The Pearl of Orient has always been revered for its colonial charm and when Georgetown was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 2008, it widened the world's eye. Adhering to the demand, many eateries do occupy colonial shophouses and buildings, but do they really transport you back to the British era?
Renovations have overtaken restorations and Instagram-oriented gimmicks have entirely eclipsed the colonial vibes. Fret not, we have curated a list of restaurants that are thankfully on the flipside - most are doing their best to sustain the colonial attractiveness while keeping an eye on history, and others have infused their own spin to a certain degree. Of course, food is spectacular too.
From restored mansions at least expected areas to former home of British governors and even a former horse stable, these restaurants are capable of putting your hipster cafe craze to bay. How about #sejarahsambilsajian for a hashtag?
1. Suffolk House
If you think you’ve visited Georgetown and your colonial quest is complete, think again.
Sitting elegantly along Jalan Air Itam is Malaysia’s one and only surviving Georgian Mansion, built in the early 1800s and once home to series of British governors. Be sold the moment you step in - admire the lush garden before walking on polished marble and terracotta floors inside, while clapping your eyes on original doors, windows and ‘Before and After’ framed photos that send you back in time. It's hard to believe that the furniture is not from the original days as its sourced from antique shops to be on par with the overall theme. You may feel like you’ve stepped down into a scene from Channel 4 UK’s most expensive television drama, Indian Summers
, as it was heavily filmed here.
Done pampering your eyes? Make your way to its in-house restaurant to cherish your palate. A decent selection of fine-dining masterpieces and wines are on offer but what is British influence without an afternoon tea? Nibbling down freshly baked scones and apricots with homemade conserves, finger sandwiches, chicken and mushroom pie and assorted sweet morsels while sipping on aromatic teas are nothing but spectacular. When the weather is good, enjoy your meal at the patio.
2. Georgetown Wines
Georgetown Wines is perhaps one of the most creative restorations in Penang. This white-washed building was previously a large barn and two rows of stables, but now it's a splendid restaurant. It didn’t happen overnight though, lots of laborious efforts were put into each and every segment to return it to its original splendour.
A whip-smart touch by the owners was to remove the lime plaster to expose the red bricks beneath that has increased the dose of rustic beauty. Sandwiched between the mews is a courtyard, with its original granite slabs and perked up with wine barrels studded with fresh flowers and plants, translating as a perfect date spot. If you have a story of your own, head to the upper floor, which was once the living quarters for the servants. Yet, today, it spells cosy and comfort with bright-coloured furniture, polo sticks decoration and exposed beams.
All these means nothing if the food wasn’t convincing, right? Imagine whetting up your appetite with clams in white wine and garlic, followed by a generous serving of grilled black prime Angus rib and wrapping up with churros with dark chocolate dip. Staying true to the name, there’s a wine cellar, stocked up with a decent selection of wines from the old and new world, and it works immaculately well with the cheese and meat boards.
Take advantage of its location, explore other heritage architectures that are only a stone’s throw away.
3. Macalister Mansion
The name of this gorgeous mansion honours Sir Norman Macalister, one of the first British Governors when the island was known as Prince of Wales Island. It’s easily spotted along Macalister Road, as its iconic logo floats above the green hedge. Right from the moment you drive pass the original wrought iron gate, you sure know you’re in for a colonial experience like none other. The fractal bust of Norman Macalister before entering the more than century old building is definitely one for your new profile picture.
Besides the building itself, the restored ornate wooden double-leaf doorway, a white cannon and series of cannonballs, filigree window grilles, a galvanised spiral stairs leading to a viewing tower, balcony and wooden trusses strike the colonial balance to contemporary touches within. There are also busts and portraits of colonial governors adorning the mantelpiece above a fireplace, alongside antique books and artefacts.
The F&B sections are astutely titled as spaces that are commonly found in a mansion - The Dining Room, The Den, The Cellar, The Living Room and The Lawn. The former is a converted courtyard with upholsteries and classy decorations that are well-matched with the delicious, modern cuisine, and to extend your British affair, high tea is served from 2 pm to 6 pm. The Den is famed for its wide selection of whiskies and cigars. To sip the renowned TWG teas, make your way to The Living Room and for wine-purists at heart, The Cellar could be your second home. If whiling away time by a pool with refreshments is your kind of relaxation, head to The Lawn.
4. 1885 - E&O
To say that 1885 is a colonial-centric restaurant is a little underselling. Because it’s housed in E&O Hotel, a renowned monument that is an epoch of the British’s glorious past. From the staff uniforms to the overall architecture of the building, everything is shown great attention to detail to keep its originality intact. The ambience is warm and welcoming, a feeling only added to by the friendly staffs, who are happy to share with you about the hotel's history.
Sited on the ground floor of the Heritage Wing, 1885 is named after the year the hotel was established. Suit up well before arriving, to match the starched linen, panelled walls, chandeliers, lustrous cutleries and neat seating space that set the scene for a memorable meal. Kick start with their mushroom soup and Caesar salad before chomping down creative combos like seared scallop with saffron, grilled grass fed fillet mignon and tempura prawn and green soba noodles. If you have an affinity for high tea, you can never go wrong here too, as the delectable nibbles and delicately perfumed teas are a mainstay on the menu.
After a hefty meal, wander along the coastline, taking in the scenic stretches of the Straits of Malacca.
5. Botanica Mansion
Penang is so heavily steeped in history that we can expect colonial vibes at Balik Pulau too, thanks to a restoration of an English plantation house built in early 1881. Its proximity to the verdant rolling hills and its landscaped gardens at the entrance somewhat draws a comparison to Cameron Highlands. The facade of the main building with its open balcony concept is well-preserved, as well as British-inspired archways, door frames and some floorings on the inside. Within its grounds, you’ll also find a brick-wall smoke house, retained from the colonial era. If you find the overall structure a little familiar, the isolated building was restored by the same contractor as Suffolk House.
To aid your imagination, check out some pictures of the mansion along the staircase to the upper level, that highlights the outlook of the building before restoration. The food here is a melange of Nyonya and Western delicacies, and among the must-tries are Hainanese spring rolls, Hainanese chicken curry kapitan, the mansion burgers and traditional apple pie with vanilla ice cream. If you’re seeking a full-fledged British experience, be present from 3pm to 5pm for a delectable afternoon tea, comprising sweet and savoury morsels and hot tea.
Doubling up as a boutique hotel, you’ll find gym and pool facilities and photo-worthy wall murals.
6. David Brown's Restaurant & Tea Terrace
Perched on Strawberry Hill, at Penang Hill (yes, a little hill over a hill), David Brown’s Restaurant & Tea Terrace is undeniably one of the most gorgeous looking eateries in Penang. Turning back the clock, it’s believed that Captain Francis Light originally levelled the grounds eyeing a strawberry plantation, since the climate was much cooler back then. Yet years later, David Brown, a Scottish landowner acquired the land and turned it into a cottage and his love for tea added up a kiosk.
Very little has changed in terms of its colonial backdrop. You can either dine inside the cosy space adorned by pendant chandeliers, a traditional fireplace, Georgian windows and black-and-white chequerboard tiles or at the outside terrace close to the lawn and a lily pond.
Be it online reviews and words of mouth, high tea is a winner here but for those coming in with a gargantuan appetite, check out their British-styled servings like juicy steaks, salads, stews, pies, classics like chicken chop and fish and chips, and Yorkshire pudding. Besides the good flavours, hearty portions and noteworthy presentations score additional points too.
With no shortage of amazing views, and of course, colonial architectures housing tasteful decorations that resemble the past, your camera lens will have a busy day.
7. Il Bacaro
For anyone in search of authentic Italian cuisine at the heart of Georgetown, a visit to Il Bacaro is essential. It's housed in the award-winning Campbell House boutique hotel, which was built in 1903. The eye-catching colonial facade is certainly the pull factor, yet the arches and alcoves and even the floorings share equal pride once your step in. The old English pub tables from the 1950s, wood shelves and vintage ceiling fans help contribute towards the authentic colonial atmosphere. Not forgetting the artistic lightings that mellow down to a cosy atmosphere.
And it’s so much more than the ambience. Thanks to the usage of fresh local ingredients and authentic techniques, the aim to deliver the best possible quality of Italian dishes is easily achieved. The menu is extensive, and among the crowd favourites are the wood oven-baked pizzas and homemade range of pastas, since they are never skimp on the toppings.
For those prefer to look beyond the common picks, check out cicchetti (a sharing platter of seafood and sliced slices of bread with salmon and vegetable topping), green pea risotto as well as their selection of desserts like panna cotta and chocolate lava cake. And everything is even better when paired with their curated wines.
You may want to keep your camera within your reach, as each dish is aesthetically a winner.
8. Patio bar de tapas
This hideout bar is widely revered for its mouthwatering Spanish food. Yes, be prepared for authentic Spanish cuisine and pub grubs within a colonial heritage building along Weld Quay. Talk about killing two birds with one stone! The restaurant has oodles of colonial charm with its original windows, slightly touched-up facade and most noticeably, the photogenic patio itself. The patio’s atmosphere does bring to mind a slice of Barcelona or Cordoba but the actual layout itself, including the exposed brick walls, were preserved from the past.
When not admiring the atmosphere and gazing at the well-stocked bar and wine lounge, reward your belly with scrumptious food like char-grilled pork ribs, gambas (chargrilled garlic prawns), soft shell crab burgers, and the drool-worthy seafood paella - calaspara rice cooked with spices and herbs and laden with succulent seafood goodness. Yum! Not forgetting their colourful range of mojitos that are worth going back for seconds, or thirds.
Largely filled with a young and energetic crowd, the vibe is pretty much convivial, especially during the night hours. Gracias!
9. KOTA Dine & Coffee - when Francis meets rempah
This relatively new restaurant differs from other participants in the list as it’s not operating within a restored colonial building. But its location makes the cut - right inside Fort Cornwallis, the largest standing fort in the country, built by Francis Light during the earliest days of British settlement. And the team behind KOTA has thoroughly taken advantage of its historical foothold, placing a metal statue of Sir Francis at the entrance of the cafe and draping the dining space with floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing natural light to filter in during the day. Very much Instragrammable.
There will be many photo stops during your time at the fort - rampart, parapet and remains of the fort’s moat, cannons lined up facing the sea, especially a Dutch cannon labelled ‘Seri Rambai’, a chapel, prison cells, barracks, ammunitions storage area and at the edge, a towering lighthouse.
And once you hear your stomach growling, stop by the restaurant. The menu is billed as Nyonya and Western cuisine yet you’ll also be amazed by reconstructed traditional Malaysia dishes such as satay (chicken stuffed with rice and roasted peanut and shrouded with brown sugar, herbs and delectable sauce), fried laksa and Hokkien mee prepared with angel hair pasta, topped with plump prawns and halved quail eggs topped with caviar.
The hand drip coffees here are good stuff too thanks to coffee beans from Ethiopia Konga, and the brew itself is aromatic and light-bodied. For the climax, how about nasi lemak cake?
This attention-grabbing 19th-century English colonial mansion is a UNESCO World Heritage-listed building and it offers everything that spells joy and comfort- a hotel, a spa and a restaurant. The colonial authenticity that is hinted in every bit is a result of white-washed walls and exquisite decorations using dark woods and furniture that hold the old-world charm, and the restaurant follows suit.
Food means serious business here. Under the stewardship of award-winning Chef Keith Khoo, there is a variety of world fusion delicacies and a selection of pasta, which are presented up to magazine standard. In addition, many customers have been returning over and over again for their set lunch and dinner, which are relatively reasonable and of course, delicious. What’s more, check out their unique spa menu, tailor-made for health nuts and those leaving the spa room after rejuvenating their senses.
No doubt, the interior of the restaurant is beautiful yet its garden seating is really popular. Reminding you of an English garden wedding, white tables and chairs are canopied and flanked by sprawling greens and fresh flowers. Just add a glass of wine, and you have a romantic session.
11. Farquhar Mansion
While not an entirely a colonial spot in the most traditional sense, this fine dining favourite made the list because it’s simply damn gorgeous in every angle! Occupying one of the two lots of Mission Place, the exterior appearance is downright a colonial beauty, yet on the inside, it's been heavily renovated to contemporary liking and embellished with opulent chandeliers and lightings, flamboyant upholsteries and furniture. So it's no surprise this mansion has been patronised by photographers since it offers the best of both worlds.
If you think the environment has tugged your heart, wait till you’re served their famed French haute cuisine. The price is on the steeper side but is justified with offerings like air-flown salmon, house special duck confit, lamb rack, Foie gras, sous vide chicken breast and lot more tongue-twisting specialities. Every platter is a real work of art, sometimes just too pretty to eat. And expect no slouches in the service department either.