SeeFoon Feeds Her Love of Japanese Food

DOZO IpohThe DOZO sign has been up for almost six months and each time I drive past DeGarden I make myself a promise to check it out as I love Japanese food. After all, what else could a sign like Dozo signify?

It does not have a real meaning by itself, but it connotes both “please/go ahead” when you are offered food, or a gift, or when someone is holding the door for you, they will say ‘dozo’.

‘Go ahead’ is the advice I would give to all you fans of Japanese cuisine as this latest addition to the culinary scene is well worth exploring.

On initial entry, it’s very easy to just assume that this is yet another sushi bar springing up here, there and everywhere. Situated right in the front of DeGarden Mall and facing busy Tasek Road, the entrance is surprisingly user friendly: no steps, no drains to negotiate and no labyrinthian inside passages to traipse through to reach your destination, as is the case in many of the outlets in DeGarden Mall. They even have their own toilets inside the restaurant! Which for me is truly a blessing as my dear readers will know by now, how scathing I am of the usual ‘facilities’ in most of our local restaurants.

Not having a clue as to who was behind the restaurant nor who the Chef was, I had cajoled my hostess Kanna Jeyaratnam to try out the place as I’m always keen to check out new outlets.

Imagine my surprise when I entered and found myself face to face with Chef Cheong Kam Hon, who being the affable guy that he is,  greeted me like a long lost friend. He immediately brought out his well thumbed copy of the 16 Nov 2015 issue of the Ipoh Echo where I had given him a rave review on his culinary wizardry when he was working at Shinjuku at the Kinta Riverfront Hotel.

Well today he has spread his wings and is now Head Chef and part owner of Dozo and I am about to give him yet another rave review on his culinary finesse.

As those of us who love Japanese food know, it is the freshness and quality of the produce and ingredients that matter the most; with deftness of the knife (as in sashimi) and culinary skills second. However, the freshest of ingredients coming together with divine saucing brings the dish to sublime heights.

That is what Chef Hon San, as he is fondly called, brings to the table. Chef Cheong trained under that inimitable master chef, Nobu Matsuhisa with his ‘new style’ Japanese cuisine, the trademark and foundation which won him the first Michelin Star in London and which has spawned a chain of Nobu restaurants around the globe, about which Madonna had this to say, “You can tell how much fun a city is going to be if Nobu has a restaurant in it.”

Well Ipoh can’t boast a Nobu restaurant but we have the next best thing in Chef Hon San, who prior to returning to Ipoh, was trained in the Nobu tradition in Beijing for more than four years and before that in Tokyo in the Ginza district for 11 years. Earlier, Chef Hon San cut his Japanese teeth in London also working in Japanese restaurants for a total of nine years.

So you can well imagine my delight at finding him now at Dozo, serving up his special cuisine using the freshest fish which is flown and delivered on Tuesdays and Fridays (so Wednesday and Saturday lunch and dinners are your freshest bets). And not only fish but he has added Iberico pork to his menu and under his skillful alchemy he transforms this naturally tasty Spanish black pig (fed on acorns) into the most delectable temptations.

As we all know, Japanese fare does not come cheap and as I proceed to describe the dishes we had, please bear in mind that it is possible to set an approximate price for your meal and allow Chef Hon San to perform his magic. This is called ‘Omakase’ (to entrust or I’ll leave it up to you) in Japanese where you are served whatever is fresh and on menu for that day. But do order minimum 24 hours in advance.

DOZO IpohOf course there is also the usual revolving belt device where you can pick dishes off the belt and you know what you pay for as all the dishes are priced according to the plate colours ranging from RM2.30 to RM8.30 per plate depending on the ingredients.

So moving on to the dishes which I had, all of which were yummilicious:

The Guruma prawns (from Hokkaido, Japan) arrived in a most spectacular arrangement, an Ikebana piece of art, each prawn ocean fresh and firm. The second course was a mixed appetizer of Hamachi (yellow tail) belly, Otoro (the best part of the Tuna) which we’re encouraged not to dip into wasabi and is served with a special soya sauce and raw Botan prawns (again from Hokkaido). Delicate, fine morsels of the best in Japanese fare.

Next, the Japanese tacos were a delight, consisting of chopped raw salmon sashimi mixed with Hon San’s secret sauce, held in mini taco shells and garnished with crispy onion slivers. Creative fusion of crunch and velvet textures.

DOZO Ipoh

DOZO Ipoh

The Spare Ribs which followed were tender, well marinated, the coating sauce a complement to the succulent meat which literally fell off the bone without much effort.

DOZO IpohThe Grilled Cod was pleasing to both the palate and the eye, a work of plating art with one stem of young ginger draped jauntily, interspersed with five dollops of sauce. The cod was grilled to perfection and hardly needed the sauce for flavour.

Our last dish was the Iberico pork belly, thinly sliced and served with fresh Imeji and Shitake mushrooms, presented on a charcoal hibachi that kept the pork warm throughout our meal.

DOZO Ipoh

Our bill for all the dishes above came to slightly over RM500 which considering the quality of the food and the freshness of the specially-flown-in ingredients, and we were four of us, came to just over RM110 per person.

DOZO
DGR-1 Ground Floor Zone D, De Garden
#1 Persiaran Medan Ipoh, 31400 Ipoh.
Tel: 05 543 0666
Business Hours: Mon-Thurs 12pm-2.30pm; 6pm-10.30pm
Fri/Sat/Sun 11.30am-10.30pm

SeeFoon Gets Sweet on Savoury

It’s known as ‘Tong Sui Gai’ or sweet soup Street, a regular small thoroughfare by day which transforms into a veritable cornucopia of foodie delights by night. Very popular in days gone by, ‘Tong Sui Gai’ is quieter now, foodies having found new grazing grounds elsewhere. But there are still enough stalls offering sweet goodies for the name to trigger recognition. And a new ‘Tai Chau’ stall is garnering fans to this location.

Pusat Makanan Man U is a covered area at the end of ‘Tong Sui’ street where Zhong Hwa Seafood Restaurant has opened for business. You can’t miss the location as their sign is emblazoned right at the entrance on the left.

I was invited by antiques expert Eddie Foo who gathered a biggish group of us to come and sample the food here. And what a sampling that was.

All in all we gorged on 10 dishes, each one a gourmet’s delight. This was no slapdash, feed-the-masses tai chau stall but one with a chef who has the ‘touch’ and the ‘Wok Hei’ (the ‘breath’ of the wok) which is quintessential to a good Chinese kitchen. Only then can some of the stir-fried dishes have a complex smoky flavour while simultaneously retaining the textural crunch that is used as a measure of a Chinese chef’s skill.

Zhong Hwa Seafood Restaurant IpohAs in their Kwai Dao (French Beans) with dried prawns and chillies and their 18-year-old Fried Rice (more on this later).

Allow me to run through the list of delectable dishes we had that evening, starting with their Yeem Gai or steamed salted chicken which was perfectly seasoned, not overly salty and tender on the bite. This was a ‘Wu So Kai’ which is known for its extra flavourful meat and we ordered half a bird. RM28 for half.

Zhong Hwa Seafood Restaurant Ipoh

Next to arrive was the Har Cheong Fah Lam or the pork belly with prawn paste. These morsels of pork belly were deep fried and served piping hot at the table. Umami, crispy at the edges and utterly delicious, each piece still retaining its ‘yeen un’ or chewy yet tender texture. RM15 (S) / RM30 (L).

Zhong Hwa Seafood Restaurant IpohHam Dan or Salted Egg Pumpkin arrived scaldingly hot and crispy and was wolfed down in a flash. RM12 (S) / RM25 (L). Followed by the Lemon Fish Hotpot, Tilapia chunks in a broth seasoned with loads of lemon grass, lime and oodles of garlic. The fragrance of Calamansi or Limau Kasturi predominated, its essential oils wafting in the air as the steaming hot tureen was brought to the table. Served together with blanched meehoon, this could be a meal on its own with just a vegetable on the side. Seasonal price depending on type of fish used.

More fishy business lay ahead, as we next had the Garupa fish head in curry served in a claypot. Brimming with Taofu Pok or fried tofu puffs, ladies fingers and eggplant, the curry was umami, not overly spicy and again the gravy was wonderful eaten with blanched meehoonRM50 (S) / RM80 (L).

Zhong Hwa Seafood Restaurant Ipoh

Kwai Tao or French Beans with dried prawns, crispy fried garlic bits and chillies were crunchy and the dried prawns were large and crispy, providing the perfect umami touch. An alternative for this dish is having it stir-fried with pine nuts. RM10 (S) / RM20 (L).

Zhong Hwa Seafood Restaurant IpohZhong Hwa Seafood Restaurant Ipoh

Pig’s trotters came next, tender succulent chunks braised in a clay pot in dark soya sauce and dried chillies, piquant, tangy and the trotters cooked to the right degree of doneness, an almost fall-off-the-bone velvety texture. RM18 (S) / RM35 (L).

Snow Kangkong was a term on the menu that had me baffled until the dish arrived. A heaping plate of battered and deep fried kangkong or water convolvulus topped with bits of crispy Ikan Bilis, was a novel way to serve up the common kangkong. Yummilicious to the last crunch. RM10 (S) / RM20 (L).

Zhong Hwa Seafood Restaurant IpohZhong Hwa Seafood Restaurant Ipoh

Lai Wong Har were very large and very fresh prawns, still in the shell, coated with a creamy sauce that was neither too sweet nor too overly gooey as in some other restaurants. RM12 per 100g.

Zhong Hwa Seafood Restaurant Ipoh

Finally to end our meal, the de rigeur carb dish – in this instance fried rice. Not any old fried rice but a dish termed “18 Year Old Rice”. No, the rice itself is not 18 years old but the name given by the chef had all the men at the table laughing. When questioned by ignorant ‘ole’ me as to the significance of the name, I was told that it resembled an eighteen year old teenaged girl, fresh and crispy (in Cantonese, the colloquial term is ‘pok pok chuey’). Terribly un PC! The rice dish was terribly tasty though. Well defined grains of freshly cooked rice mixed with ‘Fan Chew’, the burnt bottom layer of rice only produced when rice is cooked the old fashioned way on a stove or open fire, fried with the usual accoutrement and topped with a sprinkling of fried garlic and ringed with slivered lettuce, both garnitures adding additional textural nuances to the dish. RM8 per portion meant for one person.

Go to Zhong Hwa when you’re looking for good wholesome Chinese cooking in a relaxed outdoor ambiance. Well situated fans will cool you down as you explore the menu or order up a storm. Because it is situated at the furthest end of ‘Tong Sui Gai’ there is less noise here and the well spaced tables allow for conversation that sometimes even air-conditioned restaurants won’t.

Zhong Hwa Seafood Restaurant
(Inside Pusat Makanan Man U)
Lot 2305N beside SRJK Sam Tet
Jalan Sultan Ekram, Taman Jubilee, 30300 Ipoh.
Tel: 012 515 1404 or 017 234 2361
Business hours: 6pm-1am.  Closed 2 days early in the month.