SeeFoon meanders down memory lane

Being a foodie, I have a burning mission to encourage the flourishing of good food in Ipoh. As a food writer, I operate by a personal credo where I write only about dishes that I have tasted and are judged palatable by my taste buds. I therefore don’t criticise establishments that serve poor food on the premise that they won’t survive for long anyway. And I have on a few occasions mentioned that if readers order dishes aside from the ones reviewed in my columns that prove not to their liking, then, they do so on their own cognisance.

However, I do get personal satisfaction from seeing an establishment that I had reviewed, grow from strength to strength. One such restaurant is Li Garden, near the airport. It’s been five years since I wrote about Chef Chan and in the meantime, his fan cooled corner coffee-shop lot has expanded to include an air conditioned space next door. And so has his repertoire of dishes.

I still go occasionally for his three irresistible signature specialties, beginning with the Fish Head hotpot, with its homemade meatballs, homemade tofu, pigs tendons, fish lips, the freshest fish head chunks, and other delectables, the soup enhanced with a generous swig of Chinese sherry or Siew Hing Tsao and as much baby romaine lettuce to cook in the soup as you may wish. This dish suffices as a meal on its own if you’re only two or three people but on a recent visit, I had to have all my other favourites as well as check out some of his new offerings. RM160 which was more than adequate for our party of seven.

The other two favourites for me are the nam yu fah lam or fried pork brisket; tender brisket marinated with fermented red bean curd and deep fried, sliced and served on its own, without any need for sauces or dips. This is the perfect appetizer, to nibble on while we wait for other dishes to arrive. RM15 for small portion.

The Bread Wrapped Curry came next, a golden parcel of bread enveloping a most delicious chicken curry. This time I had rung Chef Chan and requested that the curry be cooked with santan (coconut milk) instead of the evaporated milk which earlier health propaganda had touted as being healthier and coconut milk was vilified as bad for cholesterol. The bread was still crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy inside, making it perfect to sop up the gravy from the curry which was yummiliciously good especially with the addition of santan – RM33.

The next two dishes were the new additions to Chef Chan’s repertoire. The first to arrive was spectacular, in a huge covered foil pan, which on exposure, revealed a large Tilapia sitting on racks above some rock salt, both white and black. The rock salt was still burning when it arrived at the table and we had to wait till it subsided to cut open the foil package. The fragrance of lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves wafted from the fish as smoke rose from it.

Everyone in the restaurant stopped eating and watched as the presentation was so unusual and also because it was an unfamiliar dish in Li Garden. The taste was equally interesting too: salty, umami, the fresh herbs lending its aromas to the fish flesh and chillies imparting a mild bite. It was devoured in a flash and we unanimously agreed to come back for more. RM33 per kilo with most fish weighing in at more than a kilo so do check on the weight of the fish you’ll be getting. Be prepared to wait at least half an hour to 45 minutes for this dish as the smoking is done over slow fire.

This was followed by a chicken dish which arrived in a clay pot, two perfect halves of a kampong chicken (or the Wu So Kai depending on availability) slow roasted on a rack in the clay pot itself, marinated with soya sauce, rice sherry and cooked to perfection. The chicken meat was juicy and we hardly needed the sauce that was served with it. RM30 for half chicken and RM57 for whole.

Li Garden is one restaurant that never disappoints. Because it is chef-owned and the chef is in the kitchen, it has a sure fire recipe for success and I wish it and Chef Chan continued progress and much success.

Li Garden
57 Laluan Pinji Seni 4, Taman Pinji Seni, 31650 Ipoh.
Open: 5pm-Midnight
Closed Wednesdays
GPS: N 4º 34.637’  E 101º 5.855’
Tel: Chef Chan 017 518 2734 or Liew: 012 518 3370

SeeFoon puts in the elbow grease at Healy Mac’s new Sports Bar

One normally doesn’t expect good food in a pub, let alone a Sports Bar. It’s usually desultory finger food or stodgy fare. But things are different at Healy Mac’s where they have been serving yummilicious roasted pork knuckles, great tasting pizzas and other hearty fare ever since they opened three years ago.

Healy Mac’s has now added leisure activities to their palette of offerings and in addition to exercising your elbows in raising your glass, you now have a choice of playing pool or a game of electronic darts where a little more elbow grease is called for. In fact you can even compete with your Darts pals on the other side of the globe.

All this elbowing is now available in the newly-opened Healy Mac’s Sports Bar which is right next door to its eponymous big brother. And while you’re quaffing your beer, sipping your wine, or nursing your spirit(s), crack your head at deciding between the new items on the menu which Head Chef Litha Letchimanan has put together.

I had written glowingly on their existing menu when they first opened (IE150) but the new additions are equally tempting. Before we even looked at the new dishes, titbits which are every bar fly’s favourites, appeared at the table. Designed to whip up a thirst for even more drinking, the traditional French fries had been one-upped by sweet potato fries – thin slivers of sweet potato fried the traditional way and tasting even better than the usual ones – RM12 – followed by a plate of delectably crispy ikan bilis with chilli and onions – RM16 (listed as Spicy Anchovies). Order a mixed collection of sweet potato and regular fries or mix them up with onion rings. Other bar snacks include Fried Calamari and even Chicken Varuval and Lamb Vindaloo for those hankering for some spice.

Chef Litha came to explain all the new dishes starting with the Vegetable Moussaka, a dish of Greek origin, made with eggplant, capsicum, redolent with thyme and tarragon and topped with a béchamel sauce. Delightful at RM20.

Braised Pork Belly in Bordelaise sauce was tender, melt-in-mouth chunks of pork belly served with mashed potatoes and broccoli – RM45, while the Lamb Tagine, a traditional Moroccan dish of braised lamb served on a bed of fragrant saffron/turmeric rice was embellished with slivered almonds. The lamb was aromatically flavoured with Chef Litha’s homemade blend of the classic Middle Eastern spice mix, the Ras-el-hanout a mixture of nutmeg, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, paprika and others not unlike our Garam Masala but with distinctively middle eastern nuances – RM40.

Classic BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato) was given a makeover as a wrap instead of the usual sandwich and was voted by our group as one of the best small meals of the day – RM21. Another item which won favour in our midst was the Bangers and Mash, the classic English/Scottish/Irish comfort food except that in this instance, the banger was an imported Hungarian Pork sausage which accounted for the price of RM36. It was indeed a hearty meal as the banger was very tasty, unlike the bland stuff that pass for sausages in other establishments. Topped with onions and a Dijon and whole grain mustard sauce, and served with peas, this dish would certainly fill out your ribs.

The pièce de résistance was yet to come in the form of dessert. As readers of my column would have gathered by now, I am inclined towards all things savoury and desserts just don’t turn me on. But I have to say I was most impressed with their Brownie Bites, the most sinfully delectable bite I have ever put into my mouth. Rich regular brownies are cut into bite-sized pieces, battered, then fried and served with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce. It’s what I would call a ‘heart attack’ in a bite!! Absolutely worth the risk at RM16.

Do check out Healy Mac’s Sports Bar. The menu is the same in Healy Mac’s Bar and Restaurant next door. They even share toilet facilities.

Healy Mac’s Irish Bar & Restaurant and Healy Mac’s Sports Bar
#2 Ground Floor, Persiaran Greentown 4,
Greentown Avenue, 30450 Ipoh.
Tel: 05 249 3627
GPS: N 4° 35.932’  E 101° 5.531’