Help the Small Businesses: La Formule Bistro

La Formule Bistro

Pictures by Gisele Soo

SeeFoon has nostalgia for France and finds it in La Formule 

A Formula for my Parisian blues? Perhaps. La Formule Bistro, a newly opened French restaurant near Symphony Hotel just may assuage some of that yearning of sitting at a sidewalk cafe sipping a Pastis, eating Croque Monsieur, or in a bustling bistro tucking into escargot or beef bourguignon. 

While the sidewalk sitting is out of the question in our tropical heat, the connected bar next door is a very conducive location for intimate tête-à-tête (s), albeit drinking only beer as they haven’t yet got their liquor licence, which they hope to get shortly.

Opened in December 2019, La Formule suffered the usual fate of closing down during MCO and is now slowly getting back on its feet to welcome customers. 

Sam Chin, an Ipoh girl who has spent 20+ years living in Singapore is no stranger to the F&B business, having owned and managed two French restaurants in Singapore which she sold two years ago to return to Ipoh to be closer to her parents.

Imbued with a passion for French Cuisine, Sam wants to share her love for French food with the people of Ipoh. Bringing with her all the skills she garnered while running her own restaurants in Singapore, she is all set to woo Ipoh diners with French dishes cooked the traditional way. 

And served in a setting that pleases the eye as well as the palate. In fact I found the decor warm and welcoming, elegant and very pleasing to the eye. In warm shades of tangerine and reds, the walls adorned with framed labels and corks of some great French wines and vintages, the whole ambience is French Bistro style, an enveloping cocoon that beckons.

And the menu is French Bistro for sure. All the items you would look for in an authentic French Bistro.

Like French Onion Soup, chock-full with onions and topped the traditional way with a piece of toast crusted with emmental cheeseumami and satisfying. 

Burgundy escargots with parsley butter and bread toast

Next came the Burgundy Escargots with parsley butter and bread toast. Now these are the French snails that you either love or hate. Most people shun them purely based on conjuring up visions of slimy slithering creatures but actually, they are delicious and here in Asia they come out of a can, then seasoned and served. Eschewing the snail shells and paraphernalia that come with eating escargot (the snail tongs are notoriously difficult to manage and many a snail have ended up on neighbouring tables!!), La Formule serves their snails on special plates which come straight from the oven to the table. Each snail is smothered in garlic butter and chopped parsley, topped with a round of crispy toast which is used to “mop” up the sauce at the bottom of each indentation where the snail sits. The snails were tender and for me six was not enough!! 

Another starter was the Croque Madame, one of the most ubiquitous snacks you can find all over France. Cynics may disdain this as ham and cheese toast but a good ‘Croque’ (meaning crunch) has quite a few steps to its preparation including good French ingredients. Sam told me that she only uses the best authentic ingredients for all her dishes and this includes French butter, French imported ham, homemade Bechamel sauce, emmental cheese and her homemade sourdough bread. Compared to a Croque Monsieur, the only difference is the addition of a fried egg on top with oozy egg yolk serving as a bit of sauce. 

Croque Madame

The result? A savoury crispy bite of French deliciousness.

We were four persons and we all chose different dishes to share, which meant that we had the final starter which came in the form of Chicken Liver Pate with Toast. This was made with pork belly and hand-chopped chicken liver redolent with herbs. This is the type of farmer’s pate that I personally enjoy instead of the spreadable paste variety, the liver and pork bits still visible and crumbly, the belly fat lending smoothness and the herbs imbuing its aromatic touches. Robust and hearty, it was complemented with the homemade sourdough made by Sam herself using a sourdough starter which she had kept from her Singapore restaurants. 

Chicken Liver Pate with Toast

For mains, we shared a Pork Loin with a homemade lemony mustard sauce and french fries, the fries crispy and done just right.

This was followed by Pan-fried Sea Bass paired with mango salsa and flavoured rice, served with vegetables laced with a tangy touch.

Panfried Sea Bass

My favourite main course was the Beef Bourguignon with dill, microgreens, carrots and button mushrooms and served on a bed of yummilicious mashed potato, creamy and irresistible. Bacon bits rendered its smoky saltiness to the sauce and the meat was juicy and tender. 

Beef Bourguignon

Then we came to the desserts, one of which was to me the highlight of our meal. 

The Creme Brulee which appears to be easy to makejust a custard with a caramelized sugar topping using a blow torchwas spectacular. I have had Creme Brulee innumerable times around the world but this one is one of the reasons I will come back for more at La Formule. It was smooth and velvety, the French cream which Sam uses distinguishing it from others and the sugar topping crumbly and light.

Creme Brulee

Chocolate Lava Cake made with 61% dark chocolate was served with a strawberry sauce and homemade vanilla ice cream. A tinge of Grand Marnier (sweet orange liqueur) lifted the flavours even further.

Chocolate lava cake

The last dessert was the Coupe Colonel, a refreshing lemon sherbet and if a shot of vodka is added for an additional RM6, the lemony tartness juxtaposed with the bitterness of the vodka will lift it to new dimensions.

Homemade sourdough bread

La Formule works from two Set menus only, one at RM68+ and one at RM98+ per person. There are ample choices in each of the categories and I found that sharing the dishes gives you an opportunity to experience more variety. 

Sam has given much attention to detail in the decor and her love of all things French, coupled with her desire to share her culinary knowledge to people in her hometown Ipoh, makes this a restaurant that we Ipohites must help support. Don’t let the per person price for the menu put you off. In some other restaurants in Ipoh that I have experienced, just one dish can cost you RM68 or even RM98!

I love their Vision and Credo (printed in their menu) which states: 

Vision:
Our company aims to provide customer service that is not just the best, but legendary. 

Credo:
Customers are the most important resources in the service industry. Striving to provide the best service along with a relaxed yet refined ambience is our topmost mission. 

I hope they will live up to it. 

 

Address:
17 & 19 Lapangan Symphony Business Park, Jalan Raja Dr. Nazrin Shah, 31350 Ipoh, Perak

Business hours:
For the bistro:
Tues-Fri from 6pm, last order at 10pm
Sat-Sun from 12pm, last order at 2.30pm; 6pm, last order at 10pm
Closed on Mondays 

For the bar lounge:
Tues-Sun from 4.30pm, last order at 11pm
Closed on Mondays 

*Takeaways available but not recommended
*Deliveries not available

For inquiries:
05-318 2298

Help the Small Businesses: Chow Yang Vegetarian Restaurant

Chow Yang Vegetarian Restaurant

Pictures by Gisele Soo

SeeFoon goes Vegetarian. Again.

I did mention in an earlier article that my inclination towards vegetarianism is getting stronger by the month especially with this lingering pandemic. Not that I believe that being a vegetarian is healthier (in fact some vegetarians I know are distinctly unhealthy with their large amount of carbs and sugar) but cutting back on fatty meats and eating more greens and other vegetables is certainly a good idea. And certainly a healthier option.

But being vegan is a little tougher. No eggs, no butter (no animal fats period), no cheese, no garlic or onions. For some Buddhists, especially monks and Lamas, it is felt that garlic and onions interfere with meditation.

Despite these limitations, at Chow Yang Vegetarian Restaurant, they seem to manage very well, producing dishes that are not only delectable and tasty but have the mouthfeel, look and feel of the original carnivore’s item.

As in the Curry Mutton, mock mutton chunks made from mushroom stems (yes, mushroom stems!) cooked in a dry curry sauce with ladies fingers, long beans, potatoes and served on a bed of lettuce. If you weren’t told that you were eating mock mutton, you would think this was the real McCoy! And yes, the smell was missing but the meat texture was there. The sauce was robust, hearty and while it wasn’t the searing full-on Indian masala of the banana leaf variety, it was mellow, nuanced and mild enough for my two chilli averse Chinese colleagues. RM13-26 depending on serving size. 

Curry mutton

The Assam Fish arrived next, wrapped in seaweed for an oceanic flavour, fried to achieve a crispy “skin” and doused with an Assam sauce, mildly spiced, tangy and served with ladies fingers, tomato chunks and long beans. RM11, 16, 22 for S/M/L. We had a small and hankered for more. 

Assam fish

The Spicy Petai with Prawns was dry-fried with a wonderful crustacean flavour provided by the vegetarian dried prawn. The “prawns” themselves were soft, being produced from konjac, which also provided a textured crunch to the whole dish. Ginger slivers added more aromatic dimensions to the dish. RM11-22.

Spicy petai with prawns

We also tried the Butter Prawns which were deep fried with a batter (which I suspect was made with custard powder) coating each prawn. They were also crispy and from Taiwan. Although too sweet for my taste, my other table mates devoured them with relish. RM13-39.

Butter prawns

Satay Tofu arrived next. Crispy on the outside and beautifully soft and velvety on the inside,  these tofu chunks were topped with a thick satay sauce chock-full of crunchy peanuts and sweetened and toned down for the non spicy palate. RM10-20.

Satay tofu

The Siew Yoke (RM13-26) that arrived next blew my mind. Although in general too sweet for my tastebuds, each piece of the mock pork belly was perfect in its simulation including the layer of “fat” in between the “meat” layers. Quite a feat in manufacturing, which is again in Taiwan. In fact, Chow Yang is the only vegetarian restaurant in Ipoh to carry this product, a tidbit that Managing Director Derek Lee was happy to share with me.

Siew yoke

He also told me that Chow Yang has been operating since 2006 and when asked about MSG (my big bugbear), he assured me that they use the minimum and in fact I suffered very little afterwards and the next morning. 

Considering there appears to be no end in sight for the current pandemic, Derek shared an innovative move which the restaurant is promoting. 

They are now selling packs of frozen food which require a defrosting period of 3-4 hours before they can then be steamed/boiled or reheated in microwave-safe containers. (See pic of the list of takeaways frozen packs.) They are vacuum packed, sterilized and all made and packaged in-house. RM12.90-13.90.

Takeaway frozen packs menu

Chow Yang is definitely the place to go for your ready-to-eat take home food. And if you’re not inclined to make the trip yourself, put in an order on Foodpanda for a delivery straight to your doorstep.

 

Address:
198, Jalan Bercham, Taman Ria, 31400 Ipoh, Perak

Business hours:
11am-2.30pm, 6-9.30pm; opens daily
Takeaway & delivery available through Foodpanda

For inquiries:
014-974 3191

Help the Small Businesses: Hainan Kia (HBR Cafe)

Hainan Kia (HBR Cafe)

Pictures by Gisele Soo

SeeFoon Enjoys an Oxymoron and other specialties

Fried Porridge struck me as an oxymoron (a self-contradicting word or group of words) and an interesting one which immediately piqued my curiosity.

This happened at the newly opened Hainan Kia (they opened in January) which of course had to close during the MCO but since reopening, is now doing a roaring business. 

I reckoned there must be lots of Hainanese in Ipoh, all pining for a taste of the food that Grandma used to make, long lost in the mists of time. Now they are all queuing for a taste of their own history, made possible by a group of four young partners who joined forces to bring the authentic Hainanese taste to Ipoh. 

Hainan Kia, which means “Hainanese Child”, is located in a small bungalow on Jalan Haji Eusoff. It was bustling on the day I went there, and even though it was late (1.45pm) there were still people arriving. 

Naturally the first item on the menu that I asked for was their Fried Porridge. How can you fry porridge which is liquid, I asked. It was then explained to me that the porridge (congee) was made first and the ingredients that go in are fried “a la minute” as per order. 

Hainan is a Chinese island province in the South China Sea, about halfway between southern China and Vietnam. The food is lighter, less oily, and more mildly seasoned than that of the Chinese mainland. Seafood predominates the menu, as prawn, crab, and both freshwater and ocean fish are widely available.

Malaysian Hainanese is a hodgepodge cuisine, a product of the country’s history as a colony. Hainanese Chinese were among the last to make their way to British Malaya, beginning in the late 1800s and continuing into the early 20th Century. By that time, Cantonese, Teochew, Hokkien and Hakka clan associations, which were established to help new arrivals find work and housing, had taken most employment opportunities. So many Hainanese people ended up taking positions as cooks in British military camps and in the homes of British expatriates and wealthy Chinese, where they learned to churn out perfectly cooked roasts, make cream of mushroom soup, boil eggs just so, fry up crispy chops and knead dough for bread and pastries. 

Soon they put this experience to use in their own restaurants and coffee shops, where they combined their own cooking styles with what they learnt from the Brits and the local cuisine. Thus, Malaysian Hainanese cuisine was born. 

Seafood Fried Noodle

I had the privilege of enjoying the services of a Hainanese cook when I got married many years ago in Singapore and I still remember the taste of his curries, and his various delectables that he would serve up.

For those going to Hainan Kia expecting to find the popular and renowned Hainanese Chicken Rice, you’ll be in for a let down. They do NOT serve that here. Instead they serve some of the very authentic A Dou Mee and Bao Loh Fun, the latter dish which they claim they are the only cafe in the whole of Malaysia that serves, a must-try street food back in Hainan island.

Most of the noodle dishes at this cafe uses their homemade Zu Sheng Noodles, the dough being not hand-rolled but rather utilizes a unique method of kneading with a bamboo pole which the chef uses like a lever between his legs (watch accompanying video). The noodles after cooking will have a springiness to them (al dente in Italian) attributed to the bamboo “kung fu” rather than lye water which is commonly used in other noodles with the same springiness. 

(Video courtesy of Hainan Kia)

Undoubtedly, the secret to producing such unique noodles also largely depends on the process of rolling. The noodles which can be purchased from the restaurant (when they have extra) come in three flavours of egg, pandan and spinach.

A Dou Mee is a traditional noodle dish, its name meaning “grandmother” in Hainanese dialect. It appeals to most palates with a clean fresh broth and comes with sotong, fish paste, bean curd with optional cockles, and is served with a special homemade curry paste. Hence the degree of spice can be controlled by yourself, adding more if you’re into spicy food like me. RM12.90.

Bao Loh Fun (a type of noodle like our local Lai Fun), is one of the top four Hainanese noodles, originating from Hainan Island. Usually eaten for breakfast, the very thick and starchy gravy is the essence of the dish, cooked with minced meat and sour vegetables or Ham Choy” and “Mui Choy” or preserved vegetables. Boiled peanuts are added to the dish, as are slivered carrots and lettuce. The uniqueness of the taste seems to have impressed many people as they can rarely try this elsewhere throughout Malaysia. RM12.90.

Bao Loh Fun
Seafood curry noodles

The Seafood Curry Noodles are headily aromatic, each bowl finished with a touch of santan, the noodles vying for attention with large prawns, fish chunks, squid and a few greens. Add sambal if the need for extra spice arises, though the soup is already slurp-worthy and spicy on its own. RM16.90.

The same Zu Sheng Noodles also come stir fried with mixed seafood or in clear broth for those who are looking for a non spicy taste. 

Next to arrive was the Slipper Lobster Claypot Porridge, a large tureen of porridge (congee) that was hearty and crowd pleasing, the slipper lobster taking centre stage, embellished with Chinese crullers and fried dried slivered sotong imbuing the dish with its characteristic fragrance. Served with a garlicky, spicy sauce. RM38.80.

Slipper Lobster Claypot Porridge

Another claypot dish came in the form of the Tung Fen Hai or Claypot Glass Noodle Crab. Dominated by an extra large flower crab with the carapace on top, the noodles were accompanied by celery, carrots, ginger slivers, loofa rounds and an omelette. A very umami broth made this a very refreshing item. RM38.80.

Claypot Glass Noodle Crab

And before I forget, did I mention that the Chicken Chop here is one of the best I have ever tasted? It brings back memories of my Hainanese cook who did this perfectly, crispy on the edges and tender on the inside, smothered with a Lee and Perrin anchovy-based sauce that was superlative! RM13.90.

Chicken Chop
Kaya Toast

By this time, we were all suffering with a surfeit of food but we had to push ourselves and taste their Kaya Toast. Served with premium butter and the bread sliced thin, the homemade kaya was fragrant, making this a most satisfying dessert. RM4.50. 

The kaya is available for sale so don’t forget to pick up a jar. 

*Hainan Kia is pork-free.

 

Address:
48, Jalan Haji Eusoff, Perumahan Jalan Kampar, 30250 Ipoh, Perak

Business hours:
8am-6pm, opens  daily
Takeaways available
Delivery available through Foodpanda and GrabFood 

For inquiries: 
011-5501 6295

 

Help the Small Businesses: Dana’s Bamboo Biryani & Curry House

Dana’s Bamboo Biryani & Curry House

Pictures by Gisele Soo

SeeFoon is bowled over by Bamboo Biryani 

How deep is my love for biryani ? The mere mention of them makes my pulse race, starts me salivating and my mouth drools. And then some clever chef somewhere invented Bamboo Biryani and my love was sealed for eternity.

The intense combination of flavours, the spices adding their aromatic dimension and the steaming in the individual bamboo containers holding the rice and meat filling lending its own subtle nuances of flavours makes this a heady temptation only a corpse can resist.

A ‘new kid on the block’ in the biryani game, Dana’s Bamboo Biryani & Curry House only opened in August and on the day we went, already had a full house, all enjoying the variety of Bamboo Biryani.

The name Dana is taken from Co-owner Geevakumaran’s mother-in-law who loaned some of her recipes to the restaurant. 

The menu is simple: 6 types of Bamboo biryani ranging from Vegetarian (RM9.90), Chicken (RM14.90), Mutton (RM18.90), Prawn (RM17.90) and their specials, the Signature Norwegian Salmon Trout (RM21.90) and their Signature Blue Lobster with Prawn at RM27.90.

Mutton

Add-ons include their Chicken (RM8), Mutton (RM15), Salmon Trout (RM15 per piece), Fried Tenggiri or Mackerel (RM7 per piece), Crab Masala (RM11 per piece) and additional Vegetables (RM1.50).

Tomato chutney and raita (cucumber and onion salad) are provided on the side for all biryani dishes, along with mutton or chicken curry (fish curry can also be requested). Malawi Dhal curry is provided for vegetarians. 

The Vegetable Biryani uses 3 types of mushrooms for the Masala, their natural umami flavors infusing the whole dish. Their Chicken and Mutton Biryani were robust, the rice redolent with the respective flavours of the meat and tantalising to the last mouthful.

Chicken Biryani

The Signature Blue Lobster and Prawns Biryani was impressive. A small whole lobster together with several large prawns came tumbling out of the bamboo container and had our group riveted. The umami taste of shellfish was evident in the rice as those of us who liked our rice more “wet” added additional fish curry sauce to the mixture. A sure winner with local palates as an occasional affordable treat.  

Blue Lobster and Prawns Biryani

The portions were large so we decided to stick to ordering a la carte side dishes which was what we did with the Salmon Trout to have with the other biryani rice. The masala for this was robust and fiery adding an additional dimension of flavour to the salmon. The portion was large, easily satisfying all 4 of us with extra to spare. 

Salmon Trout

We also had a portion of their Pumpkin Masala, mildly spiced and a good contrast to some of the other fiery items.

What came next was a surprise. A large chicken chop, topped with melted cheese and listed as Cheesy Chicken Chop (RM15.90) was one of the best I’ve had in Ipoh. Crispy on the edges, tender inside, this thick chop had all the right makings of being a star item if you eschew the biryani. But I say to order it anyway in addition to the biryani. Served with a delicious pepper onion sauce, this will be served with plain or vegetarian biryani in the future. 

Cheesy Chicken Chop

We finished off our gargantuan meal with Mango Lassi (yogurt) Soft Serve Ice Cream churned from a special machine. Using imported canned Alphonso mangoes touted as the “King” of mangoes known for their distinctive fragrance, Geevakumaran proudly explained that these mangoes are not available anywhere else and have to be imported from India. A ‘must try’ at RM6.90.

Mango Lassi Soft Serve Ice Cream

Dana’s is pork free and will soon be applying for Halal certification. 

*Dana’s is also vegetarian friendly 

Address:
30, Jalan Bercham Bistari 1, Medan Bercham Bistari, 31400 Ipoh, Perak

Business hours:
11am-9pm, opens daily
Delivery/takeaway available through Foodpanda, Bungkusit, and soon Grabfood 

For inquiries:
018-669 0076