Splendid heritage architecture, a thriving urban arts scene and great street food define Penang's capital, writes Lara Dunston.
Kebaya Dining Room
Peranakan and Indochine classics with a twist are served in a sumptuous room furnished with Chinese lacquer screens and red velvet drapes. Don't miss otak otak, a red snapper curry baked in pastry, and a rendang-like tamarind beef, slowcooked and glazed with palm sugar and tamarind. Stewart La, kebaya.com.my
Dining Room at Macalister Mansion
At this fine-diner young Local chef Johnson Wong's eight-course tasting menu reflects his experience at Noma and Macau's Robuchon au Dôme among others, as well as Penang's culinary heritage. Typical of his approach are coffee-flavoured bread rolls, inspired by a popular Peranakan snack. 228 Jalan Macalister, macalistermansion.com
A visit to 18th-century Fort Cornwallis should include lunch at Kota, where the vibrant Nyonya cuisine includes Hokkien mee, chicken rendang sitting atop blue butterfly pea-infused coconut rice, and pasta in a prawn bisque-like sauce. The fort entry cost comes off the bill. Fort Cornwallis, Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah
George Town-born Mark Ng of Simply Enak leads small-group food tours, starting a four-hour Penang Harmony Food Trail near his former high school St Xavier's Institution, the city's oldest, dating back to 1852. As a child he was taught to cook by his grandmother, and his commentary is peppered with culinary tips and cultural insights. Expect local specialities such as nasi kandar, curry mee and char kway teow (simplyenak.com). Guests learn a little about the life of Chinese clans and the art of feng shui while admiring George Town's splendid architecture on a leisurely two-hour Façades and Five-Foot Ways walking tour with UNESCO-certified guide Joann Khaw (email@example.com). Later, stop at Penang Global Tourism in the Whiteways Arcade, another architectural gem, and collect a Marking George Town brochure, which maps 70 sites of street art, including Ernest Zacharevic's interactive murals.
ChinaHouse has eateries, a bar and wine bar within its maze of rooms in three restored shophouses (chinahouse.com.my). Local favourite Mish Mash on Muntri Street serves well-mixed cocktails, while late-opener Antarabangsa Enterprise is little more than a bottle shop with chairs and tables set out in the lane opposite the Seven Terraces hotel.
George Town's newest boutique hotel, The Edison, opened in July on the edge of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed zone, making it an ideal location for exploring George Town's British colonial buildings, Chinese shophouses and mosques. The 1902 mansion has been meticulously restored with 35 guestrooms, and retains its high ceilings, grand staircases and central courtyard. 15 Lebuh Leith, theedisonhotels.com
This is one of four beautifully restored boutique hotels owned by Penang-born Sydney banker-turned-hotelier Christopher Ong. Seven Terraces is a rebuilt row of 19th-century Anglo-Chinese shophouses, reconfigured with 18 suites filled with Peranakan antiques and overlooking a courtyard, and adjacent swimming pool. Ong's latest property, opened this year, is a former Anglo-Indian home called Jawi Peranakan Mansion. georgetownheritage.com
Penang's flourishing arts scene is best experienced during the
annual monthlong George Town Festival (July to
August) and a raft of other events, including the
In-Between Arts Festival, George Town
Literary Festival and Penang Island Jazz
Explore Balik Pulau, the sleepy side of Penang Island, where travellers can try the sour local laksa and visit fishing villages, seafood markets and producers of everything from belacan (shrimp paste) to kuih bahulu (traditional bitesized sponge cakes). visitpenang.gov.my