Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Ultimate List of Cafes in Penang

For an updated list, kindly visit this latest post.

Hi folks! It's been a while since the last update. The lions were away in Penang with two local-born felines to hunt down the best in Penang street hawker food and, of course, the perfect cuppa. They were pretty impressed by the sheer number of indie cafe joints on the island but found that in general, prices of imported single origin coffee there were higher than those back home in the Lion City. However, with the luxury of space, lax restrictions, and the availability of many heritage shophouses in the UNESCO site of Georgetown, the atmospheric Penang cafes with their unique settings and themes more than make up for the damage in the wallet.  

Miss Honey Wine, the pretty local-born Penang feline, showing the lions
around her beloved hometown that arguably has the best street food in the
world! Miss Mantis Prawn, another local seafood-loving feline, joined in the
fun much later. 

Here are highlights of some of the must-visit cafes in town:

1) Die Die Must-try! Humble street-side hole-in-the-wall joints - Toh Soon Cafe (the non-commercialised Ya Kun of Penang) & her lip-smacking Indian counterpart that is so obscure, it does not have a known name. Both sell toast browned over a traditional charcoal fire.

Coffee and toast made the traditional way over an open charcoal fire.
Look out for their retro-cool aluminium tables and stools. The lions
missed out on their keke mian bao (cocoa toast) and vowed to return again.
Look out for the Nasi Dalca sign to find this obscure joint located just down the
road from Toh Soon.  Have your toast with piquant fish curry and ask for their
signature buttered toast topped with soft boiled eggs. 

2) Cafes serious about their cup of java: Ete Cafe, Coffee Lane & Lighthouse. The lions unanimously declare Coffee Lane as their choice destination for that perfect cuppa. It has the winning formula of great ambience (retrolicious!), food and coffee. Cuchi still dreams about their unforgettable homemade chempedak cake!
Ete Cafe is runned by a lovely Taiwanese couple who escaped to the laidback
island after deeming the pace of life too harried and competitive back home.
Both of them trained at the prestigous Le Cordon Bleu and churn out an
excellent variety of French-inspired cakes and pastries. The variety of single
origin beans carried by this elusive little cafe is also worth a mention. They did
say that they might be moving from their present location to a bigger premise
in the near future. Some visitors have complained about their
blink-and-you-might-miss-it location, which adds to the charm, really.

The Lions' favourite: Coffee Lane Cafe. Check out the too-cute-for-words
Spanish Ascaso espresso machines. It comes in bright yellow, orange and baby
blue colours. Cuchi was thinking of purchasing one but at 2 grand, it was rather
costly. Coffee Lane also does a mean pork cutlet, much like those you get in your
school canteen in the 80s. Of course, do not miss their saliva-inducing
chempedak cake.  Love the retro vibe in an old-school shophouse. And oh,
they roast their beans in-house.
The lions had high hopes for Lighthouse located in a pristinely restored colonial
building. This high profile cafe boasts a coffee academy under her wing that
conducts barista training and coffee appreciation sessions. But oh boy, they
were a little disappointed. The coffee served up that day was mediocre, too milky
and even the Long Black was a watered down affair. Barista problems, perhaps? 
The vibe was akin to an impersonal Starbucks joint.
After reading about siTigun coffee's much talked about "Crash Coffee", it was
on the Lions' agenda to give the strong cuppa a try. Not for the faint-hearted,
siTigun's crash coffee made from blended Arabica beans was very much like a
Turkish coffee with left-over dregs. Not a complex cup but gives you a straight
punch in the face. The cafe is opened by an Indonesian couple, wow, the number
of expatriates opening cafes here is growing.

Others: 55 Cafe & Restaurant, Full of Beans, Coob Coffee Club, Twelve Cups

3) Atmospheric cafes: Chai Diam Ma, China House & Kwong Sang House. Huge on ambience and character, not so much for coffee.

Cute Cute's favourite cafe because, oh what else, the boss's a pretty feline named
Xiao Hua! A sign reminds visitors not to step on the boss (lol!) upon entering
the quirky joint that carries an eclectic range of handmade souvenirs and knick knacks.
A little piece of drama soon ensued when the lions were there. After the lions had
fun playing with Xiao Hua in her cardboard box, she crept to the windsill, sat innocently
for a few minutes there and then made a mad dash for the road outside! She had
proudly caught a poor little sparrow in her mouth!
Another must-visit place is China House - the ultimate destination dining venue
in town. The gargantuan compound is made up of three traditional shophouses
linked by an open air courtyard and converted into 14 spaces comprising shops,
cafes, bars, restaurants, art galleries and multipurpose performance space.
Check out Kopi C for their brunch menu, Beach St. Bakery for cakes, Courtyard
for burgers and the Canteen & Bar for their delish Mexican food. It can be a
confusing affair to first-time visitors as each space melds so seamlessly into the
other that you might be forgiven for sitting in one space while thinking of erroneously
ordering food from another menu. Blah! The vibe is rather much like P.S Cafe back home.

Look for the Blue Mansion and you'll be in the vicinity of
Kwong Sang House.
Located in what was formerly a tailor's shop, the cafe is bedecked with tools of the
trade. Think spools of colourful cloths and threads, measuring rulers and vintage
sewing machines. Head up to the 2nd floor for more surprises.

Others: Moontree 47, Behind 50, Nostalgie Cafe, Irrawaddy Fine Food, Amelie, La Vanille, Jing-Si Books & Cafe


  1. Thanks for the intro! V-day is coming. Do you have any recommendation for nice restaurant in Penang?

    1. We did enjoy Kebaya Restaurant at Seven Terraces. Classy ambience with a pianist playing at the front.