Penang is world renown to be a food haven, where you come to stay, and flavours come to play. With an amalgamation of cultures from Chinese and Indian to Malay and Peranakan, the flavours of Penang is one that is something you have to taste to understand what the fuss is about. But Penang has so much more to offer with is burgeoning fine dining scene and bar culture. We take a look at how the city has grown in recent years, and new haunts that the local frequent.
Where To Eat: Penang Street Food
5 years ago we made our Ultimate Guide: Penang Street Food, a list of all the different dishes that you must savour when on the island, but being some of the best street food in the world comes at a price, and this is where amazing stalls become very popular, but are unable to scale. This results in poorer quality, in addition to longer and longer queues. Some go so far as to pre-fry their prawns in dishes like the char kway teow. This is why we have found an updated selection of where these dishes are not just good, but great.
Restaurant Taman Emas
Char kway teow, asam laksa and oyster omelette
Restaurant Taman Emas near Pulau Tikus is one of the few finds that has been kept to local Penangites. Touted as ‘the best’ by some of the local Penangite gourmands, come to the coffeeshop for three things, the char kway teow, asam laksa and pat poh guleng, a bittersweet herbal milky drink that is delicious to say the least.
OO White Coffee Café
Char kway teow, white curry mee and pat poh guleng
Although having quite a simple name, the coffeeshop has some of the best current dishes on the island. The char kway teow here is fragrant and flavourful, while the white curry mee has a broth that is equal in depth but one of the more underrated dishes here is really the oyster omelette, a dish that is becoming increasing hard to find, a good one at least.
Where To Eat: Penang Fine Dining
Penang has come a long way with its fine dining scene, with an elevation unseen in years. Cuisineers in Penang today have elevated its growing demand of knowledgeable diners, making it a growing global destination not for only street food, but for its fine dining culture. In short, Penang has become a travel destination for diners, including being home to one of of three restaurants that made it to Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants top 100 list, Gen Penang.
Communal Table by Gen
Modern Malaysian sharing plates
Although more accurately a fine casual sharing plate concept, the cuisine at Communal Table is one of progressive Malaysian, but as in the spirit of Malaysianness, are presented as sharing plates. The restaurant is currently led by Kevin Ng, but is the brainchild of Johnson Wong of Gen Penang fame. The dishes here come in sharing portions which are best for 2, but can be shared up to 3 or 4, with some highlights charred leeks, chilli crab rice and giant tiger prawn glass noodles. Comforting yet authentic.
Japanese tapas bar canteen
Shokudo Niban is a contemporary Japanese tapas bar canteen by Kim Hock Su of Au Jardin fame, and although a sharing plates concept, does not skimp on flavour. The dishes here are meticulously created with flavour as its key concept, from its chilled okra to its unagi tempura chahan burger, the dishes are simply put, very tasty. Also, if you ask really nicely, you might even be able to taste their staff meal lu rou fan, a flavour bomb stewed pork lard rice.
Contemporary European Asian cuisine
Restaurant Blanc is housed within Macalister Mansion, one of the most iconic boutique hotels in Penang, serving contemporary European cuisine with an Asian touch. Lead by chef Benny Yeoh, the ex-Singapore based chef’s cuisine is best known for its onion-based dishes, including its onion tea and onion mille feuille, and as a whole, as a certain Singaporean touch to its approach.
Progressive Malaysian fine dining
Gen Penang, the predecessor of Communal Table by Gen, is one of the most renown progressive Malaysian fine dining restaurants in Penang, which is based on the flavours that Johnson grew up. Although a native of Johor, his moving to Penang has showcased Malaysian flavours as a whole, which also tend to skewer more Malaysian Chinese, although we can never paint Malaysianness with such a simple brush stroke coming from multicultural communities.
Contemporary Euro techniques and Asian produce fine dining
Au Jardin is arguably one the most known fine dining restaurants in Penang, which is hard to place because of their cuisine, one that is based on French techniques, with modern British approach, using Japanese flavours and Malaysian ingredients. The restaurant is led by Kim Hock Su, and features interesting techniques and flavours that would be considered contemporary such as their brined and cold smoked ice cream, playful real and fake chicken, a dish that is a play of textures from the lion’s mane mushroom and chicken, to their famous hay-smoked duck.
Where To Drink: Cocktails In Penang
The bar scene in Penang has been growing in recent years, with a few key drinking spots such as Hin Bus Depot being home to some of the best bars in Penang. With an increase in demand for better cocktails on the island, cocktail bars have been popping up offering a variation of experience on the holiday island city.
Elegant hotel cocktail bar
Farquhar’s Bar is located within the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, arguably the more renown hotel bar in Penang. The colonial bar is located at the lobby level of the Heritage Wing and serves as the hotel’s flagship bar sitting on the waterfront facing the sea.
Good Friends Club
Local flavours cocktail speakeasy
Good Friend’s Club is a blink and you’ll miss it cosy speakeasy-like bar located in Hin Bus Depot, a rustic bar that feels very local. The cocktails here are derived from Penang and the broader Malaysia flavour profiles, with some key cocktails that you have to try including their rendition of their Kopi C and off menu Horlicks.
Creative culinary cocktail speakeasy
Backdoor Bodega, pegged as “an overpriced pin shop”, is currently Penang’s poster child for what a great cocktail bar is. The initial concept was for patrons to “buy” a pin which came with a cocktail, clever in its entirety. Definitely one of the best cocktail bars in Penang and is definitely a must visit. Try their current nyonya inspired menu, but if you’re not up for that, get them to make you classics.
Gin focus hotel bar
Gin Library is the latest addition to the bar scene in Penang, located on the 23rd floor within the Courtyard by Marriott hotel overlooking the city centre. The gin focus bar is Penang’s first dedicated gin bar, with a large selection of gins for you to pick from. But definitely pop by for a visit, decent gin cocktails and a view to match.
Wine and whiskey hotel bar
Located within Macalister Mansion is The Cellar, a bar known more for its large list of wines, the bar that has an impressive wine list to complement sister restaurant Blanc is one where you can knock back and relax over a bottle of your favourite red, but if anything, come for the beautiful space, one of the better ones in Penang.
Where To Stay: Macalister Road
Macalister Road is arguably the best place to stay in Penang if you’re looking for a city centre experience without compromise of experience. We chose two hotels this time around to feature, Macalister Mansion, which is arguably our favourite luxury boutique hotel in Penang, and new opening Coutyard by Marriott, another favourite, not only because of its convenience, but one of the most comfortable around.
Courtyard by Marriott
Comfortable convenient city hotel
Courtyard by Marriott is a fairly new hotel located on the very convenient Macalister Road, and has 3 types of rooms to choose from, the King / Double Bed; Large Room and Suite. The Suite comes with a separate living room and a bathtub, which is great for families, but our personal favourite would be the Large Room located on the ends of the building. These spacious rooms is perfect for a getaway, beautifully decorated and just the perfect setting. Courtyard also has afternoon tea sets available at Penang Kitchen, their local all-day dining.
Luxurious colonial boutique hotel
Macalister Mansion is one of our favourite hotels in Penang, with its beautiful colonial façade with modern amenities and interior that has been curated and designed. The rooms are perfect for a couple’s luxury getaway, which service ensures that you have the best experience. The hotel also houses Restaurant Blanc, a contemporary European restaurant.
For our previous reviews, see Macalister Mansion.