity of its dishes. One thing it could do though is to clean up its premises and its toilet, which leaves a lot to be desired.


Mandarin Kitchen
#2 & 4 Jalan Mas 4, Taman Mas, Ipoh.

(Inside road of Jalan Kledang Utara near Taman Mas)
Tel: 05 281 2207 Ms Chong: 012 475 7513
Closed one weekday every two weeks.
GPS: E 101° 3.283’  N 4° 34.753’