As Sam Lau lets me in through the door, I can’t help thinking that once upon a time, a place like Artisan Handmade Bread would be unimaginable in Ipoh.
A bistro serving artisanal European bread and Western-inspired dishes? You couldn’t get any further from the chicken kuay teow and white coffee-peddling Chinese coffee shops that predominate Old Town. That’s what we locals call the historic core where miners once congregated during Ipoh’s heydays as the world’s largest tin producer.
With the collapse of the tin industry in the 1980s, Old Town lost much of its economic vibrancy, but all this changed nearly ten years ago when a group of heritage enthusiasts restored a former opera actors’ hostel into a hip boutique hotel that they named Sekeping Kong Heng, after the coffeeshop below it. The ensuing tourism boom rejuvenated the area and sparked a new breed of food and beverage operators who began opening up Western-style cafes in Old Town’s atmospheric shophouses.
Few café owners, though, have Chef Sam’s pedigree. Fewer still would dare to apply classical Western cooking techniques to time-honoured traditional Asian dishes. Like his interpretation of the dim sum dish loh mai kai, where the glutinous rice is cooked risotto style, instead of being steamed the traditional way.
“By simmering the rice in a stock the way Italians do it, the essence is infused into the rice and the grains are cooked evenly, resulting in an intensely flavourful and creamy texture,” Sam explains.
The deconstructed nor mi kai – a play on the original name – is served with a sous vide chicken roulade and curry reduction, and garnished with marigold flowers and watercress leaves. Oh and did I mention it’s part of a multi-course set that includes foccacia toast with tomato jam, a four-mushroom soup sprinkled with caramelised cabbage, sorbet with local fruits, and a coconut cake with ice-cream?
Everything here is made from scratch, and everything is freaking delicious.
To find out how he pulls off this feat, read about a day in the life of Sam Lau, bistronomy chef in the June 2019 issue of Scoot.