Labu Sayong: Affordable Malay Fine Dining in Ipoh, Perak
Labu Sayong: Affordable Malay Fine Dining in Ipoh, Perak

The largest ethnic group in Malaysia consists of the Malays, yet ironically, Malay fine dining is unusually hard to come by in this country. Perhaps, great importance has been given to preserving the food heritage and origin, so much so that many local chefs have shied away from the idea of contemporary and fusion cooking.

The choices may be limited when it comes to Malay fine dining in Malaysia, but here's one that is up for consideration if you'd like to venture into a new frontier of culinary innovation during your next visit to the country: Labu Sayong Signature located at Meru, Perak.

Read also: Malaysia's Most Unique Restaurants

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Labu Sayong is recognized as the Best Malay Cuisine & Heritage-Theme Restaurant by the Malaysia Tourism Council
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Labu Sayong is a name given to a gourd-shaped clay carafe that was traditionally used to keep the drinking water cool

Labu Sayong: Affordable Malay Fine Dining in Ipoh, Perak

Our visit to Labu Sayong has a very specific purpose: to sample its 4-course lunch which included an appetiser, soup, main course, dessert and drink. Upon our arrival, we were warmly greeted and ushered to a Rumah Kutai - a traditional wooden house of Perak built on sturdy stilts. At the top of the stairs, we removed our shoes and entered the restaurant that was fortunately and considerately air-conditioned so we could dine in blissful comfort (it must have been about at least 35°C outside!).

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Labu Sayong welcomes diner to an exceedingly authentic and immersive cultural dining experience set in a Rumah Kutai - the traditional house of Perak.
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Expect nothing less than the warmest Perakian hospitality once you've stepped into the restaurant.

Labu Sayong Signature 4-Course Fine Dining (RM68/person)

The exciting dining experience started with a refreshing lemongrass shot to cool the body and ready the palate for what's to come. The appetiser is a dish of baked mackerel mousse served alongside crispy prawn with seafood sauce. Next comes the aromatic lamb soup infused with onion, lemongrass and tongkat ali (or more commonly known as the Malaysian ginseng). The main course is a very traditional seabass-rice combo and the meal most definitely ended on a sweet note with a beautifully put together masterpiece of sweet dumplings and banana fritters. Beverage option of sweetened tea or local black coffee to wrap things up.

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A shot of rejuvenating lemongrass drink to start the meal off

Appetiser: Tenggiri Kepai Pandan Udang Kertas

Mackerel is one of the most important fish in Malay cooking. The oily, omega 3-rich fish can easily be found in wet markets and is a delight to consume as it is fleshy and less bony. Labu Sayong has recreated this very ordinary dish and turned it into a showpiece by grounding the flesh and molding it into a bite-sized morsel in a pandan envelope, served alongside a shelled prawn encased instead in a layer of shredded spring roll skin and fried until golden. These are to be coated in the luscious black seafood sauce laid out across the plate. Don't be fooled by what seems to be tobiko - the orange roe-like mass is really just faux couscous caviar.

The idea of using a butterpea flower to localise the dish is commendable, though I do feel that it may have stolen the limelight from the star ingredients instead of just fulfilling its role of enhancing the presentation.

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Tenggiri Kepai Pandan Udang Kertas
Traditional baked mackerel fish mousse with crispy prawn & seafood black sauce

Soup: Rusuk Kambing “Tongkat Ali” Kelapa Muda

This dish is a feast for the eyes. The lamb soup is cooked with onion, aromatic lemongrass and the highly appreciated tongkat ali (a booster of athletic performance, endurance and energy) in a hollowed out coconut and is saucily concealed under a layer of crisped spring roll. The heartily stewed ball of minced lamb has been removed from the soup and is skewered with a lemongrass stalk, placed artfully across the soup. To enjoy the dish, simply pierce through the spring roll casing with the skewer.

When the spring roll soaks in the soup, it becomes thickened and noodle-like (think pappardelle).

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Rusuk Kambing “Tongkat Ali” Kelapa Muda
Aromatic soup of lamb with onion, lemongrass & Tongkat Ali root in coconut

Main Course: Ikan Purba Kala Sayong & Nasi Lemuni

The name of this dish literally means "the ancient fish of Sayong". The thoughtfully deboned seabass is marinated with 27 types of local ingredients and is deep fried and served deluged in a bird eye chili and ginger sauce. Just like many other Malay dishes, it comes with one part rice and one part dish. The seabass (topped, again, with crispy shredded spring roll skin) is accompanied with an equal portion of Nasi Lemuni - a unique type of rice originating from the northern states of Malaysia. It is cooked to the perfect softness and fluff together with lemuni leaves, coconut milk, garlic, onions, ginger, fenugreek seeds, salt and fragrant pandan leaves. The brownness from the cooked rice is from the juice of the lemuni leaves, which contains various essential nutrients.

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Ikan Purba Kala Sayong & Nasi Lemuni
Deep-fried 700gm seabass stuffed with 27 local ingredients accompanied with bird eye chili ginger sauce, vegetables & Lemuni Rice

Dessert: Putri Gunung Ledang dan Pisang Goreng Rangkai

Another incredibly beautiful dish by Labu Sayong - this surpassingly stunning dessert is almost too beautiful to be eaten. It comes in two parts: rice flour dumpling stuffed with sweet dates and sesame in coconut gravy served in the most fascinating handcrafted bowl made using ice and flowers, and deep-fried banana topped with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream and of course, more shredded spring roll skin.

What I love: The creativity, colours & amazing composition. Also, both the dumplings and fritter are very traditional Malay desserts, so the selections are on point!

What I dislike: The fact that a piece of napkin is included in the plating shows that although the idea of an ice-bowl is praiseworthy, it is however, not fully thought through. An incredible concept that requires just a dribble of fine-tuning!

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Putri Gunung Ledang dan Pisang Goreng Rangkai
Rice flour dumplings stuffed with date sesame served with coconut gravy, deep-fried crispy banana
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Beautiful creations by Labu Sayong, Ipoh

Labu Sayong Signature Review: Final Thoughts

There are many things that I love about this restaurant, but there are also a few things that I'd like to point out:
  1. Fine dining at a knockdown price: Bandar Meru Raya is a newly established township in Ipoh (the capital of Perak state) which is approximately 2 hours away from Kuala Lumpur by car. Since the cost of living is relatively cheaper outside of the city, diners can enjoy a full 4-course meal at an absolute bargain at only RM68 per person, including an appetiser, soup, main course, dessert and drink.
  2. Overused of the spring roll skin: Every dish comes with at least a version of garnish made from spring roll skin.
  3. Amazing efforts, subpar ingredients: Caviar-lookalike, below par vanilla ice-cream. I can only imagine how amazing the dishes will turn out if every component is kept to a certain standard.

All in all, the fine-dining experience at Labu Sayong Signature was an eye-opener and it's a quick and excellent way to familiarise oneself with the Malaysian Malay cuisine. From dining in a traditional Rumah Kutai to tasting highly unique dishes that are only specific to a certain region in the country, the experience is not only immersive and enveloping, but is also incredibly easy on the pocketbook.

Labu Sayong Signature

Address: 5, Jalan Meru Bestari A14, 31200 Ipoh, Perak
Contact number: +605-2375237
For reservation:
For more information, visit
Opening hours: 11.30am–10.00pm (Sunday to Thursday) & 11.30am–11.00pm (Friday, Saturday, eve of Public Holiday & Public Holiday)

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