Can Ipoh curry noodles be cool? At Small Tables, the answer is yes.
But what is cool? Is it a cafe with retro-modern flair? Is it a crystal bowl of silky rice noodles and wonderfully fatty char siu? Is it coffee that speaks to us as Southeast Asians, but is also priced similarly to cuppas from the green mermaid just outside?
Small Tables seeks to define all these questions. Taking over Adidas on Pacific Plaza’s ground floor, the restaurant and cafe tackles Ipoh staples in a space that is sleekly austere yet contrasted by retro grill gates and antique mirrors.
The lounge-like design is intended for diners to laze away the days, which the establishment say is inspired by the Ipoh lifestyle of gathering over meals and languid days. That would be more credible if you keep your meals small: at a recent lunch for six, our plates threatened to spill over the narrow table.
Small Tables was born when Minor Food Group chairman and CEO Dellen Soh tried chef Sandra Sim’s Ipoh curry mee during one of her Ladyboss Dining Club private dining sessions, and convinced her to enter into a joint venture with his group. Now installed as executive chef, Sim offers her signature either with a thick curry paste (dry) or as a soup, as well as a choice of noodles: either hor fun made fresh daily in Ipoh with natural spring water, yellow noodles, or konjac noodles.
If you prefer the soup, opt for the hor fun, which has a delicately smooth texture that cradles the umami-laden broth. But the winning combination is dry with yellow noodles. Heavily spiced with a chewy bite, it becomes a textural bomb when tossed with thick, caramelised char siu, crispy pork belly, gelatinous pig’s ears, and fresh mint.
Sim’s curry also shows up in other dishes. It is captured by rice noodle rolls in the Ipoh Chee Cheong Fun, along with fried beancurd skin, green chilli, and a zesty chilli sauce. It forms the base of Cuttlefish & Water Spinach, which you toss with crunchy kang kong with tender strips of squid. While there is no need for it in the Pork Belly Satay, the luscious peanut gravy more than holds it own.
The showpiece is the Whole Fish Otah. An entire yellow croaker is deboned, stuffed with house-made otah, then baked in a banana leaf. It’s thick and meaty, but parts of the fish were dry. Chew it properly before swallowing too, it’s not entirely boneless.
Ipoh is also famous for its white coffee, which Small Tables does a version of. Coffee beans are roasted with margarine and sugar, then mixed with condensed milk, making it intensely sweet and robust. Every order also comes with a side of taiyaki, a Japanese fish-shaped cake typically stuffed with red bean, but filled here with kaya. The pairing is a diabetic nightmare, so better to order the Hero Gero, which features the same coffee beans and nothing else. It’s also available as a cold brew, which if you asked anyone (read: us), is currently very swanky.
Starters: S$12+ – S$18+
Mains: S$16+ – S$36+
Coffee: S$5.80+ – S$7.50+