By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen

I was hopeful when I saw the name that I would finally find a restaurant where they have these elusive mushrooms, the Morel. Alas, it was a name that proprietors Siau Hooi and Chef Kah Meng fancied and chose, rather than actually serving these precious fungi which after the white truffle, are my mushrooms of choice.

But all was not lost as I discovered a great Italian taste, evoking and awakening some of my nostalgia for Milan where my greatest Italian food memories are buried.

Morel could do with a dimming of its ceiling lights, and add some plants to soften the stern cafetaria like ambiance of its interior but food wise is earning rave reviews from me in its cuisine served up by Chef proprietor Kah Meng who honed his culinary skills in Singapore, returning home to Ipoh with wife Siau Hooi to open Morel.

When asked if they actually served Morels in the restaurant, Siau Hooi apologised, saying that it was hard to find and exorbitantly priced. “But perhaps in the future when the restaurant is firmly established?” I asked. “Perhaps” came the reply.

The taste is authentically Italian and most of their pasta is homemade. Pasta which is served al dente (still with a light spring to it) and the saucing fresh with a light touch, the cream sauces not overly creamy and the tomato based sauces, just the way an Italian chef would make it.

I tried the Uova Al Pomodoro Piccante, a perfect brunch treat of eggs with the yolk still runny, smothered with a mildly spicy light tomato sauce and topped with mozzarella, quickly melted and served with garlic bread; RM10.90.

Next came the Pumpkin Soup with Almond, balsamic cream and bread croutons, smooth, voluptuous and well-seasoned; RM15.90; followed by the Mushroom Risotto with four types of mushrooms: Imeji, shitake, oyster and king mushrooms informed with truffle oil and topped with parmesan; RM18.90.

Reginette Pasta Bolognese with Iberico Pork Ragu in tomato, balsamic red wine sauce was excellent; RM25.90, as was the Tagliolini Al Fruitti De Mare, a squid ink tagliolini pasta cooked with prawn, mussels, clams, baby lobster in a spicy pink sauce. This was al dente, and generously topped with all the seafood mentioned; RM35.90.

The Cacciucco, the Tuscan version of the French Bouillabaisse or Fish Stew was robust, the broth rich and fragrant with hints of Italian mixed herbs and chock full of clams, mussels, prawns, scallops, salmon, squid, big tualang prawns, big clams, tinged with red wine and cooked with cherry tomatoes, carrots and celery. Served with bread, this is quite a main course; RM49.90.

We were five of us and by this time, we were groaning from surfeit but nevertheless when the BBQ Iberico Loin Ribs arrived, we found the look and aromas irresistible and tucked in happily. The ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender, delicately marinated and served with crunchy crispy sweet potato fries. Whole rib at RM69.90 which can easily feed four.

Naturally no Italian meal can be had without its classical dessert, the Tiramisu. Here the Tiramisu does not stint on Mascarpone cheese (often most places use only whipped cream) the Madeleine pastry fingers dipped in coffee and layered with Mascarpone with the lightest hints of alcohol; RM12.90.

Another dessert which Siau Hooi urged us to try was their Warm Matcha Lava Cake, with its molten lava centre oozing out the moment we put our spoon in, served with Gelato Matcha ice cream and chocolate soil. Heaven in a spoonful; RM20.90.

Morel also has a 3-course lunch menu available from 12pm till 2.30pm which changes daily for a very reasonable RM19.90.

Morel Restaurant
A-G-12A Soho Ipoh
Jalan Sultan Iskandar, 3000 Ipoh.
Tel: 010 928 7291 or 014 274 7138
Business hours: Tuesdays-Fridays 11am-3pm;
6pm-10pm
Weekends and Public Holidays:  11am-10pm
Closed:  Mondays