By See Foon Chan-Koppen
Sitting in the Ipoh Echo office in Greentown, I observed one day that a new sign was going up across the road with the name Healy Mac’s Irish Bar and Restaurant emblazoned across its corner shop frontage. I dismissed it as yet another of the locally-run pubs masquerading as Irish or Scottish or English and serving the usual run-of-the-mill beer on tap with nondescript pub fare thrown in to fill ravenous beer bellies.
I was finally persuaded to hop across the road one lunchtime to sample their fare when Ramesh, our marketing manager, told me they had a coal fired pizza oven on the premises and that I had to try their pizzas.
Floor Manager Kamal was on hand to greet us and immediately showed us to a table and handed us the menus. It was a scorching hot day and I was sure I was going to have a melt-down as the whole pub is open air but to my surprise, the air-conditioners were on and the bank of air-curtains surrounding the inside combined with the mist-blowing fans on the outside pavement, kept the place cool and comfortable.
Outside on the pavement, tall barrel tables with seats made to the right height for comfortable eating and drinking, provided a cocoon for the interior.
‘Spirit of Ireland’
They had been opened for more than two months and business at lunchtime was not brisk. So I sat down at a big table on the inside section and looked around. If not for the heat outside, I could have been in Ireland! A large wooden board on the street front with the name Healy Mac’s Irish Bar and Restaurant proclaiming Guinness as the ‘Spirit of Ireland’ beckons passersby while inside, at the long bar, a bank of long pull handles named with the particular draft beer each releases, provided more temptations of spirit to one’s spirit. And I not being much of a beer drinker, preferring other libations, actually order a Kilkenny.
‘Method in Magners’
Liam Healy the proprietor and an honest-to-goodness authentic Irishman happened to be there and sat down with us to talk about the Pub. He promptly persuaded me to try his Cider, a special brew which he imports directly himself called Magners Original Irish Cider. At RM29++, ‘there’s certainly method in the Magners’ as its slogan proclaims. Made from Irish apples, the alcohol content is the same as beer and for cider lovers, this is one tipple worth forking out the money for. And it is only available here at Healy Mac’s.
Special promotions are ongoing here for their beers, which they proclaim as Happy Hour “All Day, all Night, Everyday” with six draught beers of Tiger, Guinness, Heineken, Kilkenny, Paulaner and Strongbow and eight bottled beers including Corona, Hoegaarden, Budweiser and Victoria Bitter. The draught beers go from the lowest of RM18.50 for the Tiger to the highest of RM26 for the Paulaner and Strongbow and the bottled beers go from RM16 to RM22.
Wines too feature strongly here as Liam has also started to import some special reds and whites from a winery in Spain which is not available elsewhere.
Food Glorious Food
But what about the food, you dear readers may ask. After all, this is a food column and why am I raving on about the beverages? Well, firstly, I am writing about a pub and most people go to pubs to drink. One seldom goes to a pub for food and that is where I had to be persuaded by Ramesh before I agreed to go, having always had the opinion that the usual pub fare tends to be mediocre at best and appalling at worst.
Coal Fired Pizzas
I was delightfully surprised. Their on-premise coal fired pizza oven with the chef in a glass cage in full view, putting in and taking out the pizzas is a sight to behold and their choice of pizzas is impressive. The 12-inch pizzas come with a choice of thick or thin crust and more than ten options ranging in price from the simple Margherita of tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese at RM18 to the ‘Create Your Own’ pizza with the same basic sauce and cheese plus three toppings of your choice. Other than asking for my pizza to be browned more, the ‘Everything-on-It’ pizza that I tasted with thin crust was scrumptious and worth a revisit.
I asked Liam, who owns two bars and restaurants in Ireland, one in Alicante, Spain and four pubs in Malaysia, (2 in KL, 1 in Penang, Ipoh being his fourth), what his food philosophy was and how he maintains quality given that he is so spread out.
“I have a head chef who travels around and spends two days in each location in Malaysia. He works with the head chef in the local kitchen and controls quality with them. We also have a menu where we have 20 fresh cooked dishes per day. Our ingredients are often imported directly for taste and authenticity, such as our mozzarella cheese and we have a strict policy on freshness of ingredients,” he revealed.
I can certainly vouch for the freshness of the dishes as I tucked into the marinated Organic Pork spare ribs, sweet melt-in-mouth, served with truffle oil mashed potatoes, sweet corn and Guinness barbecue sauce – RM38; Irish Beef or Lamb Stew – RM33; Shepherd’s Pie – RM28; Chicken Panini – RM24.
Brother Vincent Corkery, who happened to be there on the same day and a true blue Irishman if there ever was one, made the remark to me that it was one of the best Irish stews he had ever eaten.
Pièce de Résistance
The pièce de résistance on the menu has to be the Organic Pork Knuckle. At 1.3 kilos for RM58 and 1.7 kilos for RM78, the pork knuckle is slow cooked, roasted in a special oven and served with sauerkraut and roasted potatoes, with a choice of black pepper, apple or red wine sauce. Our pork knuckle arrived with crisp crackling and meat falling off the bone. Just the smaller portion of 1.3 kilos was sufficient to feed two people and the large one definitely enough for four although on the menu it says enough for two. Especially when you combine it with the large selection of salads and other tasty treats on the menu.
The menu at Healy Mac’s is extensive and with enough variety to suit most palates from fish to meat to pasta and paninis. Of special mention is the Spaghetti Bolognese which arrived topped with a generous helping of Bolognese sauce. Having eaten spaghetti at many an establishment in Ipoh purporting to serve pasta Italian style and being terribly disappointed, I found the spaghetti here done just right…al dente, each strand of pasta cooked to the perfect degree of resilience; pliant yet springy on the bite and not soft like other establishments catering to the local tastes. A hearty entrée – RM28.
The one thing that struck me about Healy Mac’s was how immaculately clean the whole place was, from the bar counter to the glass shelves holding all the bottles. When I mentioned this to Liam, he was quick to point out that this is one factor he pays close attention to. He hires his friends from Ireland to manage all his pubs and he relies on them to ensure that cleanliness is top on the daily agenda. I verified this when I went to use the facilities and found them to be spotless. This being one of my ‘horrors’ when it comes to restaurants and pubs I found the attention to cleanliness a sign of good management.
Healy Mac’s is certainly one pub that I’ll be returning to in the future…both to quench my thirst as well as to assuage my appetite.
Healy Mac’s Irish Bar and Restaurant
#2 Ground Floor, Persiaran Greentown 4,
Greentown Avenue, 30450 Ipoh.