Sweet Sour Pork on ice? Surely not I said, incredulous at the thought. But sure enough, there it was on the table in a basket, each mouth sized morsel glistening, on a bed of ice cubes, topped with lemon slices.
Aside from whimsical molecular cuisine from Simon Lee at Citrus Wine and Dine, this had to be one of the more unusual Chinese dishes I have ever encountered in my entire culinary adventure in Ipoh. Some of my friends wrinkled their noses in disdain at the mention of it but in reality, the taste was actually quite spectacular. If you like cold food that is. And I do.....always being scolded by friends and family for my love of too much ice in my drinks and eating too much cold food by my Ayurvedic doctors. Now I can indulge behind their backs!
Iced sweet and sour pork is even crunchier than its warm cousin and this version at the Mandarin Kitchen appealed to my taste buds….not too sweet and not too sour, with just the right blend of flavours in the batter. Definitely worth ordering for the experience even if you’re not into cold food – RM16.
Mandarin Kitchen is a relative newcomer to the restaurant scene in Ipoh having been set up 4 years ago by a husband and wife team with Chef Ng Wen Lih helming the kitchen and his wife Chong Lee Yong taking care of service. Chef Ng who has worked in the Nilai Convention Centre and was head chef at Tai Thong in Ipoh, dishes out some other unusual creations like the Blueberry Prawns, deep fried battered prawns, crisp and crunchy on the first bite revealing fresh succulent prawns inside and smothered with a creamy mayonnaise laced with blueberry juice. An added flavour which I found quite delectable. RM19 for a small portion.
Signature dishes here are their Red Yeast Rice residue (the dregs from making rice wine) with chicken, their Tong Poh Yoke, and their fried Shanghainese ‘Nian Gao’. The Red Yeast Rice Chicken, a Foochow dish, which arrived in a claypot, was kampong chicken braised in the dregs of rice wine called ang chow or lees (a Malaysian Foochow-specific rice wine) was sweet and redolent of the pungent alcoholic paste – RM20. Tong Poh Yoke was superlative, tender morsels of belly pork, the meat succulent and the fat and skin a jellied consistency, sure signs of a good Tong Poh Yoke, served with steamed Man Tou or white buns – RM18.
The Shanghainese ‘Nian Gao’, flat slivers of a dried rice cake which is rehydrated and stir fried with bean sprouts, small prawns, pork slices and dark soya is a rare find in Ipoh. The ‘Nian Gao’ was the perfect texture, still slightly chewy, wonderfully contrasted with the crispy bean sprouts and the slippery Wan Yee or cloud’s ear mushroom – RM12.
The vegetables came in the form of stir fried Kailan or Kale with different varieties of crunch provided by a clever combination of crispy prawns in their shells, cashew nuts, crispy dried squid and the fresh green crunchiness of the kailan stems. Superb – RM13.
The fish dish was a special Red Tailed Cat Fish, braised in soya sauce, the fish fresh, with not a trace of muddiness and braised to perfection. There is a choice in preparations style for the fish. Ask for the choice. Seasonal price.That day: 1kg RM50.
We even managed to polish off a heaping bowl of vegetable curry consisting of long beans, eggplant, ladies fingers, cabbage and Dao Kun or Soy Gluten. The curry was mild but had great flavour and was well liked by all at the table – RM14.
On another occasion I had the opportunity to sample their mini ‘Fatt Tiew Cheong’ or ‘Buddha Jumped Over The Wall’ which appeared remarkably reasonable to me at a starting price of RM29.90 per tureen for one person. Knowing what this would cost in other restaurants, I decided to order one to see what the ingredients were as we all know that some Chinese ingredients cost an arm and a leg. To my surprise, the tureen had all the usual goodies, minus the sharksfin and the fish bladder or ‘Fa Gao’ which are the most pricey. The soup was umami (I didn’t have an MSG attack afterwards) and it had spare ribs, black mushrooms, sea cucumber, dried scallop, goji berries and even one sliver of abalone. Certainly great value for those wanting to treat themselves to this special dish.
All in all I would rate the Mandarin Kitchen as a great place for family style meals. It’s not quite the banquet style restaurant of its neighbour down the road, the Kim Wah but certainly can hold its own in terms of quality of food and creativity of its dishes. One thing it could do though is to clean up its premises and its toilet, which leaves a lot to be desired.
#2 & 4 Jalan Mas 4, Taman Mas, Ipoh.
(Inside road of Jalan Kledang Utara near Taman Mas)
Tel: 05 281 2207 Ms Chong: 012 475 7513
Closed one weekday every two weeks.
GPS: E 101° 3.283’ N 4° 34.753’