Gluttony should be a virtue for those who enter the threshold of China House. Go on, cut yourself some slack and simply succumb to the siren’s call of this unique F&B haven. A brainchild of Narelle McMurtrie who founded the now defunct Bon Ton restaurant in KL then the restaurant and resort in Langkawi, China House spans 3 heritage buildings linked by an open-air courtyard in Penang.
First-timers are encouraged to enter through the 155 Beach Street entrance where the Kopi C Espresso Café & Bar is decked with a long table laden with an eye-opening parade of cakes and sweet temptations.
Stepping out into the Courtyard Café & Burger Bar, this al fresco space with a pond and leafy mango trees is an oasis of calm amidst interesting wall murals. Right at the end of the outbuilding walk is the Canteen & Bar, a hot spot for music and drinks at dusk. Ascend upstairs beyond the Beach St Bakery and you’d find art galleries and a multi-purpose performance space.
Such a colourful and intriguing cornucopia makes China House a popular outpost with foreign and domestic visitors to Penang. When we visited on a weekday, the place was buzzing and occasionally, customers even had to wait for tables to be vacated.
Friends in the know already warned us ahead of time China House is a cake haven prior to our visit. A double decked bakery table beckons with no less than 30 cakes daily. Of course, it was hard for sweet-toothed peeps like us to decide so finally, we settled on two distinctly different choices: Lemon & Raspberry 3 Milk Cake (RM18+) and Pineapple Chocolate Upside Down Cake (RM12+).
Happily, my maiden encounter with this famous Mexican tres leches cake, so-called because whole milk, evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk are used to make it, was a pleasurable experience. Despite the cake’s somewhat dry appearance, we found it nice and moist. Also the lemon-raspberry accent worked like a charm and served lightly sauced, we devoured the hefty wedge down to the last crumb.
Pineapple upside down cake has always been an evergreen fave of mine but eating a chocolatey version was another first. It was agreeable taste-wise but the purist in me believes the classic recipe takes the cake anytime.
Another inspired option was Laos Chicken & Pumpkin Curry (RM40+). Similar to nasi lemak minus the unabashedly lemak-richness, the delicious platter paired a banana leaf cone of coconut rice with piquant pumpkin-chicken curry studded with pumpkin seeds. Sidelines of green mango-coconut kerabu, zesty acar, small dishes of sambal and chilli jam with fried crackers added to the homespun flavours of the meal.
I was flummoxed by the house speciality of Hokkien Spaghetti Bolognese (RM37+). The al dente spaghetti Bolognese was agreeable but I found it underwhelming for my palate, in spite of the textural and taste dimensions provided by cucumber ribbons with minced chicken, eggplant ginger bud sambal, and caramelised peanuts. Still, we were told this was a big hit with customers so you should be the best judge on whether it’s a hit or a miss.
If you have reached the tipping point with local hawker fare, find comfort in familiar Western offerings such as a decent Beef Burger (RM23+). Few can fault the decent 150g beef patty topped with melted cheese, Japanese mustard aioli, caramelised onion, and pickled Japanese cucumber with the serving of chunky fries on the side.
Other viable family-friendly options range from Oreo Milkshake (RM20.80+) to the bohemian-sounding Rainbow Juice (RM14.80+) with pineapple, strawberry and mango or freshly made Mint Lime with Cranberry (RM12.80+).
Note: Prices quoted inclusive 6% GST & subject to 10% service charge
For reservations, call China House, tel: 04-263 7299. Address: 153 & 155, Beach Street and 183B Victoria Street, George Town, Penang. www.chinahouse.com.my