Penang has long held a reputation for being THE food destination for travelers looking for culinary excitement in Malaysia. Since the awarding of UNESCO World Heritage status to parts of Georgetown a few years back though, the island has experienced a rapid refurbishment of historical buildings and growth in general. As a result, the art scene, boutique hotels and food, beverage and entertainment industries are propagating at electrifying speed. Visitors now have options, many options… and there seems no end in sight as to how much food and accommodation can be packed onto one small island.
Boutique heritage hotels are on the happy rise in Georgetown. Now where you rest your head can be just as interesting as the sites you head out to see. The range of accommodation available in the town centre caters for most tastes and budgets. For groups and families China Tiger provides ample space and a good serving of chic rustic. For a beautifully restored heritage building, Hainanese cuisine and impeccably friendly service, Yeng Keng is the hotel of choice. Hotel Penaga is another property that does heritage beautifully. They are one of the few too in the town centre that have a lung of green. When you’re looking for something bigger, offering all the facilities of a large hotel such as pool, gymnasium, multiple choices of rooms and in-house dining options, Trader’s Hotel fits the bill. Eastern and Oriental brings back the glory days of opulence in a majestic colonial building on the waterfront. A new wing offers more room, but book in advance, as this hotel is a perennial favourite. For boutique luxury, Campbell House is a winner and Seven Terraces magically takes you on a journey back in time. For modern couples you can’t go past Macalister Mansion. The only Design Hotel in Malaysia lies just on the edge of Georgetown. Its grand colonial façade holds stunning rooms of artistic, eccentric, stylish charm and, they have excellent food and beverage options too. It’s only eight rooms though, so book in advance.
|Eastern and Oriental|
When hunger pains start to twang, the street must be at the top of your agenda. Wondering amongst the stalls in the urban core is adventurous pleasure. Some soup here, noodles there – point, pay, eat and move on. Consider the street your smorgasbord. With dishes as low as RM2 per plate, the buffet spread is really a bargain.
Where to Eat
Char Kway Teow is a must eat and Ah Leng offers a “Special” version packed with seafood. For Chinese in a charming shop house setting, Tek Sen is an old faithful. Hainanese cuisine must be tried at Yeng Keng Cafe with one of the oldest working chefs on the island. White Curry Mee, Chicken Rice and Otak Otak are all delish at Hot Bowl Nyonya Delights and, when it’s time for dessert, Cendol is obligatory on the corner of Lorong Macalister and Burmah Road. Famous Chinese biscuits and candies (we love the peanut brittle) are sold for non-tourist prices just to the edge of the town at Hock Lok Siew Biscuits. For those with limited time (and uninitiated tummies for street food), the Trader’s hotel all day dining venue, Islander, offers an excellent Saturday Baba Nyonya High Tea featuring local treats that even the Penangnites line up for.
Coffee and Cake
More for the sweet tooth can be found at Ete Café. A small counter of gorgeous French pastries is sided by syphon coffee in a tiny two-table hole-in-the-wall shop lot. The Alley is always pumping with those wanting great coffee and deliciously decadent desserts. Just Caffe not only serves excellent coffee and reasonably priced hearty and healthy meals, but too supports some good charitable causes. We’d like to see them open in KL. Irresistible Pastries, behind China House, cooks up a mean egg tart and, of course China House itself cannot be missed. Famous for its oversized slices of mouth watering cakes and reliable espresso based drinks, you haven’t experienced Penang unless you’ve over indulged in multiple saccharine treats and pumped up caffeine here. Secawan Hutton is a must destination for coffee fans. Master barista Kishen whips up a serious pick-me-up.
For those out of the way finds though, especially if you’re carless, it’s great to know a local. Our buddy, Ken, who runs the Ken Hunts Food blog has the local scene sussed out. If he’s available you might even coerce him into peddling a few hours of food hunting with him.
When street food has elevated your cholesterol to levels threatening a scolding from your health care practitioner, head over to The Leaf, Healthy House. A small RM6 can fill your tummy with organic, healthy, vegetarian cuisine. Think brown rice, brown noodles, no MSG, fresh fruits and loads of veges.
Fully gluttonized on local delights? Georgetown holds a host of Western alternatives too. The old Amelie’s Café was a must visit in Penang, but with most great things they can’t be kept small forever. With a new partner and bigger location, the guys from Amelie’s are providing the same home cooked food (mostly pasta dishes, non-halal) in a larger, but still charming setting renamed Cozy in the Rocket. Living Room at Macalister Mansion is another café with a great ambience. Excellent coffee and a light range of western dishes and breakfasts characterize the menu. To get that touristy photo off your checklist, a visit to Moustache Houze is in order. Here the moustache motif is carried through to wall art, drink garnishes and even design on some dishes. Grab a mobile moustache and use it to capture the cheesiest holiday shot you can muster.
Where to Get a Drink
Liquid refreshment too is aplenty. The Cellar in Macalister Mansion has one of the largest number of labels on the island and, The Den stocks Single Cask whisky! If you’re new to whisky, or even if you’re more of a seasoned drinker, the tasting flight of single cask drops is an inspiring learning experience. The newly opened Patio Bar de Tapas is the place to go for tapas and sangria. The best spot to sit is the lovely courtyard or, upstairs in the smoke free wine lounge. For a casual atmosphere, reasonable prices and heritage architecture Yeng Keng Café’s courtyard is a great place to hangout.
Where to Party
To end the night, appreciate sweeping views of the city and be cooled by sea breezes on the rooftop of Bayview Hotel at Three Sixty Sky Bar.
Where to Eat
Chef Alex Ong is the champion of Japanese food on Batu Ferinnghi. Boasting, traditional food in a contemporary ambience, Mastu restaurant offers fresh, beautifully presented cuisine. Everything is made from scratch and their Orange Matcha dessert is worth the travel all on its own. Fine dining is best had at Ferringhi grill, where international chefs whip up tasting menus designed to tantalize your taste buds and your imagination. The setting is stunning with superb service to match. For an eco friendly choice, the sustainable seafood buffet at Golden Sands is worth supporting. Fish and other sea creatures are sourced from local fisherman practicing eco-friendly fishing techniques and, money is invested into the education and development of these local seafaring communities.
Where to Get a Drink
For free drinks for the ladies, batubar is the spot on a Friday night. A DJ plays upbeat tunes at a volume where conversation is still allowed. If you’re not keen on a gabfest, you can rock the night away just down the road at the Hard Rock Café. A line up of live bands change regularly and the ambience is a full party scene.
Where to Learn to Cook
Want to learn how to make some of the delights you’ve drooled over on the island? Both Tropical Spice Garden and Lone Pine Hotel hold cooking classes with master local chefs at prices that won’t break the bank.
After all of that eating, boogying and cooking, you’ll need to find a spa to relax in to rub those tired feet and possibly massage away the extra calories. Lone Pine and Hard Rock Hotel have excellent therapists in their on-site spas and, are about three quarters of the price of what hotels usually charge, making a number of sessions viable.
Last, but by no means least, a trip to Penang must include a visit to Tree Monkey. About a five minute drive further along the coastline from Batu Feringhi sets you down at Tropical Spice Garden. A stroll through the peaceful garden is worth the time, but a direct route up the driveway can get you to the location in minutes if preferred. The same grounds however, too hold the famous Tree Monkey restaurant. Built in the treetops, it offers green surrounds with views over the ocean. Authentic Thai food and cocktails with a kick, punch and a slap will imprint on your memory as some of the best times you have on the island.