My first fish head curry on arriving in Ipoh more than 20 years ago was at the Up and Up restaurant on Jalan Yang Kalsom. Then I used to traipse up the dingy steps or take the rickety lift to the top floor of Wisma Kinta and tuck into my two favourite dishes, the fish head curry and the petai prawns, ignoring all the while the less than salubrious surroundings.
I still do that occasionally now in an ambiance that is a much more appetising one in Ipoh Garden East. Now Up and Up has changed ownership and I was there recently to sample its fare. I have been to the same restaurant under the old management and found myself somewhat disappointed in the quality and so when my friend, lawyer Angie Neoh invited me and my Foodie Kaki Ginla Chew, I was not over-enthusiastic.
To my surprise who should greet me enthusiastically was Andy Boy (Lee Yoke Kai) hairstylist, beautician and tattoo specialist (eyes and lips) extraordinaire who together with his elder sister, has taken ownership and with a new chef, is cooking up a storm.
“Boy, I didn’t realise you’re into food,” I exclaimed, “I thought only in beauty and rejuvenation.’ It turns out that he was very much into food, directing his artistic flair into creating exquisite, unusual and delicate drinks and desserts that are pleasing to both the eye and the palate. For example, his dried tangerine skin which he makes himself is a labour of love. Using fresh tangerine skin, he steams, then dries in the sun and repeats the process nine times and then he mixes in liquorice root powder. The resultant drink which he makes with the skin and freshly squeezed lemon was refreshing and cooling.
Let’s go back to the Fish Head Curry, the signature dish that has made Up and Up renowned and the number one go-to choice for many in Ipoh. Here the curry is mild, tangy, neither too sweet nor too sour, laden with ladies fingers and tomatoes; the fish head market-fresh with sweet flesh. Market price.
Andy’s chef is a different chef from the old management. Ah Po as he is called, has a distinctive flair as every dish that we had was superlative. We started with something that in a Nonya restaurant would be called a Ju Hu Char, finely julienned sang kuang or Mexican Yam Bean and carrots stir-fried with fine slivers of dried squid and chicken served with fresh lettuce cups and a lovely chilli paste. RM14 small, RM21 medium, RM28 large.
The combination bitter melon and pumpkin, called in Chinese Seen Fu Hao Teem (meaning bitter first, finishing with sweetness) finger-size chunks coated in batter and salted egg yolk, was succulent inside and delicately crispy on the outside. RM16 small, RM24 medium, large RM32.
They also do a Fried Chicken in the same batter which is tender, succulent and yummilicious – small RM20, medium RM30, large RM40.
This was followed by the Petai Prawns, easily one of the best I’ve ever had; the thick sambal coating fragrant with belacan, the petai firm and the prawns, large, firm and ocean-fresh – RM28 small, RM42 medium, large RM56.
The Si Yow Wong Gai which is chicken chunks dry braised in dark soya sauce with garlic, onions and topped with scallions. The chicken was tender and succulent and cooked to the right degree of doneness. RM16 small, medium RM24, large RM32.
On another occasion I went totally porky. I was told to try the braised Pork Belly with Chinese shiitake mushrooms, which arrived in a thick brown gravy and best eaten with Man Tou (Chinese steamed buns). The pork was tender with the fat quiveringly jelly-like. Heaven in a mouthful. RM30 small, large RM60.
Another pork dish which is one of those ‘die die, must try’ dishes is the Ham Yu Fah Lam Po or Pork Belly with salted fish. Its one of those dishes that you almost have to eat with white rice just to soak up the sauce which is so aromatic and redolent with the salted fish flavours. Small RM18, medium RM27 and large RM36.
For desserts, there are two light specialties of the house. The first is their Tao Fu Fa or soya bean curd, a fairy light curd, smooth as silk and glides down your throat like a cloud of soothing goodness. The serving wooden tub is a delight to behold and the bean curd comes with a choice of two syrups, ginger and gula melaka (small RM8, big RM16).
The next is an ‘Andy Boy’ special, an intriguing golden square of jelly (the collagen is extracted from two hours of stewing fish scales). It is available in two flavours, guai fa (made of kei chi or goji berries and flesh of longan) and lemon (made of lemon, lemon peel, chan pei (tangerine peel)). The guai fa jelly is best eaten on its own just like that while the lemon one is served garnished with peppermint leaves and lemon slice topped with lemon juice and some salt. Delectable and light – RM4 per slice.Up and Up Restaurant 33 Jalan Medan Ipoh 10 Bandar Bahru Medan Ipoh 31400 Ipoh Perak. Tel: 05 549 2588 Business hours: 10.30am-3pm and 5.30pm-10.30pm (closed on Tuesdays).