By See Foon Chan-Koppen
When Julie Song told me the name of their new outlet Buku Tiga Lima, next to Burbs and Giggles, my first question to Dexter Song, scion, manager and co-owner with Mum Julie, was “So can I establish credit for food and beverage here?” He laughed and explained that the name came about because there were already a few of these tiny exercise books being used as decoration in Burbs and Giggles when they opened, so instead of scratching around for another fun name to match, they decided on the quaint little books which were ubiquitous in the old days when credit would be recorded in them, one for the trader and another for the buyer. This honour system was probably the forerunner of our current credit card system today.
Burbs and Giggles and now its adjoining sister outlet, Buku Tiga Lima, is certainly bringing the life back to old town. Where hitherto, the only reason to wander into that part of town was to either go to the bank or to eat at the twin hawker food mecca, Kong Heng and Thean Chun; now foodies and the hip and trendy have a new venue to eat, drink, sip coffee, meet, and to see and be seen. And it’s all happening at these two iconic cafes/restaurants/bar/coffee house depending on your preference for naming venues.
Like its equally iconic neighbour, Sekeping Kong Heng, an example of minimalistic heritage conservation with 21st century artistic flair, Burbs and Giggles and its newly-opened sister outlet Buku Tiga Lima, is a fine showpiece of modern creative interior design married to old framework, with a large proportion of the old walls, stairs, ceilings, windows and doors left in its original dilapidated state, some parts even embellished with additional plaster work to accentuate the feel of peeling plaster, faded signage, flea market pickings of odds and ends and pieces of furniture.
Vibrant wall art, whimsical lamps with outrageous shades, mismatched chairs and throw away tables from abandoned houses, quaint yet attractive ‘artsy’ arrangements like an assortment of wooden stools, contrast starkly with bottles of expensive single malts and a few champagnes adorning the bar shelves, all assaulting the usual staid Ipoh sensibilities as one walks in from busy Jalan Sultan Yussuf. More odds and ends catch the eye and modern toilets that work combine in an eclectic mix of the old with the new; bold splashes of colour juxtaposed against the drabness of unpainted walls; chatter and laughter assail the senses as one goes in search for a table or during peak hours, just a chair to perch on.
The decor was a collaboration between Julie Song of Indulgence fame, her son Dexter who runs the place and his girlfriend Rachel Yeow who assists him. Rachel who was responsible for all the lampshades and the very creative art arrangements, also dabbles in painting and helped to do some of the calligraphy dotted around. According to Dexter, the three of them used to go scavenging at abandoned homes, flea markets and even furniture dumps, picking up pieces that people had discarded and yet with a creative eye had been resurrected and given a new lease of life in Burbs and Giggles and Buku Tiga Lima.
And it all works. Not only in decor but also in the menu offerings. Buku Tiga Lima specialises in Crepes and Bagels while Burbs and Giggles dish out fancy hamburgers. In between there are the usual savoury and sweet delectables available behind the glass counter which one can choose to take away or eat on premises. There are no printed menus and all items are hand written on huge boards hanging on the walls.
Chipped enamel plates to eat from lend humour as we were first served a bagel with cream cheese arriving on the usual fancy serving platter. The bagel was crispy on the outside and softer on the inside than most bagels I have eaten in other parts of the world particularly in the US where they are most popular. The ‘Reverend Mama’ which comes with soft egg, smoked salmon, dill gherkin and ricotta cheese is a mountain of a ‘sandwich’ – RM15; as is their ‘Bam-Bam’ a whopping stack of a wagyu beef burger, skewered with a steak knife. This is served with egg, cheese, tomato, beetroot, carrot, horseradish and onion – RM28. Hale and hearty and perfect for lunch. Other burgers are more scaled down with a choice of chicken, lamb, fish, and the vegetarian one with portobello mushroom, brie cheese, broad bean and salad ranging in price from RM18 for the Angus beef to RM15 for the portobello. Additionals include their chunky cut chips with cheese, chillies RM4 and if you add truffle oil which imparts a heavenly fragrance, it’s RM6 a portion.
On the crepe selection, I tried the seafood crepe which was generous in its serving of prawns, fish, basil and cheese in a thick tomato sauce, the crepe arrived crisped at the edges but alas was eventually overwhelmed by the sauce turning soggy very quickly – RM16. I had more luck with the sweet crepe, the Hazelnut Choc with crushed hazelnuts and Creme Brulee dollop. This arrived crispy all around, the nuts lending even more crunch and the chocolate cream velvety smooth, providing a textural contrast that was delightful – RM14.
The crème de la crème was just that at the end of the meal – a large scoop of chocolate ice cream called ‘Chocolate Orgasm’ which quite lived up to its name, called the Lola, sandwiched in a special handmade brioche. An absolute must-have should you ever go for coffee or tea.
Dexter, a true blue Ipoh boy who spent some years in Australia, has certainly come home to roost and is keen to do his bit for Ipoh. He loans out the upstairs premises of Burbs and Giggles for charity fairs and functions for free and to date has hosted five functions. He hopes to generate more activities upstairs and is planning a children’s play later in the year.
I for one certainly wish him all future success for not only has he brought life back to old town but he has raised the bar on iconic preservation of old premises, and other potential heritage conservationists need to take note.
Burbs and Giggles and Buku Tiga Lima, 93 and 95, Jalan Sultan Yussuf. Tel: 05-242 6188. Closed Tuesdays Open: 8am-7pm