By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen

I have often lamented the dearth of good Malay restaurants especially in Ipoh and with a very few exceptions, most of the Malay food I have sampled here in restaurants have been middling to downright poor. The few good ones will certainly be in my upcoming book, the second edition of the Foodie’s Guide to Best Eats in Ipoh.

During Ramadan, the food scene changes when many housewives come out to sell their home-cooked specialities at the Ramadan bazaars and this is when the rest of us can go on discovery saunters through the various bazaars picking out various delectables that are otherwise not available commercially.

But fear not intrepid foodies, for, top-notch Malay food has arrived on our doorstep in Ipoh in the Traditional Malay House Rumah Kutai where restaurant LABU SAYONG has been serving superlative Malay cuisine since its opening in August last year.

Here 60% of the menu items are traditional recipes from Perak state and the rest from other parts of Malaysia. These classical dishes have been languishing in the backwaters, having been eclipsed by the more readily available and less appealing ones that are ubiquitous everywhere.

A smart move by the Perak State Development Corporation in building this traditional Malay house and setting up an exquisite restaurant with the menu in the capable hands of Corporate Chef, Hospitality and Tourism, Nazrie Bin Shaaban.We sat down to a spectacular meal hosted by Ahmad Bin Mohamed Salleh, Operations manager and Mahathir Mohammed, Marketing Manager. And all prepared by Chef Amran who interprets all the recipes with his skilled touch.

From the decor, ambiance and the service coupled with the menu items, I can certainly predict that Labu Sayong will become the GO TO place for any visitor to Perak wishing to sample superlative Malay food.

Labu Sayong, named for the famous water calabash from Kuala Kangsar whose burnt-black colour and unique gourd-shape give it the ability to cool its contents quickly and some believe that water stored in such a manner is palliative against many illnesses and disorders; seats 68 people.

The downstairs area is fan cooled with ample seating and on the night we went, a magnificent spread was beckoning from the buffet table set up for buka puasa and by sheer serendipity some of my non-Muslim friends were also there, with one of them saying that this was his sixth time at the restaurant and will continue to come back! Upstairs was air conditioned and elegantly furnished serving as the perfect backdrop for fine dining.

Our first dish was the Ayam Kaduk Kerabu Limau Bali, steamed minced chicken rolled up and stuffed with dessicated coconut, cumin, turmeric, and served on bed of pomelo salad with bunga kantan or ginger flower, pegaga leaves, blue butterfly pea petals, the fragrance of the various herbs and spices blending into a heady aroma; RM13.

Next we had Tenggiri Kepai Pandan Udang Kertas, a fish mousse accompanied by crispy deep fried prawns and topped with a black seafood sauce; RM15. Then followed one of their signature dishes, the Ikan Purba Kuala Sayong, a 700g sea bass stuffed with 27 local ingredients and deep fried, accompanied with chili ginger sauce; RM60.

Rusuk Kambing or lamb rib braised with Tongkat Ali (alleged to have aphrodisiac properties) was tender with a smooth blending of spices; RM22, followed by the Beef Curry Gulai Kawah which is beef curry with banana stem, a local favourite popular at weddings. This was mild and the spices well merged with the banana stem lending a special exotic touch to the dish. Alas this was from the buffet table and not on the à la carte menu.

We then had the Rendang Daging Sayong, a beautifully tender beef rendang that was more creamy than the usual Perakean Rendang Tok and far less sweet, which suited my palate perfectly; RM25. Next came the Kari Ayam Limau Purut Sungkai, using limau purut (kaffir lime) juice and leaf to marinate with all the rest of the ingredients which were freshly ground and then cooked with red chillies; RM20.

The Ikan Perkasam Coli Bawang, a special salted fish deep fried with onions and chillies and served as a side dish, went marvellously well with the curried dishes; RM13.

For dessert we had the Wadai Kiping Gula Kabung, flour dumplings with palm sugar served with coconut milk RM10 and Sira Pisang Berangan Buah Kabung, chilled bananas with attap seeds (from the Nipah palm); RM10.

Labu Sayong Signature Restaurant
5 Jalan Meru Bestari A14, 31200 Ipoh.
Tel: 05 237 5237
Website: www.labusayong.com.my
Set lunch: 11.30am-2.30pm; Malay afternoon tea: 2.30pm-6pm; Dinner: 6pm-10pm.
Open 24/7; closed only 5 days a year.
 
Ask for their barbecued tenderloin too.
They also have a Cafe at Silveritage.