Five fine dining experiences in Penang, Malaysia
By Mike Aquino
FOR such a food-obsessed town, Penang has never been known for fine dining: Penangites have long favored simple, hearty meals over fancy expensive spreads. Increasing prosperity and shifting cultural mores have made fine dining more palatable to Penang and her visitors: the Hokkien have now warmed to more expensive eats and fine wine, all worth the premium price. Check out this list of fine dining establishments in Penang, and experience a different side of the city’s bustling food scene.
Feringgi Grill was the first fine dining establishment in Penang, and 30 years on, it’s still going strong. Set within a clubby space within the Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa, the Grill provides an authentic European-style spread, favoring grilled meat and seafood, topped with an eclectic wine list.
The fresh oysters come with a choice of seasonings, and make an ideal kickoff for a long, relaxed dinner within sight of the glass-walled kitchen. If dining with a loved one, order the Chateaubriand for Two: a pair of generous servings of beef tenderloin, carved right beside your table.
Rasa Wing Lobby, Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa, Batu Feringgi, tel: +60 4 888 8888, open from 7am to 10:30am for breakfast (for Rasa Wing guests only); 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner guests.
A relatively recent addition to the Penang dining scene, Cassis Restaurant specializes in fine French-Japanese fusion cuisine prepared by Penangite chef Beh Weng Chia, a veteran of several overseas tours of duty in restaurant kitchens from Salzburg to San Francisco.
The restaurant is located at Belissa Row on Pulau Tikus, a prominent Penang hot spot for nightlife. Get past the rich red curtains, and you’ll find yourself in a comfortably sophisticated space, set off by a large chandelier. The menu’s delicately-concocted specialties – duck breast with foie gras and balsamic reduction, a delicious rack of lamb, and roast monkfish in champagne foam, among others – go well with the restaurant’s selection of wines. On weekends, order the six-course set meal to get a feel of the whole Cassis experience.
368-1-14, Belissa Row, Jalan Burmah; tel: +604 229 3858, cassis.com.my. Open from 12 noon to 2:30pm, 7pm till late night, Wednesday to Monday (closed on Tuesdays).
Western Spices by Chef Nick
Confusingly, there are two restaurants named “Western Spices” in Penang – the real Western Spices is located on Green Hall Road, just off Light Street in Georgetown. It used to be located on Burmah Road; when they moved to their present location on Green Hall Road, another establishment set up shop in the old address under the same name.
The Western Spices at Greenhall is run by a husband-and-wife team, Nick Lau and Ally Tan. The couple take their culinary inspiration from their experiences of world cuisine – one month they’ll serve French-style dishes, on another they’ll serve selections from the Caribbean.
Nick runs the kitchen, and he puts his international experience to good use, whipping up specialties like homemade mushroom soup, a grilled duck dish anointed with peach sauce, and vegetarian marinara spaghetti. Try Nick’s Special, a Caribbean-style chicken with a side of rice, beans and spicy sauce. Wednesday nights come with live jazz music performances.
No.1 Green Hall Road (off Light Street), Georgetown, +60 4 2611553, www.facebook.com/WSHSB. Open from 11.30am to 11pm.
Suffolk House Restaurant
Few Penang restaurants can boast of residing in a structure so drenched with history: the restaurant building is rumored to have been built by Georgetown founder Sir Francis Light himself.
The building’s colonial charm provides the perfect setting for Suffolk House’s Asian-infused European cuisine: the period furnishing and the elegant interiors complement the diverse menu, which ranges from grilled spiced chicken with tarragon cream sauce to a sublime lamb raan kofta.
Guests may order one of the House’s set meals based on a choice from five main courses, if you want a fuller experience of the menu. Tours of the house and adjacent garden can be arranged by appointment, for only MYR 15 per person.
250 Jalan Air Itam, tel: +60 4 228 3930, suffolkhouse.com.my. Open for lunch: 12noon to 3pm; afternoon tea: 2.30pm to 6.00pm; dinner: 7pm to 11pm.
That Little Wine Bar
You can tell by the name that “That Little Wine Bar” eschews flash and garishness in favor of an understated, relaxed atmosphere: it’s a stress-free bubble in the middle of busy Penang where you can enjoy your favorite vintage with friends.
The German-born proprietor of That Little Wine Bar, Chef Tommes, set up in a shophouse and designed an interior with a very modern-European feel, harnessing a functional design softened by warm red fabrics and wooden surfaces.
The European menu was formulated to complement the extensive wine list: an impressive tapas menu and a fine selection of signature dishes like salmon tartare, quiche and beef tenderloin, all excellent companion dishes for picks from Chef Tommes’ Austrian wine selection.
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About the author…
Mike Aquino (Philippines)
Mike Aquino is a writer, which means his office is anywhere he plugs in his laptop. He is based in Manila at the moment, but has had spells working as an advertising copywriter in Singapore and Malaysia. He is currently the guide in charge of About.com Southeast Asia Travel.