China House is without doubt one of the yuppiest, trendiest hang out places I’ve ever been to. And who would of thought you could find a place like this in Penang!
I always associate Penang with shop houses, authentic hawker stalls and my grandma’s seriously retro house which has remained exactly the same for the past 40 years:
China House is the perfect mix of traditional and modern. It is built on the premises of three old-style Chinese houses and has cleverly retained and incorporated many of their original features. The shops, cafes, restaurants and galleries of China House follow the thin, corridor-like layout of the original houses. The cafe at the front is low key and casual with tables covered with white paper and a glass full of crayons meaning that you won’t be bored whilst waiting for your meal.
Then there is a huge long table filled with sumptuous looking cakes and desserts and further on there is the restaurant with an eclectic mix of mismatched furniture and interesting wall art. There is also a a wine cellar and reading room, a large outdoor courtyard area which leads onto the bar and live music stage right at the end.
The food is a variety of Western-style dishes (ribs, roast chicken and a wide range of salads); you can view a sample menu here. We had homemade lamb sausages with couscous and warm feta dressing, chicken schnitzel with mashed potatoes and salad and a prawn and avocado salad.
The food was tasty, but I have to admit that at RM50-60 per main course I expected more for the price and the environment we were in.
One thing I absolutely cannot complain about are the cakes. Even though we were almost completely stuffed from a rather substantial lunch and then dinner, we HAD to find space to at least try some of the delicious cakes they had on show. There was so much to choose from, tiramisu cake, pear upside down cake, double chocolate brownies, cheese cake, mango sponge, vanilla shortbreads….and that’s less than half of the selection!
In the end we went for a slice of passionfruit and coconut cream cake, devil’s food cake and a mini ginger creme brûlée. The portions are HUGE and at RM10-15 per slice it is well worth your money.
With all the authority of a family who have tasted a myriad of cakes in their lifetime, we can conclude that these cakes are delicious. If I had more time in Penang I would definitely want to revisit the China House. Probably not for dinner, cooked food does not seem to be their particular forte, but for cakes and presumably desserts too, I wouldn’t have to think twice.
One warning I have though is for those of you who are used to the UK’s ban on smoking in public places. As we were going to be having dinner there we were seated in a lovely part of the restaurant close to the courtyard, but just after we had ordered our drinks a table of three was seated right next to us. They immediately all lit up and our table was immediately swathed in the smell of smoke. When we asked to move to a non-smoking section we were informed that the only non-smoking area consists of a few tables in the cafe section. As we had no choice we moved to the front, to a busier, less formal ambience.
This wasn’t too much of a problem for us as we didn’t mind having the paper tablecloths and crayons, but it is something to bear in mind if you are a non-smoker and thinking of going for an occasion or if you are after a particular dining experience. Perhaps contact the restaurant in advance and they may be able to secure you a non-smoking area in the restaurant…
Other than that, I can thoroughly recommend the China House. It’s setting is truly beautiful and unique. And of course I cannot stop raving about their cakes ;)
153-155 Lebuh Pantai
Photos by Daniel Kan.