IPOH: Picture yourself in your 70s or 80s, returning to the same spot where you first fell in love; or where laughter with friends over dinner and drinks once filled the air.
In an era of rapid urban development that has seen many nostalgic establishments disappear, such moments are rare.
Yet, for those in Ipoh, the opportunity may still exist to step back into a time brimming not only with personal memories but also with the rich history of the nation, dating back to pre-independence Malaysia.
Located in the historic Ipoh Old Town is Durbar at FMS, believed to be the country’s oldest bar.
Founded in 1906 by two Hainanese immigrants, The FMS, or The Federated Malay States, holds over a century’s worth of fond memories for Malaysians and continues to thrive today.
Yet, this restaurant and bar saw its share of dark days.
Originally located on Market Street in Ipoh, The FMS bar and restaurant made its home at its current premises in 1923 opposite Padang Ipoh, complete with a hotel upstairs.
After three generations of ownership at its current location, the establishment was eventually sold in the early 2000s.
The critical turning point occurred in 2007 when FMS temporarily closed its doors for renovations, only to remain shut and abandoned for an astounding 11 years.
That was until one man, Seow Wee Liam, 44, stepped in.
Having spent most of his childhood in the vicinity as a student of St Michael’s Institution, this architect decided to revitalise the place in 2019, giving it a new name: Durbar at FMS.
“I remember this place from my childhood with its cowboy swing doors. As a kid, I’d sneak a peek underneath, hearing the laughter and seeing people inside, having a good time. So, reviving this building was something I would love to do,” Seow said.
For Seow, the most rewarding aspect of reopening the restaurant after over a decade was the heart-warming feedback he received, especially from elderly customers.
“One couple in their 80s even told me this was where they began their courtship, holding hands as they walked in, and they even remembered which table they sat at,” Seow shared with a smile.
With a deep love for history, the architect was adamant about retaining the building’s original exterior while adorning the interior with vintage-style décor and historical memorabilia.
Notable vintage items include a poster featuring Tunku Abdul Rahman’s cabinet, photographs of Ipoh Old Town dating back to 1894, and newspaper clippings of Merdeka 1957.
“I wanted to evoke a sense of nostalgia, that old colonial British ambiance when people step inside. And, it works well with the classic comfort food we serve,” he said.
While Seow aimed to preserve the FMS brand, he introduced the word “Durbar”, to symbolise a new era; a term used during the British Raj for receptions and gatherings attended by dignitaries and high society.
Today, both locals and tourists frequent Durbar at FMS for their authentic Hainanese-Western cuisine.
“Hainanese immigrants who came here from China primarily worked as cooks for British families. So, it is thought that the British influence played a major role in the birth of what is presumed to be the first Western-Asian fusion cuisine in Malaysia,” shared Seow.
When you pay a visit, do savour their signature Hainanese Chicken Chop, now a national favourite.
Despite its simplicity, this dish bursts with flavour, featuring all the essential components: a rich gravy, crispy deep-fried chicken, peas, and potatoes. It’s undeniably one of the finest Hainanese chicken chops you can enjoy in the country, and it’s quite filling, too!
Another standout dish on their menu is the baked stuffed crab.
Here you get crab meat cooked in a luscious white sauce, then generously stuffed into a crab shell, and baked with a topping of mozzarella cheese. Just looking at it will undoubtedly stir your excitement! Its richness is undeniable, yet the crab’s flavour shines through the cheesy goodness.
So, what lies ahead for this historic establishment?
“I’d like to reinstate the hotel that was running upstairs here for decades.”
Given the popularity of this place among tourists and locals, Seow’s hope is that Durbar at FMS will persist in its historical journey, becoming a venue where new memories are crafted for decades to come.
Durbar at FMS [Pork-free/alcohol served]
2, Jalan Sultan Idris Shah,
30000 Ipoh, Perak
Business hours: 11am-10pm (closed on Wednesdays)
Contact: 017-797 7115