Once an icon, FMS Ipoh (Federated Malay State) the oldest bar in our homeland shut its doors and bided goodbye to fellow Ipoh patrons a decade ago. Fast forward to 2019, it is back! Refined and upgraded to Durbar at FMS. To the uninformed, the FMS building has been a landmark of Ipoh for 113 years, founded by Hainanese migrants back in 1906. Frequented by European and locals during the colonial days, the bar had its glory. Despite it, the bar could not sustain its business due to rising cost and dwindling patrons. However all was not in vain when Mr Seow Wee Liam, a 40 year old architect decided to restore FMS with owner YT Lee. Seow had a passion for restoring old things especially cars. Bringing his passion without prior experience in F&B, Seow rose to the challenge to restore FMS as he wanted to give something back to his beloved hometown. Hence Durbar was born, continuing the legacy of FMS Ipoh.
Serving local Hainanese and Western dishes, Durbar retained the original concept of yesteryears. The interior was decked with antiques and old furniture. Most structures were kept as much as possible which Seow happens to be an expert in. The use of emerald pendant lightings definitely sparked a remembrance of the olden days. The menu was simple & traditional. Seow’s F&B team was brought over from the Ipoh Swimming Club, well known for keeping traditional flair in their dishes. From Hainanese Chops to Inchi Kabin, there were a variety of comfort food. We decided on the Oxtail Soup, Inchi Kabin, Nam Yu Chicken wings, Fried Rice, Wat Tan Hor, Mui Fan, Cheese Baked Crab & Hainanese Chicken. We ended our meal with Crepe Suzette & Bombe Alaska.
We were off to a great start! The Oxtail Soup was delish! It was flavorsome and especially good when paired with the garlic bread served. Though our family members complained that it was a little salty, it really awakened our taste buds for more good food. We all shared the dishes together. Had a little bit of each. I really liked the Inchi Kabin with prawn crackers. It wasn’t like any other generic fried chicken such as our favorite KFC. Known as a Nyonya Fried Chicken, they use spices such as turmeric, cumin and cinnamon powder to tease your taste buds. It has a strong flavor but not overpowering. The spices are toasted to enhance their fragrance. The creamy coconut milk with its spice coating the meat, makes this dish truly amazing. Crispy and tender, the chicken was juicy and not dry. The sauce with it was savory and sour. Made with Worcestershire sauce, sugar, chili slices, mustard powder and lime juice combined together. The Nam Yu Chicken wings was quite similar to Inchi Kabin. Nam Yu means fermented soybean curd. The overall texture was crunchy and fragrant however some may find it has a peculiar smell. Personally, I prefer the Inchi Kabin over the Nam Yu Chicken for its flavor and use of spices which I am a fan of.
Moving on to the mains, we had 2 western-ish dishes and 3 Chinese dishes. Cheese Baked Crab Casserole and Hainanese Chicken. The crab was average. There was not much crab meat in it. It is more like crab shell stuffed with Seafood Au Gratin, mashed bits of crab with cheese. Served with some fries and greens as the sides. Within seconds, we finished the dish with its small serving. We were quite disappointed with the Hainanese Chicken. It was recommended in the menu and was told it was a must-order. Our verdict was we preferred the ketchup version, as what they were serving was the traditional brown sauce with onions and green peas. However the sauce was watered down in my opinion, therefore it didn’t tingle my palate. Ketchup please!
The Chinese dishes Fried Rice, Wat Tan Hor, and Chicken gravy fried rice (Mui Fan) was much better. The most important thing in Chinese cuisine is wok-hei (the wok-smell). Safe to say, all 3 dishes fulfilled the condition mentioned. It was my first time trying Mui Fan. It was like fried rice flooded with gravy. Apparently there is history behind this dish. During the yesteryears, Chinese migrants were laborers. In order to have a heart meal, they mixed gravy with rice and some condiments together (rice gruel) to fuel their stomachs. Hence, a few scoops of it will fill you up. Durbar’s rendition added some chicken and the sauce was much darker & thicker. To me, it was similar to the Wat Tan Hor which uses rice noodle instead. Nevertheless, we enjoy both dishes. Wat Tan Hor could be found in many hawkers. However Mui Fan is not common. Between the two, I prefer Wat Tan Hor as I am more of a noodle person. (Ipoh people love noodles). Not forgetting fried rice, simple but tricky to get the perfect consistency. Some fried rice can be soggy or too dry. The one we had was just right and the wok hei aroma was there.
To end the meal, we ordered not one but two desserts to satisfy our sweet tooth. The first one was Crepe Suzette. Crêpes Suzette consists of classic French crêpes accompanied by a beurre suzette sauce, made of caramelized sugar and butter, tangerine or orange zest, orange juice and Grand Marnier. Apparently, it is the most famous traditional crêpe dish in the world. Crêpes Suzette actually came into existence by mistake. According to legend, the dish was created by a 14-year-old assistant waiter, Henri Carpentier, in 1895 at Monte Carlo’s Café de Paris. The flavors were sweet & tangy. Durbar served the crepes on a plate and poured the blue flame into the dish as it arrived. Our members absolutely loved it! The next dessert was Bombe Alaska which originated from Baked Alaska , consisting of ice cream and cake topped with browned meringue (egg white with sugar whisked till stiff). The difference between both versions, the former requires a huge splashing of dark rum on the dish. The whole dessert is flambéed (flamed at your table side) while being served. Just like the Crepe Suzette, the flamed alcohol was poured upon serving. Between the two, the Crepe Suzette has my vote. Bombe Alaska was too filing with the ice cream and meringue, too heavy for me. I much prefer my desserts to have a tinge of sourness to ease the fullness of a meal.
The bill came down to RM205 which was kind to our pockets based on the ambience and food. FMS Durbar is not just a restaurant. It is a history and heritage worth preserving. To see that efforts that Seow and his team has done to revived the icon is such an impressive deed. This place is definitely worth visiting. Do give them a call to make reservations to avoid disappointment. My rating would be 6/10 for its ambience and food though some dishes was not up to par. Objectively, maybe our generation do not fancy such traditional dishes due to the outburst of Fusion Food.
NOTE : We do not eat for free, nor were we paid for this review. We ordered and paid for everything that we consume. This review is a general summary from feedback provided by all members of the M Boutique Family who partook in the Food Review