Cave Restaurant Malaysia – Jeff’s Cellar Ipoh
Dining in the spectacular setting of Jeff’s Cellar never gets old. The restaurant and wine bar are housed inside a cave formed in the Permian Period, the last period of the Paleozoic Era. An evening here is half spent in awe of the stalactites and stalagmites of the cavern and the rest admiring the ingenuity of Chef Boon and his team in creating a fine dining menu in a restaurant that’s a buggy ride away from the kitchen and getting it to the table still in perfect condition.
This Malaysian cave restaurant is part of the grounds of The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat, a stunning all-villa property nestled amongst limestone outcrops, ancient caves and thermal pools. The principal kitchen is 500m away, and the team must synchronise their operations to serve the tasting menu to guests expecting a fine-dining experience – it’s a buggy-to-table exercise in precision, balance and timing. Furthermore, given advance notice (please), the chefs craft special menus suited to vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and a whole range of dietary requirements.
We’ve been fortunate to visit several times and have seen the cave restaurant evolve over time. If you save fine dining for only the most special occasions, you might be impressed with The Chairman’s menu, that features name-worthy ingredients such as foie gras and wagyu beef. If you’d prefer more of a contemporary meal, punctuating flavours with well-loved local produce, “Tanah” – Our Land Menu, might be more your steam. We’re of the latter predilection and appreciate the harmony the kitchen team have achieved with their recipes.
“Tanah” – Our Land Menu
“Tanah” – Our Land menu begins with Puyuh. Braised quail with extra virgin soy sauce comes out in a cloud of dry-ice mist. Once the cloud settles, we find a rice cracker holding the quail topped with a spiced-broth sphere and cured egg yolk. The base is chewy, and the crown is meaty and robust. It sticks to the teeth, lingering in the palate, drawing us towards the next course.
Pomelo – Cave Restaurant Malaysia
Ipoh is known for pomelo, so it makes sense to use this bright citrus fruit in a recipe. Sea urchin, Tanjung Malim amur caviar, raw Hokkaido scallop, assam lemon dashi and belimbing buluh (belimbi or cucumber tree) are presented in a bowl resembling a sea urchin shell atop smooth pebbles and a sprig of leaves. The individual citrus segments slip down the throat and provide a vessel to hold the rich sea flavours of the urchin.
The Kneading & Ayam Kampung
The bread course is next, timed to arrive alongside the soup. We break apart individual loaves of house-made sourdough and spread it with spice-fermented mango, Bario salt butter, astringent extra virgin olive oil and 12-year-aged balsamic vinegar. I’m not a fan of the pungent mango mix on its own, but I do like the complexity it adds to the salty butter and umami soup. Seaweed-fed, free-range chicken consommé is balanced with mushroom-glazed abalone and wild herbs. The thin broth is flavour-packed and is deservedly mopped up with the last of the bread.
Bunga Kantan Charred Cod
I’m quite pleased with the fish course. While I enjoy expertly-prepared cod, I often find the seasoning in fashion to build on rather than contrast the dense, oily flakes. Chef Boon’s ginger flower and betel leaf foam with tamarind puree and green peppercorn oil make for a refreshing combo. The touch of floral, citrus, and herbal flavours complement and lighten the dish, making it a suitable first main course.
Pop-pop – Cave Restaurant Malaysia
Intermission between the sea and the land is provided with a guava shot (or sake if you so choose) with a teaspoon of plum-flavoured popping candy on the side. Scoop the sweet crystals into your mouth, swallow them down with the liquid and enjoy the gentle exploding sensation.
Bentong Ginger Lamb Tenderloin
Malaysia has many underrated world-class ingredients, and Bentong ginger is one of them. Spicier and more aromatic than your average rhizome, it does wonders in working with stronger flavours. In Jeff’s Cellar’s lamb tenderloin recipe, it joins wild oxalis, galangal essence, roasted fig compote, pearl onion confit and fermented buah kulim (a wonderfully garlicky jungle fruit with a hard shell). The sauces and trimmings are certainly worthy of exploration, but the meat is perfectly pink in the middle with a charred edge and is full of character all on its own.
Cave Restaurant Malaysia – Wine List
You might be wondering where the wine is in this article, given our passion for the subject and insistence that fine food and wine are great on their own but elevated when served together. Jeff’s Cellar is a place well-suited to bringing that special bottle from home you’ve been waiting to open. With wine-by-the-glass priced at RM90 for an entry-level drop and corkage at RM 120 per bottle, the latter is a better bang for your buck.
Dessert – Taugeh
With more of a wine tooth than a sweet tooth, I’m pleasantly surprised by the gentle conclusion to the “Tanah” – Our Land Menu. Taugeh sees Kedah vanilla-infused bean sprouts accompanied by soya bean foam, organic Sitiawan bee pollen and toasted Ipoh peanuts. Diners are welcome to sprinkle pieces of local cacao from Chemor over the soft mix to their liking. It’s quite an unusual dessert and an agreeable ending to the exploration of local flavours.
Reasons to visit Jeff’s Cellar: a unique cave restaurant in Malaysia providing an unforgettable setting; I recommend bringing a special bottle of wine; if you’re new to fine dining, go ahead and try The Chairman’s menu for glitzy ingredients you can tell your friends you ate; if you’re an old hat to the scene, go with the Tanah – Our Land menu for a clever integration of local flavours.
Jeff’s Cellar Ipoh
Unique Cave Restaurant Malaysia
The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat, 1 Persiaran Lagun Sunway 3
31500 Ipoh, Perak Darul Ridsuan, Malaysia
+6 05 210 7777
Jeff’s Cellar Ipoh Opening Hours
Daily 6 pm – 11 pm