SeeFoon is Lifted Up Up and Away

My first fish head curry on arriving in Ipoh more than 20 years ago was at the Up and Up restaurant on Jalan Yang Kalsom. Then I used to traipse up the dingy steps or take the rickety lift to the top floor of Wisma Kinta and tuck into my two favourite dishes, the fish head curry and the petai prawns, ignoring all the while the less than salubrious surroundings.

I still do that occasionally now in an ambiance that is a much more appetising one in Ipoh Garden East. Now Up and Up has changed ownership and I was there recently to sample its fare. I have been to the same restaurant under the old management and found myself somewhat disappointed in the quality and so when my friend, lawyer Angie Neoh invited me and my Foodie Kaki Ginla Chew, I was not over-enthusiastic.

To my surprise who should greet me enthusiastically was Andy Boy (Lee Yoke Kai) hairstylist, beautician and tattoo specialist (eyes and lips) extraordinaire who together with his elder sister, has taken ownership and with a new chef, is cooking up a storm.

Boy, I didn’t realise you’re into food,” I exclaimed, “I thought only in beauty and rejuvenation.’ It turns out that he was very much into food, directing his artistic flair into creating exquisite, unusual and delicate drinks and desserts that are pleasing to both the eye and the palate. For example, his dried tangerine skin which he makes himself is a labour of love. Using fresh tangerine skin, he steams, then dries in the sun and repeats the process nine times and then he mixes in liquorice root powder. The resultant drink which he makes with the skin and freshly squeezed lemon was refreshing and cooling.

Let’s go back to the Fish Head Curry, the signature dish that has made Up and Up renowned and the number one go-to choice for many in Ipoh. Here the curry is mild, tangy, neither too sweet nor too sour, laden with ladies fingers and tomatoes; the fish head market-fresh with sweet flesh. Market price.

Andy’s chef is a different chef from the old management. Ah Po as he is called, has a distinctive flair as every dish that we had was superlative. We started with something that in a Nonya restaurant would be called a Ju Hu Char, finely julienned sang kuang or Mexican Yam Bean and carrots stir-fried with fine slivers of dried squid and chicken served with fresh lettuce cups and a lovely chilli paste. RM14 small, RM21 medium, RM28 large.

The combination bitter melon and pumpkin, called in Chinese Seen Fu Hao Teem (meaning bitter first, finishing with sweetness) finger-size chunks coated in batter and salted egg yolk, was succulent inside and delicately crispy on the outside. RM16 small, RM24 medium, large RM32.

They also do a Fried Chicken in the same batter which is tender, succulent and yummilicious – small RM20, medium RM30, large RM40.

This was followed by the Petai Prawns, easily one of the best I’ve ever had; the thick sambal coating fragrant with belacan, the petai firm and the prawns, large, firm and ocean-fresh – RM28 small, RM42 medium, large RM56.

The Si Yow Wong Gai which is chicken chunks dry braised in dark soya sauce with garlic, onions and topped with scallions. The chicken was tender and succulent and cooked to the right degree of doneness. RM16 small, medium RM24, large RM32.

On another occasion I went totally porky. I was told to try the braised Pork Belly with Chinese shiitake mushrooms, which arrived in a thick brown gravy and best eaten with Man Tou (Chinese steamed buns). The pork was tender with the fat quiveringly jelly-like. Heaven in a mouthful. RM30 small, large RM60.

Another pork dish which is one of those ‘die die, must try’ dishes is the Ham Yu Fah Lam Po or Pork Belly with salted fish. Its one of those dishes that you almost have to eat with white rice just to soak up the sauce which is so aromatic and redolent with the salted fish flavours. Small RM18, medium RM27 and large RM36.

For desserts, there are two light specialties of the house. The first is their Tao Fu Fa or soya bean curd, a fairy light curd, smooth as silk and glides down your throat like a cloud of soothing goodness. The serving wooden tub is a delight to behold and the bean curd comes with a choice of two syrups, ginger and gula melaka (small RM8, big RM16).

The next is an ‘Andy Boy’ special, an intriguing golden square of jelly (the collagen is extracted from two hours of stewing fish scales). It is available in two flavours, guai fa (made of kei chi or goji berries and flesh of longan) and lemon (made of lemon, lemon peel, chan pei (tangerine peel)). The guai fa jelly is best eaten on its own just like that while the lemon one is served garnished with  peppermint leaves and lemon slice topped with lemon juice and some salt. Delectable and light – RM4 per slice.

 
Up and Up Restaurant
33 Jalan Medan Ipoh 10
Bandar Bahru Medan Ipoh
31400 Ipoh Perak.
Tel:  05 549 2588
Business hours: 10.30am-3pm and 5.30pm-10.30pm (closed on Tuesdays).

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.

SeeFoon Checks Out Possible Den of Iniquity

A restaurant with a name like Opëam, is bound to raise eyebrows, or it will have people queueing to check it out. Especially if it’s also housed in a bungalow behind a discreetly lit sign posted above the entrance. I had to turn my car around as I passed it without noticing the sign. Instructions from Foodie Kaki Ginla Chew was “bungalow opposite DeGarden” and sure enough there it was, a bungalow, on the corner of Lebuh Hock Lee facing the Korean Restaurant Daorae.

Of course as we all know, opium is illegal but eating and drinking is not (thank God) and that is what Opëam is all about. Good wholesome eating and drinking in a conducive ambiance. Calling itself a Restrobar, Opëam is the brainchild of young chef/entrepreneur Nicole Gan, from Seremban, who after obtaining a degree in mass communications from Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman took off for the bright lights of Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia for 10 months.

Opëam

There in the US, she developed a passion for all the exciting baked items she was exposed to and with her inherent love of baking and cooking, she returned to Ipoh where she started Patisserie Boutique in Old Town along Jalan Sultan Yusuff, a cafe which quickly garnered a faithful following, especially for its delectable pastries, cakes, and simple fare.

That was four years ago and now with the opening of Opëam, this enterprising young lady has moved into the food and beverage industry big time. It is hard work for her, dividing her time between mornings at Patisserie Boutique and evenings at Opëam, baking, cooking and offering a small menu with an emphasis on quality of produce and a ‘less-is-more’ style of preparation.

Opëam

Despite not having had any formal Chef’s training, Nicole succeeds in dishing out beautifully prepared and plated items, coming from her love of baking, cooking and most importantly, a discerning palate which helped her pick up menu ideas during her sojourn in the US. Hence the cuisine is reflective of the Californian style where menu items are light with minimal oil and with little aid from sauces, reliant purely on the light touch and seasonings by Chef Nicole.

Specialties of the house here aside from the food items are their cocktails. Moscow Mule, a concoction using lime, ginger beer and vodka was refreshing, while the Rum and Orange tended to the sweet side – RM28 each. My favourite was the Pineapple Daiquiri which came frozen and served with a spoon – RM32.

OpëamOpëam

As a group of five, we ordered a selection of two pizzas for starters. Listed as Skinny Pizzas on the menu, the first to arrive was the Truffle and Cheese, ultra thin crust oozing with melted cheese, fresh mushrooms and paper thin slices of black truffles, it’s fragrance wafting in wild abandon. Topped with fresh rocket leaves this was a unanimous favourite with our group – RM28. This was followed by the Kimchi Pizza (how’s that for a mix of east and west?) which generally did not find favour around the table – RM26. All their pizzas are topped with Gouda and Marta mozzarella cheese.

Opëam

Opëam

The Penne with scallops and prawns with homemade Pesto sauce, fresh dill and pine nuts was absolutely delicious. The penne was cooked al dente and the generous portions of large sea-fresh prawns and scallops was a treat. I haven’t had a better pasta since Italy – RM55.

Opëam

The New Zealand Lamb Rack served as two chops per order was tender, juicy and flavourful, paired with a homemade mint sauce, charred Brussels sprouts and grilled cherry tomatoes – RM65. This was followed by air-flown Salmon Steak served with salmon roe (Ikura), which was cooked to perfection, the centre still pink and the skin crisped and crackling dotted with mixed nuts and topped with salmon roe which lent its umami saltiness as each egg bursts open in the mouth – RM45.

Opëam

The pièce de résistance which came next was the Wagyu Steak Marble 6, a generously sized portion of well marbled beef, tender and fragrant and grilled perfectly, topped with a dab of herb butter and served on a bed of mange tout or pea pods. Accompanying garnitures were grilled cherry tomatoes and a whole baked garlic. The searing was expertly done and the steak was well seasoned. RM160 for Marble 6 and RM210 for the Marble 9. The steak is served with a truffle butter sauce on the side.

Opëam

Before dessert we decided to sample the cheese platter which came attractively plated on a wooden flat spatula offering a choice of imported Gouda, Emmental and Fontal cheese accompanied by strawberry preserves, mixed nuts, mixed fresh berries, olives, raisins,  crackers and sliced Chorizo sausages. This can be a meal in itself – RM38.

Opëam

Then came the highlight of the evening. A dessert which caught my eye was the Salted Egg Yolk Croissant with Vanilla Gelato. This was a true fusion effort, appeasing the Malaysian penchant for salted egg which they use for everything! And combined inside the croissant served with the velvety smooth gelato was heaven in a mouthful – RM16.

The menu items vary from week to week so do ask for the daily specials.

Opëam Restrobar
28 Lebuh Hock Lee
Tel: 05 541 2421
Business hours: 4pm-11pm. Closed Wednesdays.
(Ample parking next door)

SeeFoon Remembers Kampung Malay Food

By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen
Pics by Tan Mei Kuan

Dome Restaurant in Meru Valley ResortIt has been years since I had a bang-up, GENUINE Kampung Malay meal with all the classic dishes and condiments that today, appear to have gone the way of the Dodo bird (as in extinct!) Most roadside eating places have Tom Yam emblazoned all over their signboards and (hello?) Tom Yam is a Thai dish and the ones I’ve tasted come nowhere near the real McCoy I’ve had in Thailand. Plus they are usually laden with MSG, which as readers of my column may have noticed, I am on a strong campaign to eradicate from all kitchens!!

It was therefore such a real pleasure to be invited to a preview tasting of the Citarasa Nusantara spread at the Dome Restaurant in Meru Valley Resort recently in anticipation of Ramadan and all the feasting that goes with breaking fast.

I am familiar with the Western, Chinese  and local dishes at the Dome as I eat there quite regularly and I can vouch for the quality of most of the dishes served here. But the Kampung Malay food prepared by Chef Din is a treat and usually only available by special order for functions and events. Other than the Chicken Berempah which is on the regular menu, everything else that is being presented on the Ramadan Buffet for this limited time only is by special order.

So in great anticipation I sat down to taste the various dishes that will be served on their buffet spread in the Malay section with Director Chris Bock, Leong Mei Yee and Executive Chef Desmond who kept doing the ‘now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t’ act as he dashed back and forth to the kitchen.

And I was not disappointed.

Dome Restaurant in Meru Valley Resort

Everyone living in Malaysia knows about rendang with almost every state having their own unique variation. Rendang Tok, however is a special rendang recipe for which Perak is renowned. With “Tok” to mean royalty, Perak’s rendang tok is literally food befitting the kings!

The Rendang Tok at the Dome goes one better. Instead of the usual beef chunks it is a large lamb shank, with the spiced gravy being greatly reduced from prolonged simmering until all that’s left is a thick layer that not only coats the meat but permeates every fibre of it, tender, luscious, moist mouthfuls that fall off the bone and sent me into paroxysms of foodie delight. This is a ‘die, die, must try’ dish.

Dome Restaurant in Meru Valley Resort

The Nasi Kerabu Kelantanese comes with Budu, a fermented fish sauce popular in Kelantan and the E. Coast of Malaysia, shredded raw vegetables, salted egg, keropok ikan or fish crackers, a chilli pickle and fish floss. Mixed by yourself or have them mix it for you and every mouthful is a burst of flavours and textures.

Ikan Perkasam Gelama was a fried fish with sourish tangy notes provided by asam keping and topped with roughly ground fried dry rice that gave the dish a delectable crunch.

The Ulam-ulaman (assorted raw greens like wing beans, cucumber, blanched ladies fingers and various leaves) arrived with two tantalising sambals, one a homemade sambal belacan (shrimp paste) and another the cincalok (preserved tiny shrimps seasoned with chopped shallots, chillies and limau kasturi – a local lime). Both the dips were very well rounded in their composition being neither too fiery nor too acidic, complementing the greens to perfection. Eaten with the Nasi Kerabu, the ulam and the dips tempered any oiliness coming from the rendang and the fried fish.

Dome Restaurant in Meru Valley ResortDome Restaurant in Meru Valley Resort

We then had the Kerabu Jantung Pisang, a salad made from banana flowers, a rare delight hardly to be found elsewhere nowadays. Mixed with an assortment of herbs and condiments, this salad was refreshing and a treat for the taste buds.

Many more Malay Kampung delights were still in store as we tucked into Pucuk Ubi Masak Lemak Telur Itik or in plain English, duck eggs cooked in a coconut sauce with Cassava leaves. This is another divine dish which I adore, the duck eggs poached to just the right consistency with the egg yolk still oozy and combined with the turmeric laced creamy coconut sauce, was heaven in a mouthful.

Dome Restaurant in Meru Valley ResortDome Restaurant in Meru Valley Resort

The Gulai Patin Masak Tempoyak was the least of my favourites. A local catfish, the Patin was cooked in a coconut sauce mixed with tempoyak, a fermented durian paste that requires an acquired taste to appreciate. Like durians for foreigners who either have a love/hate relationship with this king of fruits, tempoyak requires a further enculturation process in order to enjoy its smell and taste and although I am an avid fan of durian, I find tempoyak much harder to appreciate. But I have friends who swear by its virtues. And for those who love tempoyak, here is your opportunity to eat to your heart’s content in a conducive environment too, if you break fast at the Dome.

For dessert, don’t forget their Tapai Pulut, fermented rice pudding served with ice cream.

Dome Restaurant in Meru Valley Resort

What I have reviewed here for my dear readers are just some of the Malay Kampung temptations on the buffet spread at the Dome. There will be three rotating menus with a set carving station featuring roasted Australian beef, chicken and Dorper lamb leg and Chicken Satay every night as well as a Cold Japanese station featuring Salmon and Tuna Sashimi, mussels on the half shell, Tiger prawns and assorted Sushi and Maki. The Noodle Stall will be alternating their offerings between Asam Laksa, Mee Rebus and Prawn Mee and the Dessert spread will have a revolving series of delectable delights to tempt your taste buds.

 
Citarasa Nusantara will be available at the Dome Restaurant from June 5 to 22.
Call 05 529 3358 for reservations.
Non members are welcome.
Pork Free.

SeeFoon Challenges Chinese Held Belief on Pork

Chinese Foodies of my acquaintance have generally clung to the belief that pork-free restaurants are somehow lagging behind in the taste department when compared to their pork-serving counterparts and that a Chinese meal without pork is like cooking without soya sauce.

Well here in Ipoh, the Yuk Sou Hin at the Weil Hotel has consistently proven them wrong and now with the new Chef Chong Chee Yee at the helm of the revamped Chinese restaurant at the Kinta Riverfront Hotel, renamed Zui Xin Lao Seafood Restaurant, the myth of pork-free Chinese not being good enough will be shattered even further.

Chef Chong Chee Yee who hails from that ‘altar’ of Chinese gastronomy in Ipoh, Overseas Restaurant in Greentown, will soon be winning over pork-free naysayers (as well as our Muslim friends) and have them flocking to Zui Xin Lao for his delectable cuisine.

On entering the restaurant, one is immediately struck by the bank of fish tanks on the right, an aquarium of blue, each housing its captive catch, ‘tualang’ prawns or Udang Galah, medium sized abalone, medium sized Turbot flounder, Dragon tiger Garoupa or Loong Fu Pan, large Patin fish, Tilapia and Canadian oysters. The variety of fish changes regularly depending on availability but they are all live.

I went on two separate occasions and had the opportunity to sample their signature dishes the most notable of which were two which I will describe first.

The Baked Tilapia arrived encrusted in its thick blanket of salt and the crust cracked open at the table. Because the Tilapia had been sitting in its own tank of clean oxygenated water for a few days, there was nary a taste of muddiness to the fish and the fish was baked to just the right degree of ‘doneness’. The only thing I would have asked for would have been some virgin olive oil to drizzle over the fish (as I had in years past when eating this same dish in Italy) but as it’s not the Chinese custom to use virgin olive oil, I desisted! Our Tilapia for 10 people was RM132.

The next two clay pot specials are also signature dishes, with the only difference being the choice of meat. On one occasion I had the Lamb Brisket Clay Pot, a brimming simmering clay pot chockfull of lamb chunks, bean sheets and water chestnuts, and served with the most well-blended Fu Yu sauce. Now there is Fu Yu (preserved Chinese white bean curd or what some call Chinese cheese because of its distinctive fragrance and texture) and there is Fu Yu and the one used here is obviously top quality. Mixed with garlic, scallions, sesame oil and whatever else the Chef puts in, the sauce lifts the broth and the meat chunks to superlative heights, without which the claypot would be just plain mutton soup. Another option is to have the chicken and duck meat combination in the same umami broth. Tong Hou or Chinese Chrysanthemum greens are served raw for cooking in the broth after the meat has been fished out. RM45 for a small clay pot enough for 5.

The Hakka Siew Chao was light and had good ‘wok hei’ (wok spirit), a diced mix of Tsoi Po or preserved Daikon radish, long beans, slivered almonds, firm tofu, mushrooms, chilli and dried prawns, served with lettuce cups – RM39.

The Yin Yang Fried Rice deserves praise as it is an interesting departure from the usual run-of-the-mill fried rice which I usually avoid. Here, the Chef mixes his own ‘Fan Chiew’;   just as my grandmother would inadvertently produce when the rice which had been cooked over fire (none of your modern day rice cookers then) for just a bit too long and the bottom of the rice pot would have a slightly baked crispy layer, with fresh cooked rice and fries up a storm with the usual garnitures. The surprise crunch of the crispy bits of rice juxtaposed amongst the moist fluffy grains was interesting and delectable to boot – RM39.

Their Kwai Fah Meen was unusual. Thin egg vermicelli was stir fried with salted egg yolks, fresh egg, slivered carrots, bean sprouts and crab meat in the style of the famous Kwai Fah Tse (sharksfin which is no longer politically correct PC to order) and served with lettuce cups for wrapping – RM44.

Stewed soft bean curd squares served in a thickened soya based sauce with Chinese marrow and shimeji mushrooms was beautifully umami. RM3 each with a minimum order of 4 pieces.

The Garoupa Fish Head in clay pot is worth coming here for in addition to all the other temptations. Thick  chunks of very fresh Garoupa fish head, first deep fried and braised in a dark soya sauce with scallions and ginger till caramelized and each piece with its thick umami coating was heaven on the tongue – RM40.

We were then persuaded to try the Live Udang Galah or River prawns. The Chef’s special recipe called for grilling the prawns which were in the shell, butterflied, topped with a cheese and tomato sauce with Shimeji mushrooms, broccoli and cauliflower florets; which I had initially felt to be too ‘wannabe’ western but which to my surprise turned out to be delectable. RM121 for 4 medium/large prawns.

I was told that they could do the same for the oysters from Canada at RM17 per piece.

As for Chinese desserts, I usually avoid them, not having ever developed a sweet tooth but here at Zui Xin Lao, I have to admit to a new found passion for three of them: their coconut custard cream served in a whole coconut where you get to scoop out the young coconut meat RM13; their purple sweet potato balls coated in fresh grated coconut with a pandan lotus paste filling. RM2 each ball. And their steamed Almond and Egg white custard, velvety smooth almond custard that glides down your gullet faster than ice cream – RM9.

I will certainly recommend Zui Xin Lao to my prejudiced friends to take a new look at pork free dining. Call the amiable Restaurant Manager Cheng Choy Peng for any other recommendations.

 
Zui Xin Lao Seafood Restaurant (Pork Free)
Kinta Riverfront Hotel and Suites
Jalan Lim Bo Seng
Tel: 05 245 8888 (hunting line) 05 245 8818
Manager Cheng Choy Peng: 017 780 1207

SeeFoon Enjoys an Elusive Delicacy

Ipoh is known for many special dishes and people come in busloads for them but in all the years I’ve lived here I have never had a roast goose. It’s been aeons since I had roast goose, harking back to my Hong Kong days when we’d flock to Sham Tseng or go terribly upmarket and go to Yung Kee. I have since then been searching for roast goose here in Ipoh but to no avail.

Finally, I have to hand it to my foodie kaki Ginla Chew to be one of the first to discover the newly-opened Goose Incense Pavilion where the Cantonese-style roast goose can just about hold its own against its Hong Kong counterparts.

We were a table of ten and one whole goose was ample for us. The goose arrived complete with the head and served with a separate sauce. The goose was not too fatty, with a layer of fat that allows for the meat to remain succulent and tender, which it was. The skin which is the prized pièce de résistance of the whole dish was nice and crispy and will likely earn this restaurant a place in Ipoh foodies ‘must try’ list – RM268 for a whole goose. To be ordered the day before.

Goose Incense Pavilion Restoran Sdn Bhd

Goose Incense Pavilion Restoran Sdn Bhd

Next to arrive was a whole Pig’s Trotter deep fried and then braised, the fat having been rendered partially by the deep frying and the long slow braising produced a trotter with meat that fell off the bone and the fat mixed with the tendon was gelatinous, gliding down my throat with velvety smoothness. Sandwiched in a Man Tou steamed bun, it was ‘Chinese Hamburger’ at its tastiest – RM70.

This was followed by the Snakehead or Haruan fish (Sang Yue in Chinese) prepared two ways which is a change from the usual style served in most other restaurants. The first saw the fish sliced and steamed with garlic and soya sauce followed by a soup made from the fish bones and head which were first deep fried and then cooked in the soup which contained goji berries, wood ear fungus, scallions and other Chinese herbs, redolent with a generous helping of Chinese rice wine. RM78 for the steamed fish and RM60 for the soup.

Goose Incense Pavilion Restoran Sdn BhdGoose Incense Pavilion Restoran Sdn Bhd

The roasted Kampung Chicken or Choi Yuen Kai was tender and juicy, served with spiced salt – RM55. We ended with the bean thread noodles or Tung Hoon fried with dried prawns, carrots and scallions. Hearty and robust – RM36.

Not content with the ‘grand’ dishes I tasted I had to go back to taste a few more of their ‘ordinary’ dishes. Which I promptly did a few days later. We had four dishes, each one a taste treat in itself. The Nam Yu Fah Lam, marinated pork belly in fermented red bean curd, was deep fried and delectable – RM22. Followed by the Deep Fried Homemade Tofu brick on a bed of velvety steamed egg and topped with yummilicious pork lardons, fried garlic and shallots. Divine – RM16.

Goose Incense Pavilion Restoran Sdn BhdGoose Incense Pavilion Restoran Sdn Bhd

Next we tried their Yin Yang Wat Dan Hor, a combination of hor fun and egg noodles deep fried to a crispy consistency and topped with a wat dan sauce, a rich umami sauce thickened with egg white. I particularly liked the fried hor fun which has a chewy texture – RM14.

The final dish was the Tsing Loong Choi, a type of hybrid chive sauteed with bacon, carrots and garlic, the bacon lending a new nuance to the dish. I loved anything with bacon and this was such a good idea – RM22.

Goose Incense Pavilion Restoran Sdn Bhd

The Restaurant is offering a set dinner of eight courses for 10 persons at RM698 nett. While that may sound a bit pricey, but if you consider there is Braised Abalone with Goose Webs, Deep Fried Sea Prawn and Scallops on the menu, which are all high priced items, then it is a set worth coming for.

There is also an economy set lunch with a choice from six categories of Tilapia fish, seafood dishes, chicken dishes, meat dishes, bean curd and egg dishes and vegetable dishes. Within each category are six different styles of preparation. Set A is for 2-4 persons for three dishes plus daily soup at RM68Set B is for 5-7 persons with five dishes plus daily soup at RM128 and Set C is for 8-10 persons for six dishes plus daily soup at RM178.

 
Goose Incense Pavilion Restoran Sdn Bhd
33 Jalan Medan Ipoh 7, Bandar Baru Medan Ipoh.
Tel: 05 541 6006
Ava Cheng: 012 519 3687
Business hours: 12.30pm-2.30pm; 5.30pm-10.30pm
Closed Mondays

SeeFoon Revisits Kok Thai and Finds More Delights

It was a gargantuan meal. As were the portions. Ever the generous and affable host, Edward Foo and his charming wife, my foodie kaki Ginla Chew, were hosting some friends from the UK, Teddy Yip, his wife Wendy and their three grown children. There really is no better place than the private room at Kok Thai on Tasek Road where the parking is easy and the room accommodates two tables easily.

And the food is guaranteed to impress even the most jaded palates (Teddy owns restaurants in London).

Restoran Kok Thai (Tasek)We started with the soup, a brimming tureen of clear broth teeming with goji berries, pork ribs and surprise surprise, Loong Dun Tao or giant grouper head, a fish prized for its thick gelatinous skin (good news for the ‘ladies who lunch’ “cos it’s full of collagen that keeps the wrinkles at bay!”). The soup was beautifully clear and umami, no doubt a result of double boiling with all kinds of delectable ingredients that go towards a ‘supreme’ broth and the pork ribs cooked to a fall-off-the bone texture with none of the stringiness that can come from overcooking of meat. RM150 for a table of 10.

The next dish was a delightful take on how to bring suckling pigs up to the next level. Now there’s suckling pig and there’s SUCKLING pig. In some restaurants the piglet is already too old and too big but here at Kok Thai, the one served was just perfect, the skin crisp and crackly and the meat with only a hint of fat. The creative part which I found delightful was that instead of serving it with the usual scallions, the dish was accompanied by a plate of sliced green apple, jackfruit, rose apple and Chinese pear. Added to the Man Tou bun, with a touch of the dark plum sauce, the slice of  pig skin in the middle, it made the best Chinese sandwich I’d ever tasted. RM258 for one suckling pig.

Restoran Kok Thai (Tasek)

Our next item on the menu was a sight to behold as well as an enormous feast for the palate. A humongous platter covered on one side with a whole side of Ibérico Pork Ribs and the other with glistening large prawns, the dish brought oohs and ahhs from all around the table. Unlike some of these gaudy elaborate edifices often presented at fancy banquets, this dish came with no embellishments other than the ‘what-you-see-is-what-you get’ taste and freshness of the ingredients.

Restoran Kok Thai (Tasek)

Iberico pork delivers flavour and texture like no other – delicate, nutty, with melt-in-your-mouth marbling, the Black Iberian Pig, more commonly known by its Serrano name of Pata Negra or Black Hoof, is the newest contender on the culinary scene with the most serious pedigree. The Ibérico feasts on a diet of acorns and other indigenous plants, which is what gives the Ibérico pork its unsurpassed taste and quality recognised around the world. The ribs at Kok Thai were no exception. Tender and succulent with minimal marinating, the ribs fell off the bone owing to Pata Negra’s own genetic ability to store fat inside of, not just around muscle tissue, that produces its uniquely tender, rich, rosy meat – almost beefy – with a high degree of marbling. RM180 for the ribs. The prawns or Meng Har that were served together were ultra fresh and fried to perfection with soya sauce on a bed of scallion – RM200.

The steamed fish that followed was surprisingly reasonable at RM132 for a live Lo Fu Pan or Tiger Garupa. Steamed with a soya sauce topping, the fish was perfect both in its delicacy of the meat and its freshness.

On another occasion I tried their Crab meatSang Kwang stir fry served with lettuce leaves which I found most pleasing RM30 for 10;  followed by their Fried Rice redolent with Bentong ginger and topped with generous helping of julienned lettuce – RM28 (for 10).

Restoran Kok Thai

I spoke to the owner of Kok Thai who shared with me that as he owns other restaurants, he rotates his chefs around and this latest one Ah Keat is currently the one responsible for the culinary delights mentioned here.

Ann Ong who is the current manager is ever helpful and will suggest menu items according to one’s taste and desires.

I have also in the past (February 1, 2013 issue 159 Ipoh Echo) reviewed their yummilicious Poon Choy here at Kok Thai which is also available on preorder. The price of RM580 is good value for money considering there are 18 different ingredients that go into this delectable one-pot dish which is discovered and savoured layer by layer. Preorder in the morning will ensure you get this at night. A minimum of 5 pax at RM58 per person is required.

Restoran Kok Thai (Tasek)

 
Restoran Kok Thai (Tasek) Sdn Bhd
37-49, Laluan Tasek Perdana, Medan Tasek Perdana.
Tel: 05 5422 181/182
Captain Ann Ong:  010 211 9011
GPS: E 101° 5’ 42.0”  N 4°  38’ 28.3”

SeeFoon revisits old ground and finds new goodies

I have been meaning to revisit the almost ‘antique’ Teo Chiew Restaurant that I wrote about in the 16 November 2013 issue of Ipoh Echo but alas, contrary to what people believe and the question I am asked most “how do you find so many restaurants to write about?”, restaurants are aplenty in Ipoh and when one closes, a new one opens and I seldom find the time to revisit the restaurants I have reviewed.

That was what happened with Teo Chiew restaurant and when my foodie kaki Ginla Chiew told me excitedly about her latest find, the Hong Feng Restaurant which has replaced Teo Chiew, I couldn’t wait to visit. The old restaurant was quite dingy and was a fan-cooled-only coffee shop. Now the new Hong Feng (opened since January this year) has a sparkling air-conditioned section and an outdoor seating area… more comfortable by far but the question in my mind was, ‘Is the food quality as good?’; often a fate suffered by new ‘wannabes’ trying to break into the Ipoh food scene.

Well I was not disappointed. In fact the quality of food coming out of the kitchen was excellent on the two occasions I went to sample the food.

Manager Wong Yeng Hing was most attentive (not only to our table but to all the other tables there) and very willing to accept feedback. When we complained that one of the dishes served was too salty, he offered to replace it.

And the dishes were really very well plated…..none of the slap dash, dump it in the bowl or plate and put it on the table but each dish had very carefully arranged greens, flowers and one dish even had a heart made from sliced tomatoes. Kudos to the chef.

Now for the food itself.

Pork Belly with Fu Tsuk or dried bean sheets was melt-in-mouth tender, with the bean sheets providing just the right complementary blandness for absorbing the juices from the belly. Served in a heart made up of sliced tomatoes, it was a feast for the eyes as well as palate and great anticipation for Valentine’s Day which was just around the corner – RM18/27/36 for S/M/L.

Chicken chunks served in a fried Yam or Taro Bowl (Chinese Futt Put) was delectable with special credit going to the Taro which was well seasoned, crispy on the edges and satisfyingly soft and oozy on the inside. The chicken could have been deboned to provide for lazy diners like me – RM16/24/32 for S/M/L. There are over 13 styles of preparation for chicken alone and this particular one is not even on the printed menu. We also had their Smoked Chicken which was beautifully tender, served with a fermented bean curd sauce (Fu Yu). Very tasty. RM35 (half) and RM70 (whole).

The popular chicken curry wrapped in a whole bread (Mongolian bun) was beautifully presented with Wong meticulously opening up the bread and tucking in the sides presenting the whole dish like a flower. The bread was light and fluffy and the curry was spicy and creamy, redolent of coconut milk which they used liberally. Here finally is a chef who has come to his senses about using santan (coconut milk), as I was becoming quite exasperated with the evaporated milk which is often substituted in a lot of restaurants. Don’t people know that coconut milk is healthy and evaporated milk is not! RM 16/24/32 S/M/L extra RM15 for the Mongolian Bun topping.

The steamed fish which Wong called Cheong Sao Yu  (Orange Roughy) the longevity fish, steamed Cantonese style with soya sauce and topped with scallions, was firm fleshed but smooth and velvety in mouth feel – RM138.

They have a variety of different fish and it all depends on the ‘catch of the day”. Also they have Boston and Australian Lobsters, Spider and Australian King Crab, fresh oysters, geoduck and Scotland Bamboo clams all of which require advanced order and subject to availability and seasonal pricing.

I managed to taste some more seafood the following day when I went back for lunch. Their mud crabs were live and I chose to have it Yeem Cook or baked with salt without the interference of other condiments and spices. Yummilicious. RM75 per kg.

Next came the prawns (Meng Har or sea prawns) cooked Pei Fong Tong (typhoon shelter a’la Hong Kong) style, a recipe which brought back nostalgic memories of the evenings when friends and I would sit in a sampan and be rowed out to the cooking boats at the Hong Kong typhoon shelter (this was in the 70/80s) and sit under the stars eating delectable seafood. Today all that is left are memories and close facsimiles of the recipes. And the one at Hong Feng comes pretty close. Well not exactly a replica but a good blended taste nevertheless with lemon grass, dried and fresh chillies, garlic, shallots, dao tsi (dried black fermented beans) assam, and curry leaves providing a tasty coating to large ocean fresh prawns. 300g RM42.

For me the measure of a good kitchen is how well they do steamed eggs. Hong Feng’s Sam Wong Dan or Three King Steamed Egg with century, salted and fresh eggs was steamed to perfection, velvety smooth, silky consistency with just enough century and salted egg to not overpower the fresh, and just enough salt to add flavour. Someone at the table remarked that it tasted bland but then I reminded him that this was because there was no MSG in the dish and his palate had grown so accustomed to MSG – RM12.

We then had a braised tofu in claypot. The tofu was homemade, smooth, and cooked with fish slices, prawns and carrots. Delectable. RM12. We finished with the Wat Dan Hor and again they were very generous with the garnishing of the noodles with thick fish slices, prawns and a thick yummilicious egg sauce that was umami without help from MSG – RM12.

Personally I loved it. I did not have my usual MSG reaction the following day (my legs and ankles would swell to elephantine proportions) and taste of the dishes was robust without being overwhelming. I would come back here over and over again. I hope the quality of food will keep up as their popularity increases.

Restoran Hong Feng
10-Q Jalan Tun Abdul Razak (Maxwell Rd)
Tel: 05 506 3299
Manager Wong Yeng Hing:  011 1116 1148
Business hours: 11am-2.30pm and 5.30pm-11pm
Closed on ad hoc basis.
GPS:  N 04° 36.622’  E 101° 04.537’

SeeFoon seeks out auspicious food for Chinese New Year

This is the season for that delightful Chinese tradition of welcoming the new year with “Loh Hei” or the Prosperity Toss, the tossing of various ingredients symbolic of auspicious qualities that we pray will come our way. Not only is the ritual a wonderful form of fellowship as friends and families stand around the table lifting the ingredients with their chopsticks (Chinese salad tossing!) but as they voice the various chants of ‘good business’ ‘good health’ ‘smooth sailing’ ‘good results’, the camaraderie and ambiance generated are wonderfully uplifting.

And this is a dish that allows for a huge amount of creativity as to the ingredients. As long as there is the raw fish, Yu Sang (representing growth, abundance), other ingredients can be as interesting as the chef wishes it to be. The ritual is to toss the mixed ingredients high in the air with a shout of “Loh Hei” which literally means to “move upwards”. It is symbolic of the wish for our fortunes to rise and expand during the forthcoming year.

I recently had the pleasure to enjoy my first prosperity toss in anticipation of Chinese New Year at one of my favourite restaurants, Crab House in Ipoh Garden East. Fanny who is my ‘go-to’ person whenever I make a booking at Crab House, and her partner Ah Sing who helms the kitchen, are very creative and diligent about coming out with new dishes to tempt the jaded palates of their regulars.

For this coming celebratory season their Yu Sang has an added ingredient: fried fish skin. Together with the raw salmon and added pomelo, plus all the other must-haves like julienned carrots, white and green radish, sesame seeds, crushed peanuts, fried crisps and plum sauce, the resultant ‘salad’ has a taste and texture that is utterly yummilicious with the fish skin adding the extra crunch. RM48 small; RM68 large with salmon and fish skin; RM38 with salmon only.

Aside from all the usual goodies on offer at Crab House, (written about in issues 152 and 222) while you’re there, make a note to order another new dish which is their salted-egg-yolk-encrusted fish skin served with a mayo mixed salad of carrots and jicama. Crunchy, crispy and crackling.

Crab House will be open throughout the CNY celebrations.
32 Laluan Perajurit 1, Taman Ipoh Timur
Tel: Fanny Chan, 012-565 7723; W.S. Wang, 014-940 8500
GPS: N 4° 616 733, E 101° 125117
Open 7 days a week, 11am-2.30pm & 5.30pm-11pm

Continuing my search for auspicious foods for Chinese New Year, I went in search of fresh steamed fish which as we all know, can be exorbitant in most restaurants especially at this time of the year. In Chinese, fish “Yú” sounds like ‘surplus’ and to have a surplus augurs well for the rest of the year. Hence the wish for “nyen-nyen yo yoo” meaning “May you always have more than you need” is a familiar greeting during this period. And most people dining out during this season will always insist on fish. At a price.

So for a change of price and pace, yet still attracting all auspiciousness for the coming year, do go to Restaurant 226 in Chemor and have their Steamed Chili Fish. It is a ramshackle coffee shop about 300m from the traffic light intersection at Jalan Jelapang and Jalan Chemor. Their Steamed Chili Fish is worth the drive as is their price.

Known as the Fei Tsao Yu (African fish) this stall stocks live black Tilapia most of which are at least 2kg in size. At RM20 per kg, plus a cooking fee added, we had a 2kg-plus fish recently that was steamed to perfection. This was butterflied, and done yin yang style with one side topped with ginger and the other side with the addition of black beans (Dao Tse). Amy, the young lady who served us, explained that their ginger topping is not blended but rather chopped fine which makes a big difference in taste. Plus their use of Bentong ginger lends another dimension of flavour. Despite its size, the fish was tender and steamed to just the right degree of doneness. RM50 for a fish that was too much for five of us.

The whole purpose for coming here is for the fish but one can have accompanying vegetables with it as well as browse some of the other stalls for other nibbles. Try the braised chicken feet from a neighbouring stall selling yeong liew.

For me just the fish is enough “raison d’etre” for the drive.

 
Restoran 226
Jalan Jelapang, 300m to Chemor junction.
Choy Kee: 012 573 9825  to reserve your fish.
Business hours: 11.30-4pm. Closed Thursdays.
GPS:  E 101° 7’ 11.4”  N 4° 43’ 5.5”