When a restaurant has been around for 28 years and still garners a faithful following of diners, then you know that it is a restaurant of note. This has always been my impression of Pakeeza, the one North Indian restaurant that has consistently stayed on top of the list in Ipoh for people hankering for North Indian food.
A recent facelift to the premises has now brought it even more prominence, as diners now walk into a beautiful small foyer and into the dining room where everything has been refurbished and one can sit in comfort on contemporary large tables and order up a storm.
Talking to Rizal, the proprietor who had to quit his tertiary education in 1996 and take over the running of the restaurant after his father’s demise, I could sense his commitment to carry on with his father’s legacy. Especially, as his mother who is the doyenne in the kitchen and still presides over the preparation of some of the dishes which bear her imprint and are secret recipes guarded over the years, needed to keep cooking as an outlet for her culinary energies and to showcase her skills.
Pakeeza serves North Indian food of a very high quality. Beautifully plated and presented, the dishes arrive in quick succession served by very courteous and knowledgeable waiters who can happily describe the food as they portion it out.
The pièce de résistance in Pakeeza has to be the Tandoori Chicken, succulent pieces of chicken marinated in their own secret mix of spices and yoghurt, and cooked in the clay oven which has pride of place in their kitchen. The Tandoor or clay oven is the secret to Tandoori Chicken (hence the name). Using only charcoal, the chicken is cooked to perfection, the outside just slightly charred for a smokey flavour and the inside meat still juicy and succulent. Here at Pakeeza, the chicken is plated beautifully allowing a feast for the eyes as well as for the palate. Served with lemon slices and the smoothest, tastiest, lime, mint and coriander chutney, the Tandoori Chicken is a ‘must-have’ at Pakeeza. RM34 – whole; RM17 – half; RM8.50 – quarter.
The menu is extensive, with a large selection of breads coming piping hot from the Tandoor. One can choose from the Garlic, Almond and Cheese Naan (sort of like an Indian pizza which one eats with the various curries), the Khima Naan stuffed with minced beef, chicken or lamb, the Masala Kulcha filled with vegetables, the Tandoori Roti, thin crispy whole wheat bread, or the Puri, fluffy puffs of bread which has been deep fried. Altogether 15 varieties of bread to choose from. From RM1.20 for Puri to RM6.80 for the Garlic, Cheese naan.
There is also a choice of different styles of rice to go with the various dishes. From plain steamed rice to their Briyani which come plain or with vegetables, chicken, mutton or beef. The rice here is the longest grained variety I have ever laid my eyes on, each grain distinct, fluffy and tasty. From RM2 for plain rice to RM12 for the meat Briyani.
In terms of ‘wet’ dishes, I highly recommend the boneless Buttered Chicken, deboned chicken morsels cooked in butter and tomato puree with a creamy gravy that is melt-in-mouth velvety smooth – RM9. Mutton Kerahi was robust and served in a small wok – RM9. The fish curry came in a sauce that was difficult to fathom and understandably so as it was one of Rizal’s mother’s secret recipes, mysterious and delectable – RM22.
In the prawn and squid section of the menu, I had the opportunity to try their Prawn Masala which is described as peeled prawns in a Moghul thick sauce, the prawns fresh and the sauce mild and creamy – RM26. Reeling from surfeit, there was more to come in the way of vegetables, first the Cheese Palak, creamed spinach with cheese, a thick creamy puree just a tad too sugared for my taste but others at my table loved it. Eaten with either the Puri or Naan, it was a vegetarian’s delight – RM7. Another vegetable dish which I found delightful was the Brinjal Pajeri, deep fried brinjals or eggplant in a sweet and spicy sauce – RM6.
Of course no meal is complete without the obligatory dessert and here we had the Kulfi, the quintessential Indian ice cream made from powdered almonds, milk and sugar – RM6.50.
Pakeeza may look deceptively small when one first enters the restaurant (seats 80) with one private room for 10-12, but stairs leading to the second floor reveal a room that can accommodate up to 100 people. On busy days or nights, diners are led upstairs where they can dine in comfort. The room naturally, is also available for functions.
All in all, I found the Pakeeza Restaurant to have great quality of food, service and good value. This is one restaurant I shall return to again and again for more of that Moghul taste.