Review: Durham @ FMS Ipoh – Breathing New Life To The Oldest Bar In Malaysia

Old-timers might recall FMS, possibly the oldest bar in Malaysia, with an air of nostalgia. Short for the Federal Malay States, it was first opened at Market Street in 1906 by a Hainanese immigrant, before taking up residence in a corner unit along a row of pre-war shoplots in 1923. The bar has served patrons for over a century, and was a popular haunt for British and European officers, miners and planters during the colonial era. Over the years, the bar fell into disrepair, and shuttered its doors 11 years ago. Until it was refurbished and reopened again earlier this year, as the Durbar @ FMS. 

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A passion project by the new owner who is an architect, Durbar @ FMS has tried its best to retain the old-world charm of its historic predecessor. Stepping into its interiors is like taking a step back into colonial Ipoh, and its almost easy to ignore the sounds of modern traffic when you’re within the restaurant’s walls. Timber furniture and counters, sleek marble tabletops, and elegant lighting are paired with whitewashed walls, adorned with old newspaper clippings and even a large portrait of a young Queen Elizabeth II.

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The large bar cabinet at the back is made from chengal and balau timber wood.

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The old FMS was known for its signature dishes such as Hainanese Chicken Chop, Baked Stuffed Crab, Classic Chicken Mornay, Classic Oxtail Soup and Enche Kabin –  which Durbar has kept. The food is, in fact, prepared by two experienced Hainanese chefs. The Hainanese were renowned for their excellent food, and many served as chefs for the British during the days of British Malaya. The result is a unique fusion of Chinese-style cooking tweaked to Western taste buds.

Had the Classic Oxtail Soup, and it did not disappoint. Could have been better with an additional piece of garlic bread, but otherwise the soup was hearty, warm and full of delicious meaty flavour, with generous chunks of oxtail to nibble on swimming within.

 

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The Crab fried rice had a simple presentation but surprised everyone with its astonishing depth of flavour and wok hei (breath of the wok) – something that can only be achieved by cooking the ingredients over high heat, sealing in all the flavours. It boasted just the right amount of seasoning – not too bland nor salty – and the sambal chilli sauce gave it a spicy kick.

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Pops had the Mee Hailam, which was one of the more affordably priced items on the menu. It was tasty but since wet noodles aren’t my thing, it was not my favourite.

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DURBAR @ FMS 

2, Jalan Sultan Idris Shah, 30000 Ipoh, Negeri Perak

Business hours: 11AM – 10PM (Closed Wednesdays)

facebook.com/DurbarAtFMS

 

Food Review: Classic Hainanese Chicken Chop @ Yut Sun Restaurant, Taiping

When the Hainanese people migrated out of China in search of better opportunities during the early 19th century, they brought their cooking style with them. Hainanese cuisine quickly gained popularity throughout Southeast Asia, blending with local customs, ingredients and culture to form unique dishes that can only be found in this region.

The Hainanese chicken chop, for example, traces its roots back to British Malaya, and as such, can only be found in Malaysia/Singapore (you won’t find it in Hainan!). It combines the best of Eastern and Western flavours, and features a battered chicken chop, deep fried and drenched in a pea/onion gravy sauce.

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Yut Sun is a household name in Taiping, frequented by locals of all races. It’s charming to see how the place retains its small town charm, where everyone dines and chats in a relaxed, no-frills setting, a far cry from big cities.

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Dining area is spacious and airy, spanning two shoplots. No air conditioning, but the design of pre-war homes is such that the high ceiling helps with ventilation and keeps the building cool even in sweltering hot weather.

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Very ‘old school kopitiam’ feel: marble top round tables, wooden chairs, tiled walls and flooring.

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There are several Hainanese specialties on the menu, but the whole fam opted for the signature Hainanese Chicken Chop (RM10), which featured a whole battered chicken fillet, drenched in an onion/pea/mixed vegetable sauce and a side of potato wedges. Everything was excellent, from the flavours which melded together beautifully, to the perfectly cooked, tender chicken fillet with its savoury crust that was almost like a second skin.

I love gravy. I think it’s underrated in Malaysia (for some reason, Malaysians don’t have the same appreciation for gravy as the Brits. I drenched everything in gravy when I was studying in the UK because it was so readily available). The version here did not disappoint, and had me mopping up every last drop with the chicken meat. My only qualm is that I wish that the portion had been bigger, because one plate was definitely not enough!

Yut Sun Restaurant 

78 & 80, Jalan Pasar, 34000, Taiping, Perak, Malaysia

Opening hours: 8AM – 7PM (closed on Sundays)

Tel: +6058083250

*pork free