The opening of the first Ipoh Garden was no picnic for Alice and Richard Thum. After emigrating to Perth in 2001, the Thums took over a recently closed Indonesian restaurant near Canning Bridge, where they inherited not only an awkward kitchen, but also the site’s reputation as a doomed space (it doesn’t there was no parking and minimal street frontage). This reputation was so bad that the restaurant’s former fruit and vegetable supplier refused to sell to the Thums, certain that they would quickly follow their predecessor’s example. The solution? A clever (literal) treasure bin thought.
“The garbage cans for [neighbouring business] Clancy’s [Fish Pub Canning Bridge] were behind us, so when they threw away their boxes, I searched the boxes and got the names and addresses of their suppliers,” explains Richard. “As a new migrant, I didn’t really have a choice.”
The experience of opening Ipoh Garden was in stark contrast to the hospitality experiences of the Thums in their hometown of Ipoh, the capital of Perak State in western Malaysia. Richard had been cooking for over three decades and during that time had amassed a diverse resume including canteens, golf courses and even the food truck offering burgers and hot dogs. Thum’s Burger.
But if diners were unaware of Richard’s culinary experience, they sampled it in his kitchen – a tight selection of Malaysian dishes gleaned mostly from Ipoh’s greatest culinary hits. Think char kway teow, Ipoh-style hor fun (rice noodle soup with chicken and prawns) and wat tan hor, rice noodles coated in a thick egg sauce. A loyal following quickly followed.
The success of Ipoh Garden led to the 2008 opening of Ipoh Restaurant in Myaree’s Hulme Court, one of Perth’s top destinations for Asian cuisine. Richard ran Myaree while his brother moved to Perth from Malaysia to oversee the original garden at Ipoh. After selling the Ipoh restaurant, the Thums moved to Toowoomba and opened a cafe, immersing themselves in the local community, including cooking at the local Buddhist monastery. The opportunity to take over the Ipoh restaurant last year drew the Thums to Perth and they quickly set about renovating the space and reopening it as Ipoh Garden. And like when the first Ipoh Garden opened, news of Richard’s cooking spread quickly among Malaysian food lovers. Again.
For now, Ipoh Garden is a daytime-only prospect, which is why this airy dining hall gets crowded at lunchtime, especially on weekends when after-church crowds flock here for meals. of family. The menu is well cut and includes around a dozen dishes, but first visits suggest that the cuisine makes everyone count. All the elements of chicken rice – the tender poached chicken; the fluffy and deeply fragrant rice; hot peppers, sweet and vinegary – are perfect. Ipoh hor fun’s shrimp and chicken broth is super concentrated, while the flavor of the chicken curry – light on coconut cream, as is customary in Muslim-Indian cuisine – is remarkable . Other regional specialties include a Penang-style white curry laksa (sweeter than the region’s more familiar assam laksa) and Hokkien lam mee, egg noodles served in a sauce made with shrimp and chicken.
Apart from the interest of a concise menu (Richard: “I don’t like big cards. If I go into a restaurant with a big card, I leave”), our man has definite ideas about other aspects of cooking including the sourcing of wild shrimp and free-range chicken and a disdain for bean sprouts in soups (“You put bean sprouts in soups and it tastes different. If a customer wants it , I will boil it but I will put it aside”) . Curiously, one side of the menu is dedicated to vegan riffs on Malaysian dishes, including barbecue pork and rice and assam pedas (“sweet and sour”) fish, and the restaurant also serves homemade chrysanthemum tea and loh han ko – monk fruit tea that Asian mothers prescribe for everything from sore throats to digestive issues.
The theme of family features prominently in the story of Ipoh Garden 2.0. Alice is a warm and smiling presence in the dining room, while her son Dennis works alongside Richard in the kitchen with a view to opening his own restaurant in the future. Youngest daughter Laura takes care of the social media side while her daughter Vivian (she is based in Brisbane but came to Perth for a few months to help with the reopening) takes orders and prepares the food. Halfway through my bowl of Ipoh hor fun, I catch her eye and ask if this is the kind of food she grew up eating. She nods.