Pictures by Gisele Soo
SeeFoon expands her coterie of fave western restaurants
Ipoh has always been known for its local food, be it hawker or its “Tai Chau” places, and it was only when Julie Soong opened Indulgence Restaurant & Living 20 odd years ago, followed shortly by Simon Lee and Erica with Citrus, that Ipoh began to develop a collection of western restaurants that can step onto the world stage.
A slew of ‘wannabes’ followed and failed, their downfall related to hired chefs and a difficulty in hiring service staff.
I have always maintained that the restaurants that stay the course and remain successful are those that are opened by couples, with one half in the kitchen doing the cooking and the other out front serving guests.
That is why I’m putting my money on ES Kitchen, opened by Chef Eric Soong and his wife, Irene Koh. In addition, their daughters Amanda and Alisha help out during their school holidays.
I first met Eric when he was Executive Chef at Weil Hotel when it first opened. He subsequently left and went to Guangzhou where he was at Langham Guangzhou as Executive Chef for 3 years, only returning last year in October 2019. He started his restaurant ES Kitchen in May this year, after the MCO was lifted.
Having just established himself and the restaurant, and with September showing an encouraging return, Eric now has to cope with the CMCO and the fear preventing customers from patronising his restaurant.
I can vouch for Eric and Irene being fastidious in following the SOPs. Also, the restaurant, which is spaced over two shop lots, has their tables VERY well spaced out and are well marked with allowable or non-allowable seating. I was impressed the moment I stepped in: a quiet serene ambiance where you, my dear readers, may dine in peace.
As for drinks, because they have yet to obtain their liquor licence, one may BYO where they charge an RM35 corkage fee—but for lunch that day, I settled for their non-alcoholic beverages.
The Blueberry Yogurt drink blended from a mix of fresh and frozen blueberries from the US was refreshing and cooling, while their Iced Chocolate was smooth and not too sweet (my natural aversion to sweet drinks!!). The Peach Soda had a lovely fizz and combined with the canned pureed peach at the bottom of the glass, left a delightful lingering taste in the mouth. All it needed was a dash of champagne and we would have a Belleni in our hands. All at RM14.80.
Our first course was the Cobb Salad, a meal on its own with generous portions of bacon, ham, egg, avocado, cheese, tomato and grilled chicken, served with Eric’s special homemade ranch dressing, a creamy yet tangy dressing that lifted the simple ingredients to a gourmet level. RM27.80.
Next to arrive and meant as an appetiser were the Crispy Risotto Balls or arancini (Italian), served with a balsamic tomato compote on the side. These six balls were divine and the first I’ve had in 30 years, since the last time I was in Italy. They were so good that I almost wanted to eat the whole plate but refrained since I had to share with my colleagues! When served, the balls look deceptively simple to make but making delicious arancini requires skills that only can come from a seasoned chef.
To make these Sicilian cheese-filled snacks, you first have to make risotto (we all know how difficult that is as you have to stand over the stove and stir till the rice is cooked, adding stock and cheese in small dribbles); then use the risotto to make cheese-stuffed balls, then coat them with breadcrumbs and deep-fry them. It’s a labor of love, which is reason enough to make this dish a must-have. It is also worth making this one of your favourite takeaways during this CMCO. RM19.80.
Both the soups that we tasted and shared were delicious. I usually avoid soups as often they taste like dishwater especially in the hands of a novice chef. But in Eric’s able hands, both the Roasted Pumpkin Soup topped with smoked duck breast and croutons (RM15.80) and the Field Mushroom Soup served with bacon bits, buttered croutons and drizzled with truffle oil (RM18.80) were robust, ambrosial and lifted beyond the ordinary.
The Chicken Cordon Bleu was surprisingly juicy and tender considering it was breast meat. Stuffed with cheese, breaded and fried, it was served with a creamy mashed potato and mixed vegetables. I wish it had more cheese inside, though, as I like it really oozing! RM28.80.
For the main course, Eric suggested we taste his signature dish which is the ES Signature Iberico Pork Ribs, a slab of juicy ribs marinated and basted with Eric’s own barbecue sauce and served with corn salsa. The ribs weigh around 700gm and he uses the DeRaza brand of Iberico, a specific breed of true blue, purebred Iberico, feeding primarily on acorns and roaming freely in the regions of Extremadura, Andalusia and Castile-La Mancha, in Spain.
The ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender and, because they were Iberico, imbued with their own special inimitable taste and fragrance. Enhanced by the homemade barbecue sauce, this was a feast for at least 2-3 people and at RM168.80, was worth every mouthful.
For dessert, we shared an Irish Cream Tiramisu, an alcoholic’s delight with ladyfingers (the biscuit, not the vegetable) soaked with coffee and liquor, sponge cake and layered with Mascarpone cheese (this is the legitimate layering ….not whipped cream) doused with Bailey’s Irish Cream. Heaven in a mouthful. RM18.80.
I promised myself to come back with a group of friends to experience their Tomahawk set, consisting of 1.2kg of grilled Australian Stanbrooke Black Angus M2. This comes with the arancini or risotto balls starter, salad, pumpkin soup and sides of rosemary potatoes, garlic broccoli, sauteed field mushrooms, a red wine shallot pepper sauce and a dessert of their Bailey’s Tiramisu—at RM688.80 per set. Given that their portions are generous, and although this is a set meant for 4, I reckon that 6 friends can happily share this meal and leave satiated and content.
Another item that caught my eye was one of their specials of the month. The Sanchoku Wagyu Burger (only 127 portions available) comes with pan-fried lobster tail, foie gras, smoked cheddar, port wine onion marmalade on a brioche bun, and a serving of truffle steak fries. RM188.80.
ES Kitchen is definitely on my list for many a revisit.
148 & 150, Jalan Tasek Timur, Pusat Perdagangan Tasek Indra Bercham, 31400 Ipoh, Perak
12-2.30pm (Lunch), 6-10pm (Dinner)
Closed on Wednesdays
Deliveries available between 2.30-6pm