Ipoh Malaysian Cuisine
Leafy, affluent Remuera. There are plenty of multi-million dollar houses, and multi-millionaires to boot, but so few good local eateries to choose from. When I try to think of places worth visiting in Remuera… I draw a blank. But Remuera-ites, despair no more, for a wonderful new Malaysian restaurant has just opened at the Upland Road shops. Just be prepared for some spiciness.
Ipoh Malaysian Cuisine has barely been open three weeks but on the Friday evening I visited, the place was thronging and I was fearful we wouldn’t get a table. The restaurant is a small one, with glass frontage and a big flat screen stationed in the front window, enticing passersby with its visual menu. Attention has clearly been paid to the décor here, with glistening white subway tiles lining the walls, a homage to kopitiams in Malaysia. But instead of utilitarian beam lighting, the restaurant is brightly lit with an array of draped light pendants, which is all very pleasing to the eye.
The menu at Ipoh is a roll call of some of Malaysia’s most iconic and beloved dishes. So if you need a char kuey teow or curry laksa fix, they have you covered. But there are also some lesser known dishes to get homesick Malaysians (and those who have been to Malaysia) excited about, like the otak-otak and fish head noodles.
My friend Sigourney is somewhat of a char kuay teow aficionado, so ordering Ipoh’s version was a no-brainer. The Malaysian in me got excited when I saw the words ‘otak-otak’ on the menu, a hard to come by dish outside of Malaysia. A fragrant, steamed fish custard, I’d had an awful rendition in Wellington earlier this year and was keen to replace the memory with a better one. As a final dish, we ordered the nasi lemak with beef rendang, albeit with some initial trepidation.
Beef rendang is an aromatic, dry curry cooked with toasted ground coconut known as kerisik. Over the years I’ve been disappointed with the versions I’ve tried; too sweet; too wet; not tender enough. Tasting Ipoh’s was a bit of a revelation. This is beef rendang, as it should be. Fork tender, with the heavily reduced gravy clinging to the meat. The balance of flavours was perfect. The nasi lemak came with all the usual suspects of a hard boiled egg half, crunchy ikan bilis (fried anchovies) and peanuts, spicy sambal and cooling cucumber slices. The sambal, a condiment made of chillis, shallots, ikan bilis and coconut, was also spot on, with a good amount of heat and pungency, and thankfully not too sweet. But when our nasi lemak first arrived I thought there was something wrong with my eyes, for the coconut rice appeared a faint tinge of green. Its subtle, but distinct aroma left me with little doubt that they’d infused their rice with pandan, the vibrant green herb synonymous with Malaysian cooking. Whether this is a thing they do in Ipoh, or just in this one, I was impressed.
Just to forewarn you, Ipoh’s otak-otak may not resemble the otak-otak you’re used to (and for those of you have never tried it before, you can disregard this altogether) but it was still great. The fish custard was perfectly cooked and practically juicy, heavily laced with chilli and lemongrass. It had unusually been fried prior to serving, clearly quickly enough to give it a light crust that added a bit of textual interest without messing with its almost mousse like interior.
The last dish to arrive was the pièce de résistance. Ipoh was able to do no wrong (except figuring out how to split the bill on the cash register) on the night we visited, and their char kuay teow was a knock-out. That enigmatic wok-hei flavour, the smokiness of a well-tempered wok, permeated the dish of perfectly fried noodles that, despite appearances in my photos, were practically greaseless. The light, burnished flat noodles were interspersed with refreshing bites of mung bean sprouts, chives and ever-so-slightly sweet lap cheong (Chinese sausage). Thinly sliced fish cake and prawns also made an appearance. But the highlight for me, dear reader, were the tiny, crispy morsels of fried pork lardon hidden amongst. I was picking out the wee nuggets like a pig hunting for truffles.
Ipoh is a wee family-affair taking off in the depths of Remuera, but don’t let the location put you off. The food is fantastic, the digs more eye-catching than most, and it has solidified itself as one of my favourite places to feed my Malaysian food cravings. As they say in Berhasa Melayu, sedap! (Delicious!)
598 Remuera Road
Ph. (09) 218 9155