Our friend Bryan Anthony (of Food & Fun Johor) wanted to show us this special restaurant in Mersing called Loke Tien Yuen 乐天园酒家. So, six of us set off yesterday on the two hour drive from JB to the most famous restaurant in Mersing.
The first thing that struck me was the Sixties feel of Loke Tien Yuen. The floor and walls at Loke Tien Yuen were completely covered in old style mosaic tiles - the turquoise and emerald hued type fashionable in the good old Sixties. Those wonder years as I was growing up as a child and fascinated by the geometric patterns of mosaic.
Loke Tien Yuen was incredibly squeaky clean. This must be one of the cleanest kopitiams that I had seen anywhere. There was not a piece of dirt on the floor in the busy kopitiam and the wall was actually squeaky to the touch. This is definitely a very much loved and well kept place. The other very clean old coffee shop that I could remember was Ya Wang in downtown Johor Bahru.
There is no menu at Loke Tien Yuen. Customers telephone the owner Margaret Siew at +607-799-1639 to place orders. Bryan Anthony who had been a long time Loke Tien Yuen regular had earlier called Margaret to book our dishes.
We asked for permission to photograph, Margaret's brother Chief Chef Henry Siew in action, and it was graciously granted. Margaret said that this was the first time in Loke Tien Yuen's over 100 years history that anyone was allowed to enter their kitchen for photographs. Thank you again, Margaret and Henry :)
The first dish served was the steamed grouper. I was immediately struck by the old style aroma of the sauce, something that I had not encountered for a long, long time. The sauce was light and fragrant, and brought out the natural sweetness of the fish very well. The super fresh grouper flesh was snowy white, juicy, tender and sweet like pieces of fruit. This dish may looked very simple but it was really exquisite fine culinary art in a charming Nanyang styled coffee shop. This was my favourite dish at Loke Tien Yuen.
Next up was the ko lou yok or sweet and sour pork. This was the favourite of the Gen X and Y folks that I was with. The batter was the crunchiest that I had tasted and the naturally sweet pork inside was fresh and tender. The savoury sauce was neither too sweet nor too sour.
We loved this ko lou yok so much that we ordered a second helping which flew off the plate faster than I could take this photo.
The third was the fried sotong (squid) in black bean paste. I had not had this dish which my mum used to cook at home for a long, long time.
The aroma of sotong slices and black bean paste tossed and seared in a super heated wok was a lovely aroma that I had long forgotten.
Each piece of the sliced sotong had the unmistakable taste of wok hei (锅气 or literally wok breath, to borrow that vivid Cantonese expression).
The pork ribs in fermented black bean paste didn't seemed to excite the Gen X and Y folks much but this too was a well executed Cantonese classic.
I love bitter gourd, fresh pork ribs and fermented black bean paste, and when these three were combined well... tender savoury pork ribs with soft sweet bitter gourd chunks in creamy fermented black bean sauce... one bite and vooom... heavenly.
Simple, no frills fresh green vegetable dish.
Our total bill for all these marvellous food including drinks came to RM140.
Loke Tien Yuen is definitely a Must Try.
->> A must try in seaside town Mersing. Vintage Nanyang style coffee shop serving very well executed classic Cantonese dishes with fresh ingredients. A gem worth the drive from JB.
Restaurant name: Loke Tien Yuen Restaurant 乐天园酒家
Address: 55, Jalan Abu Bakar, Mersing, Johor
GPS: 2.433029,103.838374 / 2°25'58.9"N 103°50'18.1"E
Hours: 12:30pm to 3:30pm and 6:30pm to 8:30pm
Date visited: 24 Oct 2012
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