I've read quite a bit about Indulgence Restaurant and was really looking forward to my dinner there. To make sure I get a table, I booked about 2 days ahead. When I arrived the place was quite empty, but it slowly filled up with a few more tables.
Indulgence Restaurant is in a beautiful old Colonial house about 20 min drive from Ipoh town centre. The house has been beautifully restored and now accommodates boutique hotel style rooms on the 1st floor. Please pardon the quality of the exterior shot as it was almost pitch dark when I took the photo, and didn't have my trusty SLR with me.
The Menu can be very confusing for a first timer like me. The names do not reflect the dishes - rather they are names chosen for a whimsical effect. Imagine names like Chatter, Lambchetta, Chinni, Nina and Smug for salads ? I went for the most recognizable one - Tropicana. It was a salad of prawns, pomelo, mango, passionfruit and coriander in a lime dressing. It was a good portion, but the prawns were farmed prawns and frankly I had an aversion to them as they do not taste very natural. Besides that, the dressing was also a bit one-dimensional, lacking in taste.
Thankfully there were only 2 choices for soup - Soup of the Day, or McKay. I chose the latter - which was a chicken soup with Mediterranean vegetables, rolls of spinach and jicama, and foie gras mousse. It looked very nice, but unfortunately a bit lukewarm. The vegetables were undercooked, and the broth was under-seasoned.
For the main course I decided to go for seafood. I went for Native - smoked salmon with poached oysters, salmon roe and nori. The dish came beautifully presented, with the strips of black nori looking like piano keys on the white plate. This was easily the best dish of the night - the smoked salmon was very good and well paired with the ingredients, the oyster was perfectly cooked.
For dessert I went for the oddly named Biao'. It was layers of flower and berry coulis, ice cream and Kataifi.
Indulgence is considered a fine dining restaurant, but frankly the service and the quality of the food would not hold up in a place like KL. It must be quite challenging to start and maintain a venture like this in Ipoh - getting the ingredients would be a logistical nightmare, not to mention the necessary manpower. It is great to see people willing to take the plunge, but hopeful put more attention to the taste of the food and quality of service.
Lots of Bloggers have been raving about Ipoh's Egg Tarts and Chicken Pie, so I made a point to look out for them during the trip. One of the famous outlets is Hong Kee Pastries at Weng Seng Kopitiam. If you see lots of people lining up to take away egg tarts and other pastry items, that's probably the right place.
I ordered an egg tart and a chicken pie to enjoy on the premises. There was a constant stream of people coming to take away. Besides the egg tarts and chicken pies, they were also buying another Chinese pastry called "Shat Keh Mah" (a kind of crispy egg and flour pastry) and Chinese Swiss Rolls with kaya filling.
The egg tart had a flaky pastry filled with a silky egg custard that is not too sweet and full of nice eggy flavour.
The chicken pie was also quite good - with a crumbly pastry shell that easily breaks apart. The filling is nicely seasoned, but I would have preferred bigger chunks of meat.
Many Bloggers seem to rhapsodize over these pastries in Ipoh. To me they are good - but probably not enough to warrant a trip to Ipoh just for them.
Facing new competitions in town, this year The Spring Shopping Centre pulled out all the stops when it came to their Chrismas decoration. They've recreated an entire quaint shopping street complete with artificial snow. It was certainly impressive !
While shopping there last Saturday, we even came across these flash mob dancers. It is great to see people in Kuching loosening up and getting creative. They disappeared just as suddenly as they appeared, being shooed away by the security guards.
One of the most famous culinary specialties of Ipoh is Nga Choi Kai - literally bean sprout chicken. It sounds like a dish where the chicken is cooked with bean sprouts - but is actually chicken rice served with bean sprouts as a side dish.
Chicken rice is very popular in Malaysia and Singapore - and this simple dish has been elevated to extreme culinary levels. At Mandarin Ochard in Singapore, you can get a deluxe version which will set you back a cool SGD 25 per serving. Due to its popularity, it is also very commonly available and it is not difficult to find good versions everywhere. To stand out you would have do do something really special.
The most famous chicken rice shop in Ipoh is Lou Wong. They open from lunch till late, and everyone seems to recommend it. I went there around mid afternoon and though it was way past lunch hour it was still doing brisk business. They only serve one thing here - the Nga Choi Kai so you don't even need to order - it will arrive on your table in minutes.
The chicken and bean sprouts are served separately. The meat of the chicken was a bit darker then the usual served at chicken rice shops. This was definitely free range chicken - and the taste was stronger and gamier then normal. It was good - but not fantastic. If you want chili sauce you need to get it yourself from a serving station. It was just passable - certainly not as good as what you get in Singapore or even Kuching.
The bean sprouts were definitely different from the normal ones you get elsewhere. They are fatter and shorter - with a good crunch. The problem was the sauce didn't have much depth in flavour.
The rice was very good - nice and fluffy with a strong fragrance of chicken oil.
I did try the chicken rice at other shops in Ipoh, and the verdict is the same - good but not outstanding. Next time round I would probably give this a pass and focus on the more delectable offerings in Ipoh.
Besides the food, Ipoh also have other cards up its sleeves - the limestone hills and hotsprings. Its only a matter of time that somebody with deep pockets get the idea of capitalizing on Ipoh's natural assets - and The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat was born.
Located about 20 minutes drive from downtown Ipoh, the spa is nestled into the limestone hills towards the North-East of the town centre. It was developed by Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah - the big boss of the Sunway Group, one of the biggest property players in Malaysia. They have even developed a Sunway City in Ipoh modeled after the successful Sunway City in Kuala Lumpur - complete with a Theme Park called The Lost World of Tambun.
Banjaran Retreat is decidedly upmarket. There are only 25 villas, so guests enjoy total privacy while basking in the luxurious environment. The spa does receive day visitors.
Views of the lake and limestone hills are quite spectacular.
You normally need to make an appointment to visit the Retreat. I didn't know so went without an appointment, luckily they were nice enough to show me around. Next visit to Ipoh we may decide to check in here.
Just across the road from Kong Heng Kopitiam is another famous Ipoh food spot - Sin Lean Lee Kopitiam. This shop is famous for the Char Kuih Tiaw. I went there for a light breakfast before my sojourn to Foh San Dim Sum Restaurant - having read that the portion is very small. Just nice for breakfast before The Breakfast - I thought !
The Char Kuih Tiaw is actually a very small portion. I think you would need at least 2 or 3 to fill your tummy. It is topped with an egg - very good, but not so good that you would make a special trip for it.
The man who fries the Kuih Tiaw is very animated. He actual jumps up and down to amplify his frying action. Very entertaining to watch. Wish I had taken a video.
Another note on this cafe - the coffee is really good. It is typical Ipoh coffee - thick and creamy. And it is still served in the original kopitiam coffee cups. These are almost extinct and have become collectors' items.
Search the web for Ipoh Food and the name Kong Heng is bound to come up. Together with Thean Chun Cafe next door, these 2 quintessential kopitiams are probably the most popular food spots in Ipoh.
The 2 kopitiams are like brother and sister. You can sit in one and order dishes from the other, and vice versa. I found that it is easier to get a seat in Thean Chun due to the presence of some 2 seater tables squeezed next to the wall with mirrors. Thean Chun is often called the House of Mirrors due to large rectangular mirrors lining the wall on one side of the cafe.
Trying to get a table on a Saturday or Sunday morning is almost impossible. I decided to wait until the last day of my stay in Ipoh - which was a Monday, to visit the shops. So is the reputation well deserved ?
I ordered the most popular items - Ipoh Hor Fun, Satays, Popiah and Caramel Egg Custard.
And the verdict - the Ipoh Hor Fun is easily the best I've had. It is a very small portion - but so well executed. These are very humble ingredients - shreds of chicken, small prawns and rice noodles in a chicken broth, taken to extremely high levels. The broth is so delicate yet rich in flavour, I wish there was more. And the rice noodles had the silky smooth texture that Ipoh is famous for - supposedly due to its water which is high in minerals from the surrounding limestone hills.
The Popiah though, is quite standard, not much to write home about.
They have an interesting way of serving the satays here. Whole plates of it are put on the table, and you just eat as much as you like and pay based on the number of sticks you have taken. An honour system that has worked surprisingly well all these years.
The chicken satays are good - well seasoned with a rich smokey taste from the strong heat of the charcoal grill, but it was the pork liver satays which are a revelation. The chucks of liver are perfectly grilled, and still tender with a great flavour and texture. The accompanying satay sauce is also no slouch - thick and strongly flavour instead of runny and weak.
What about the famous Caramel Egg Custard ? It was good - but I would not say it is the best I've had. I felt the sauce was a bit weak in taste, though the custard was perfectly done.
I also tried the Yong Tau Foo which is similar to what you get all over Malaysia, but here they have some unusual ingredients such as large sausages which are deep fried and added to the mix. Those are really good.
If you ever visit Ipoh, you owe it to yourself to visit these 2 local institutions to feel and taste what Ipoh is all about.