By See Foon Chan-Koppen
I never cease to be amazed at the myriad number of great eating places waiting to be discovered around Ipoh. Having explored and tasted at many of the ‘Lo Chiew Pai’ or ‘old signboards’ and written about them, I am now exploring some of the relatively new eateries mostly set up by sous chefs or junior chefs from some of our venerable ‘top’ Chinese restaurants; chefs with ambition and who feel they have learnt all there is to learn and are ready to take on the challenge of establishing their own.
Chef Chan Soon Fatt is one of these. He set up Li Garden restaurant over a year ago and has not looked back since. Situated in a corner coffee shop on the left after the traffic light for turn-off to the airport, having passed the Jalan Gopeng flyover, travelling on Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah Selatan towards Pasir Pinji, the name of Li Garden emblazoned in bright lights across the front beckons.
Man with Mission
Chef Chan is a man with a mission. He’ll go out of his way to cater to your taste buds if you give him at least one day’s notice. On my first visit there, again introduced by my foodie-around-town friend Ginla Chew, we were treated to a specially ordered Fish Head steamboat which Chef Chan had spared no efforts in making absolutely scrumptious.
Chef Chan had gone to the market in the morning to find the freshest fish head of the day. Depending on the local availability, the find that day was a Garoupa head which he had cut in pieces to make the soup. The steamboat was a sumptuous affair. Arriving on a portable burner, it bubbled away as our group of ten helped ourselves to home-made bean curd and vegetables, Fish balls, Fish lips (in reality shark’s skin – not to be mistaken for sharksfin) and what I thought was Fish Maw but which turned out to be pigs tendons, pounded flat and deep fried. The soup base was flavoured by Kam Wa Fo Tui (a particular type of Chinese ham) and Tso Hau Yu (a type of dried flounder most probably a sole), a generous addition which lent to the stock a lingering scent and the most ‘umami’ taste. RM100 enough for 10 pax.
As this was the first course to be presented, we were already seated when the rest of the dishes came in rapid succession. Next on the menu was the Wu Tso Kai, (a special breed known as ‘whiskered chicken’) half portion steamed and served in bamboo basket. This was tender, juicy and cooked to the right degree of done-ness. RM40 for whole chicken.
This was followed by the whole Lamb leg, steamed for five hours with herbs and then braised in a velvety sauce with dried bean curd (Fu Tsok) and onions RM60; the salted pork knuckle which was tender, succulent and worth a revisit RM15; fresh spinach done my favourite style-in broth with salted and century eggs RM9; and finally just when we thought we couldn’t eat another bite, in came the bread wrapped chicken curry – RM25.
Bread Wrapped Curry
I usually avoid this dish when it is served at dinners as the usual curries that come with this dish are bland and boring and the bread, dry, but as I was writing a review, I thought it deserved a taste. Did I ever make a mistake! Not only did I have a nibble (to taste), I ended up gorging myself on both the bread and the chicken curry. The bread, according to Chef Chan, is hand kneaded, steamed and then hand ladled with oil to crisp the outside. The chicken curry was very tasty, with Malaysian spices (as different from Indian) and surprisingly cooked without coconut milk and yet still tasted creamy.
Returning for More
As there were many more dishes in Chef Chan’s repertoire, I made myself a promise to return and savour them which I did a few weeks later. This time I tried their fresh Tilapia which arrived at the table in a claypot, had the oil poured out and simple soya sauce with oodles of scallions poured in while still sizzling. RM26.
Other dishes worthy of note are their fried pork brisket (char fah lam) – great for nibbling with drinks while waiting for others to arrive RM8; lotus root fried with salted eggs (ham dan leen ngau) RM8; a great white cabbage that came in a claypot redolent with the taste and smell of salted fish RM6 and for me the crème de la crème: their Beef Brisket soup.
I actually woke up the following morning with the lingering memory of its taste: tender chunks of beef brisket and shin that are specially selected for this dish for their lattice of tendons which lend a succulence to the meat that could otherwise become dry and chewy. This is mixed with pieces of beef tripe, beef tendon, simmered with herbs for hours till tender and served with Chinese celery. RM15.
In fact even as I write this, I am tempted to go back and ‘Ta Pao’ or bring home, this soup for my supper tonight!
57 Laluan Pinji Seni
4, Taman Pinji Seni,
Tel: Mr Chan (012-5002135) Mr Liew (012-5183370)