By See Foon Chan-Koppen
Ever have one of those ‘been-there, eaten-that-so-what-else-is-new’ moods and your jaded palate just longs for that home-cooked taste of dishes that Mum or Grandma used to make? That happened to me recently in the run up to Chinese New Year, rushing about in preparation for celebrating with family in Singapore and friends in Phuket. So when Ginla Foo suggested some home-style cooking at Restaurant Ipoh, I jumped at the opportunity and gathered a group of my foodie friends to sample the dishes.
The restaurant, situated on the corner of Jalan Masjid in old town, is an unpretentious 2-shoplot coffee house that looks newly renovated, with white tiled walls which, while clean and hygienic in the conventional sense, is unfortunately the least conducive to noise reduction. So combined with outside traffic noise, the chatter ricocheting off the walls in the non air-conditioned space can reach uncomfortable decibel levels.
However, the food more than makes up for intimate conversation. With an extensive menu and an efficient kitchen, the dishes we ordered came fast and furiously, matched only by the speed with which we wolfed down the food.
The first to arrive was the pork belly sautéed with scallions; juicy, tender morsels just a tad too sweet for my personal palate but well received by the rest of my friends – RM10. More to my taste was the pork dish that followed, a pork and salted fish fried patty, hot off the wok, the sides still slightly crisped, the insides succulent, redolent with a ‘Mui Heong’ (literally translated to mean ‘decaying fragrance’) salted fish flavour which was particularly pungent – RM10. Two poultry dishes, the ‘Kon Jeen Kai’ dry fried chicken with a sweet tangy caramelized coating rendering the skin crisp with the meat remaining juicy and succulent inside, utterly delicious at RM12 and the smoked duck’s breast, though slightly on the bland side was good value at RM13.
Two fish dishes came next, the first, black pomfret cooked Assam style was tangy, flavourful and the fish was firm and fresh – RM42. This was followed by the steamed Grass Carp belly, a very bony fish with delectably sweet flesh. Smothered in mashed fresh ginger, the belly presented no problems, the bones here being large enough to avoid accidents. The ginger masked any potential ‘fishiness’ and the extra fatty flesh from the belly was velvety smooth and ‘umami’ – RM32.
Of course, no home-cooking would be complete without the Wu Tao Kow Yoke, taro sandwiched by thick slices of pork belly and braised to mouth watering tenderness. In this case, the RM12 portion was more than ample for the group who were beginning to get sated. With a soup to come, winter gourd with radish, carrots and red dates RM6, followed by fried sambal Kangkong or water convolvulus RM8, a sautéed beef with scallions RM12, salted fish fried rice RM4.80 and the black bean fried rice vermicelli, the black bean lending an unusual touch to the usually bland rice noodles and infusing them with flavour, RM5.50, we were all groaning with surfeit by the time we finished this twelve-course meal and paid the bill of RM183 which we all agreed was great value for money.
Not content with all that I had tasted, I saw on leaving the restaurant, that other tables had interesting dishes which still lay in wait for discovery so I made my way back on another occasion and had the pleasure to sample a few more dishes with three of my friends.
This time, I was recommended the Nai Yau Pai Kwat or butter coated spare ribs. These were crispy on the outside and tender and succulent inside, with a slightly sweet follow through RM15. I had spied Wat Dan Hor (Smooth Egg flat rice noodles) on the previous visit and was determined to try it and I was not disappointed. Thick and soupy, with the rice noodles pre-fried in soya sauce to lend flavour and colour, the bowl of noodles was more than enough for the four of us at RM8.
Next, I chose the Yau Tsam Ham Choy (oil soaked fried fish with salted vegetable) preparation for the fish and having a choice of Tilapia or Senangin, I chose the latter which proved to be a hit. The Senangin being one of my favourite local fish, deep fried to crispy on the edges with the addition of the preserved salted cabbage in a sauce, turned out to be a delightful marriage of tastes and textures and worth the RM58 we paid for the dish.
The final touch of bean sprouts fried with salted fish (RM8) was the right ending to an interesting sojourn into home cooking like Mum used to make.