Opening the original Ipoh Garden was no walk in the park for Alice and Richard Thum. After migrating to Perth in 2001, the Thums took over a recently shuttered Indonesian restaurant near Canning Bridge, where they inherited not only a clunky kitchen but the site’s reputation as a doomed space (there was no parking and minimal street frontage). This reputation was so bad, the restaurant’s former fruit and veg supplier refused to sell to the Thums, certain that they would quickly follow the lead of their predecessor. The solution? Some (literal) crafty trash-to-treasure thinking.

“The bins for [neighbouring business] Clancy’s [Fish Pub Canning Bridge] were behind us, so when they threw out their boxes, I’d search the boxes and get the name and address of their suppliers,” says Richard. “As a new migrant, I didn’t have much choice.”

The experience of opening Ipoh Garden was in sharp contrast to the Thums’ hospitality experiences in their hometown of Ipoh, the capital of the west Malaysian state of Perak. Richard had been cooking for more than three decades, and in that time amassed a diverse CV that includes canteens, golf courses and even the hamburger- and hotdog-slinging food truck Thum’s Burger.

Never miss a Perth moment. Make sure you're subscribed to our newsletter today.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

But if diners weren’t aware of Richard’s kitchen experience, they tasted it in his cooking – a tight edit of Malaysian dishes gleaned primarily from Ipoh’s greatest food hits. Think char kway teow, Ipoh-style hor fun (chicken and prawn rice noodle soup) and wat tan hor, rice noodles coated in a thick egg gravy. A loyal following soon followed.

The success of Ipoh Garden led to the 2008 opening of Ipoh Restaurant in Myaree’s Hulme Court, one of Perth’s best destinations for Asian eating. Richard ran Myaree while his brother moved to Perth from Malaysia to oversee the original Ipoh Garden. After selling Ipoh Restaurant, the Thums relocated to Toowoomba and opened a cafe, immersing themselves in the local community – including cooking at the local Buddhist monastery. Last year, the opportunity to take back Ipoh Restaurant lured the Thums back to Perth and they quickly set about renovating the space and reopening it as Ipoh Garden. And as with the opening of the original Ipoh Garden, word about Richard’s cooking soon spread among Malaysian food lovers. Again.

For now, Ipoh Garden is a daytime-only prospect, which helps explain why this airy dining room is packed at lunchtime, especially on weekends when the after-church crowd flock here for family meals. The menu is tightly clipped and features about a dozen dishes, but early visits suggest the kitchen makes each one count. All the elements of the chicken rice – the tender poached chook; the fluffy, deeply flavoured rice; the bright, sweet and vinegary chilli – are spot-on. The prawn and chicken broth of the Ipoh hor fun is super focused, while the savour of the chicken curry – light on the coconut cream, as is customary in Muslim-Indian cookery – 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 gravy made with prawns and chicken.

In addition to the value of a concise menu (Richard: “I don’t like big menus. If I walk into a restaurant with a big menu, I walk out”), our man has strong thoughts on other aspects of cooking, including sourcing wild-caught prawns 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’ll boil it but put it on the side”). Intriguingly, one side of the menu is dedicated to vegan riffs on Malaysian dishes, including barbeque pork and rice and assam pedas (“hot and sour”) fish, plus the restaurant also serves house-made chrysanthemum tea and loh han ko – monk fruit tea that Asian mothers will prescribe for everything from sore throats to digestive problems.

The theme of family features prominently in the story of Ipoh Garden 2.0. Alice is a warm, smiley presence in the dining room, while son Dennis is working alongside Richard in the kitchen with a view to opening his own restaurant in future. Youngest daughter Laura looks after the social media side of things while daughter Vivian (she’s based in Brisbane but came over to Perth for a few months to help with the reopening) is taking orders and running dishes. Halfway through my bowl of Ipoh hor fun, I catch her attention and ask if this was the sort of food she grew up eating. She nods.

“Was it hard to go out and eat Malaysian cooking elsewhere?” I ask her.

“It was, but if we went out, we’d eat roti, curries and things that Dad didn’t have on the menu.”

Ipoh Garden
44 Hulme Court, Myaree
(08) 9330 6298

Hours:
Daily 9am–3pm

facebook.com/pages/Ipoh-Garden-Restaurant