By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen

Well it feels a bit like going to heaven (not that I have ever been and chances are, I may not make it!) what with the guard at the gate acting like St Peter (who, in the Christian tradition, guards the pearly gates to Heaven) but the fact is that you cannot get into The Haven unless you’re a resident, a guest in their Suites or a friend who is resident or one of the staff has invited you. So tight is their security that eating at their Cuisines Poolside Restaurant can be a tad challenging.

But it’ll be all worth the effort especially in the evening when you can sit under the stars by the poolside; gaze at the majestic 280 million-year-old rock, from the Palaeozoic period, before the time of the dinosaurs, soaring 14 storeys high and rising mysteriously from the depths of the natural lake surrounded by pristine virgin jungle; sip your glass of red or white (outside on the terrace only as inside is strictly Halal) and enjoy your meal one dish at a time.

Such is the ambiance of the Haven that it might even be worth spending a night or two to enjoy all the facilities that this resort has to offer. Make it an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life (which is actually not so far away as Ipoh town is but a 10- minute drive).

The Haven has managed to create a cocoon of serenity far from the madding crowd and Chairman Peter Chan has worked incessantly hard at bringing the menu at Cuisines Restaurant to a level of quality worthy of praise.

There is only one word to describe the menu at Cuisines: and that is eclectic, which the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as: selecting what appears to be best in various doctrines, methods or styles.

The Cuisines menu is eclectic in that it has selected items to suit every taste, palate and fancy, from Western to Chinese to Indian and local. And the Chefs (each ethnic cuisine having its own chef) have worked very hard to achieve standards comparable to some of the better versions outside, in some cases even topping those considered top of the heap.

A case in point is their Hainanese Chicken Rice which on their menu is called the Haven Chicken Rice. The chicken used here is no ordinary chicken but a ‘woo so’ chicken which is known for having firm tastier meat served with plump crunchy bean sprouts and a delectable double boiled chicken soup which was umami and fragrant. I normally never touch the soup when I eat chicken rice for fear of the usual MSG reaction to which I’m highly prone, but in this case because Cuisines Restaurant has a strict no MSG policy I could finish all of the soup with carefree impunity. And because chicken rice for me is mainly about the chilli sauce and the ginger sauce, the serving with both sauces done the way I’m partial to was h(e)avenly – RM24.

The Chicken Soup which has added chicken chunks and vegetables can also be had as a starter or a light meal with white rice – RM20. The Crab Meat Soup seasoned with dried scallops  was umami, has the right consistency with just the right amount of thickening and egg white and very generous amounts of fresh crab meat – RM28.

I also tried the Rasam, an Indian herbal soup, on a separate occasion (I have eaten there on quite a few occasions) and found it tasty, umami and had just the right degree of spiciness and tartness – RM16.

Other items on the menu that I would recommend include the Pesto Penne which was al dente and the pesto sauce was robust. The addition of olives and tomato lifted the sauce and gave it the zest that was needed – RM28. Another pasta dish that was excellent was the Seafood Pasta with pesto. The prawns were firm and fresh but remember to ask for the spaghetti al dente – RM34.

I did mention that the menu was eclectic so it was a pleasant surprise to find some middle eastern dishes on the menu like their trio of Mezze dishes consisting of Hummus (chickpea puree with olive oil, garlic, tahini and lemon juice); Moutabal (roasted eggplant puree with same recipe) and Lebanese Tabbouleh, a chopped parsley salad with tomato, couscous, olive oil, spices and lemon juice. All three served with pita bread. I particularly liked the Tabbouleh which was most refreshing and one of the best I’ve had – RM14 each.

Other middle eastern dishes also included Chicken (RM26) and Beef Shawarma (RM44) with NZ beef; and the Chicken Shish Tawook (on skewers), all marinated and all three served with a tasty garlic mayonnaise, french fries and grilled cherry tomatoes.

For snacks or as appetizer I can highly recommend their Beef Fingers, strips of NZ Beef battered and deep fried, served with a Thai Chilli sauce – RM18 and their Fungi Fritters, crispy morsels of oyster mushroom served with a mint mayonnaise dip – RM15. Lastly their Buffalo Wings, well marinated Texas-style  deep-fried chicken wings served with their homemade chilli sauce and mint mayo – RM18. They also have a very tasty chicken or beef pepperoni pizza oozing with cheese but I found the base too soft for my liking – RM12.

One item that I consider ‘must have’ on their menu is their Wat Dan Hor a soupy (wet gravy not soup) Cantonese style wok fried flat rice noodles with fresh prawns chicken, squid, fish cake and greens served in a slurp worthy thick and and creamy egg gravy. It promises on the menu to be naturally flavoured with no additives or artificial flavourings. And they keep their promises as I could eat every mouthful of it without allergic consequences – RM28.

I could go on and on but due to space constraints (and I haven’t even touched on their main western dishes of grilled lamb chops, steaks, grilled catch of the day, hamburgers etc. etc. – it’s all here on the menu), I will only mention the last dish that I feel is worth driving there for and that is their Singapore Laksa. This is thick smooth rice noodles (Lai Fun) in a coconut fish-based soup that is mildly spicy garnished with fresh prawns, tofu puffs, shredded chicken and hard-boiled egg. There is even a challenge on the menu daring Singapore to compete with them on this dish – RM24.

And don’t forget dessert (the Lava Cake is yummilicious) – RM12.

So dear followers of this column, if a wide selection of tasty dishes is up your alley, consider taking advantage of their promotional rates and spend a night (or two) at the Haven and enjoy all the facilities and eat to your heart’s content without having to drive anywhere. Be Indian at lunch, Chinese at breakfast and Western for dinner. Or throw caution to the wind and eat eclectically!

Current suite promotion (January-March 2017) rates start from RM380+ for a one bedroom suite (900 sq.ft.), and from RM600+ for a 2 and 3 bedroom suite (From 1000 sq.ft. - 2000 sq.ft.).