Morel Restaurant: SeeFoon goes in search of Mushrooms in Soho

I was hopeful when I saw the name that I would finally find a restaurant where they have these elusive mushrooms, the Morel. Alas, it was a name that proprietors Siau Hooi and Chef Kah Meng fancied and chose, rather than actually serving these precious fungi which after the white truffle, are my mushrooms of choice.

But all was not lost as I discovered a great Italian taste, evoking and awakening some of my nostalgia for Milan where my greatest Italian food memories are buried.

Morel could do with a dimming of its ceiling lights, and add some plants to soften the stern cafetaria like ambiance of its interior but food wise is earning rave reviews from me in its cuisine served up by Chef proprietor Kah Meng who honed his culinary skills in Singapore, returning home to Ipoh with wife Siau Hooi to open Morel.

When asked if they actually served Morels in the restaurant, Siau Hooi apologised, saying that it was hard to find and exorbitantly priced. “But perhaps in the future when the restaurant is firmly established?” I asked. “Perhaps” came the reply.

The taste is authentically Italian and most of their pasta is homemade. Pasta which is served al dente (still with a light spring to it) and the saucing fresh with a light touch, the cream sauces not overly creamy and the tomato based sauces, just the way an Italian chef would make it.

I tried the Uova Al Pomodoro Piccante, a perfect brunch treat of eggs with the yolk still runny, smothered with a mildly spicy light tomato sauce and topped with mozzarella, quickly melted and served with garlic bread; RM10.90.

Next came the Pumpkin Soup with Almond, balsamic cream and bread croutons, smooth, voluptuous and well-seasoned; RM15.90; followed by the Mushroom Risotto with four types of mushrooms: Imeji, shitake, oyster and king mushrooms informed with truffle oil and topped with parmesan; RM18.90.

Reginette Pasta Bolognese with Iberico Pork Ragu in tomato, balsamic red wine sauce was excellent; RM25.90, as was the Tagliolini Al Fruitti De Mare, a squid ink tagliolini pasta cooked with prawn, mussels, clams, baby lobster in a spicy pink sauce. This was al dente, and generously topped with all the seafood mentioned; RM35.90.

The Cacciucco, the Tuscan version of the French Bouillabaisse or Fish Stew was robust, the broth rich and fragrant with hints of Italian mixed herbs and chock full of clams, mussels, prawns, scallops, salmon, squid, big tualang prawns, big clams, tinged with red wine and cooked with cherry tomatoes, carrots and celery. Served with bread, this is quite a main course; RM49.90.

We were five of us and by this time, we were groaning from surfeit but nevertheless when the BBQ Iberico Loin Ribs arrived, we found the look and aromas irresistible and tucked in happily. The ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender, delicately marinated and served with crunchy crispy sweet potato fries. Whole rib at RM69.90 which can easily feed four.

Naturally no Italian meal can be had without its classical dessert, the Tiramisu. Here the Tiramisu does not stint on Mascarpone cheese (often most places use only whipped cream) the Madeleine pastry fingers dipped in coffee and layered with Mascarpone with the lightest hints of alcohol; RM12.90.

Another dessert which Siau Hooi urged us to try was their Warm Matcha Lava Cake, with its molten lava centre oozing out the moment we put our spoon in, served with Gelato Matcha ice cream and chocolate soil. Heaven in a spoonful; RM20.90.

Morel also has a 3-course lunch menu available from 12pm till 2.30pm which changes daily for a very reasonable RM19.90.

Morel Restaurant
A-G-12A Soho Ipoh
Jalan Sultan Iskandar, 3000 Ipoh.
Tel: 010 928 7291 or 014 274 7138
Business hours: Tuesdays-Fridays 11am-3pm;
Weekends and Public Holidays:  11am-10pm
Closed:  Mondays

V-Nest Healthy and Wellness Cafe: SeeFoon Goes “Nesting” in Old Town

It’s easy to miss V-Nest as you drive along Jalan Bijeh Timah on the way to Sin Yoon Loong or Nam Heong, the two ‘temples’ of white coffee. Yet this double shop lot with its understated signage actually stands out in this busy street amidst the plethora of loud coffee shops and eating places; its discreet hauteur and natural interiors of wood, plants, koi pond and even a tree, a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle outside.

Director Hooi Mei Mei welcomed us and showed us around the very large interior which has an airwell, with a pond filled with Koi and a tree growing in the centre, a welcome respite from the concrete cacophony outside. The tables and chairs or stools are all natural wood with old bricks lining the walls, creating an ambiance of peace and serenity and a gentle setting for enjoying the bird’s nest which is V-Nest’s pride and joy.

Not only is bird’s nest available for sale but it’s also the star feature in all their dishes which are amazingly innovative in presentation and preparation. As most of us who have eaten bird’s nest know, the nest in itself is like a jelly in consistency when cooked and is bland in taste, taking on the flavours of whatever dish it is paired with.

Modern studies have shown that bird’s nest is rich in epidermal growth factor (EGF). This substance is responsible for skin and tissue repair. According to Eu Yan Sang, “From a biological standpoint, Bird’s Nest contains proteins, amino acids and minerals that are essential for healthy development. In TCM, regular consumption of Bird’s Nest helps prevent colds and flus. By improving the function of the Lungs and Kidneys, Bird’s Nest helps boost the body’s immune system and increase resistance to external environmental factors.”

The only negative point about bird’s nest is its cost, with prices ranging from RM188-1388 for 100g depending on the size of the actual nest. Now, with the opening of V-Nest, we can indulge in bird’s nest occasionally without breaking the bank. Of course, some of the dishes will be hard on the pocket but it is possible to have a bird’s nest meal by ordering judiciously and still get all the benefits.

Madam Hooi explained that bird’s nest rearing was her husband’s family business originating in Teluk Intan where swiftlets (the bird’s that produce these nests) abound. However, with increasing development and consequent pollution, new locations had to be found and they now have bird houses in Pengkalan, Kampar, Taiping and even further afield in Kelantan, with their own factories, each employing more than 20 people who clean the nests, picking out the feathers by hand while some are dedicated to cleaning the houses with wood vinegar.

While the nest production business is more than 20 years old, the cafe/restaurant is new, having been operating for only a year plus. Reasonably priced items for a taste of bird’s nest include butter kaya toast with bird’s nest, RM16.80; papaya and passion fruit with bird’s nest, RM19.90; accompanied by a cup of bird’s nest coffee, RM20.80.

And when I say bird’s nest I am referring to the real McCoy….not the few strands of jelly that some restaurants pass off as bird’s nest. When an item on the menu says with bird’s nest, you can be assured that you’re getting the real thing.

China Pear Bird’s Nest comes at RM38 and from here the prices begin its steep climb. With wild honey from Sabah and Sarawak, a bowl costs RM88; with Korean Panax Ginseng, RM98; while the concentrated one with rock sugar hits the RM138 mark, in line with the cordyceps at the same price. Mind you when they say concentrated, I can vouch that it really is so…a thick bowlful you could almost stand a small spoon in.

Fancy a bird’s nest breakfast, then head over and have their crab roe bird’s nest congee. Umami rice porridge with real crab roe and topped with a dollop of bird’s nest. All you need for a nourishing start of the day for a steal at RM16.80. And if western breakfast is your hankering, then their luxury breakfast of sautéed mushroom with scrambled egg topped with (of course) bird’s nest and served with sausage will be just the thing at RM29.90. Or something lighter like the bird’s nest croissant with jam and butter at RM21.80.

Of course, for those unwilling to break the bank for a meal, there are many choices of non-bird’s nest dishes to choose from. Like the rendang chicken, RM17.80grilled chicken RM12.80; braised udon with smoked duck RM15.50; different types of pasta starting at RM9.90 for vegetarian and going up to RM25.80 for smoked duck carbonara and many others. Treat yourself afterwards to a selection of tarts topped with what else? bird’s nest, either singly or blow the budget and order the Bird’s Nest Indulgence with 4 mixed tarts topped with bird’s nest and 1 osmanthus jelly also topped.

So what are you waiting for? Go get yourself some epidermal growth factor (EGF), get your skin glowing and repair your internal tissues at the same time.

V-Nest Healthy and Wellness Cafe
No. 27 and 29, Jalan Bandar Timah, 30000 Ipoh.
4°35’37.0”N 101°04’37.7”E
Tel: 05 243 9118
Opening hours: 9am-6pm; Wednesday closed