By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen

There is no signboard anywhere. I thought I was in the wrong place. But Foodie Kaki Ginla Chew who is my ‘recce food scout’ gave me the correct address. What she forgot to mention was to just push on the unpretentious wooden door and walk right in.

It reminded me of that mouldy oldie, Hernando’s Hideaway (and I know this betrays my vintage), The Pajama Game….I know a dark secluded place….Just knock three times and whisper low…. (google the lyrics)

And what a hive of activity I stumbled upon. Nothing illicit mind you. In fact, it is one of the new “must go” places, if not for the food, then for the drinks, music and ambience.

Located on the corner of Jalan Sultan Yussuf, opposite the Bajet Hotel, diagonally opposite Market Place on Jalan Market, Red Inn Hotpot is the go-to place for deluxe hot pot downstairs and ingeniously curated cocktails upstairs.

Memories of Ancient China

Aiming to evoke nostalgic memories of Ancient Shanghai, the decor is in the current rave “shabby chic“ Ipoh style, with unplastered walls and old-style Chinese furniture and loads of ‘orientalia” scattered about the restaurant and the bar upstairs. The word scattered is used loosely here as there is focused intent in creating the ambience of nonchalance.

Raison D’être

But there is nothing nonchalant in the food they serve nor in the drinks menu upstairs.

Hotpot is the raison d’être to come here. First you choose your soup base. There is a choice of Ma Lat (the Szechuan red pepper) broth which has the distinctive tongue numbing effect to ameliorate the chilli burn; the Signature Sake broth; a fresh tomato soup; the ubiquitous Pork Bone soup and the pièce de résistance, their Fresh Clam Soup. The price per soup is RM20 with a special of “four for the price of three” and Clam Soup is RM40. Their pots are able to hold four different soup bases so it’s a great opportunity to order a mixture so your guests can choose to suit their palate. Top ups are included.

Fun Begins

Now the fun begins. There is a choice of 10 sauces for dipping with the main ones of Szechuan, satay, signature and sesame to which can be added spring onions, coriander, garlic, birds eye chillies, lime wedges; all of which are lined up in a help-yourself fashion and replenishments are unlimited.

The handmade options include pork, beef, lamb and shrimp meatballs, large, round and juicy. Particularly yummy are their pork (RM7-RM12 half/full portions) and shrimp meatballs (RM10-18) half/full. And you have a choice of handmade spinach or tomato noodles (RM5-9 half/full). In the meat section, the specials here are their Iberico pork slices (RM26-48 half/full) and their Wagyu Beef (marbling 6/7 RM58-98 half/full) while the usual pork belly, lamb loin, chicken breast and (unusual) duck breast is on offer.

Naturally, there is a cornucopia of other goodies like fried snacks while you wait from fish skin (RM5-12) to pork belly (RM10-18); a selection of fish, a wide range of vegetables, other noodles and other exotic offerings like pig’s kidneys and liver and the list goes on. 

 

Upstairs Bar

And I haven’t even talked about the bar upstairs! The drinks upstairs are nothing short of superlative. Here the cocktails steal the show.

Using mundane ingredients which we all take for granted, Desmond the star mixologist combines it with ordinary brands like Beefeater Gin and produces a delight with Dou Fu Fa (soya milk), Vanilla syrup and elderflower liqueur, tops it with a chrysanthemum flower and serves it in a Chinese tea mug. Deliciousness itself. Not too sweet even for my non-sweet tooth, RM28.

The next drink had me swooning with nostalgia to see my childhood cough syrup and treats served with such ingenuity. Pei pa koa, also known as loquat syrup, is a herbal remedy which has historically been used by the Chinese for coughing and sore throat. Having grown up with this and the Ga Hing Tse (plum liquorice) as a treat to soothe childhood tantrums, I was delighted to see it combined with bourbon, triple sec, orange peel, and served in an elegant Chinese wine pourer with the delicate wine cups rimmed with sour plum powder. Kudos for creativity (see pic above).

The next drink was Ha Gu Cao (Prunella) honey, ginger, lime and gin. Tangy and interesting. And the list of other interesting cocktails do go on. All RM28 with the exception of the champagne cocktail at RM58. I did want to taste some of their more unusual gins and tried their Botanist Gin on the rocks which came with fresh basil and cucumber. Tantalising, fresh and uplifting.

Star mixologist Desmond Beh, an Ipoh boy who has worked in Singapore for nine years (and still does), together with his Ipoh mates Fly Wong and Seng Yung Khuat (both chefs and manager who helm the food part downstairs), started Red Inn in Ipoh only just a few months ago. It is so heartening to see young people return to Ipoh and this enterprising trio appear to be onto a good formula, judging from the people waiting on the pavement outside.

Welcome to the Ipoh Food scene. Long may you create and prosper.

Red Inn Hotpot
124 Jalan Sultan Yussuf, 30000 Ipoh.
Business hours:  Wednesday-Saturday: 12pm-2pm; 6pm-2am
Sunday:  5pm-2am; closed Monday & Tuesday
Phone: 012 313 0124