Tea and Love in Penang

I love high tea but it’s a leisurely luxury which is costly in both times and calories. It’s an experience that should be savoured with a tinge of nostalgia. It should also be memorable, not only for the delicacies consumed, but also for the ambience of the location, so the venue must be chosen wisely. The quality of the food, of course, is what makes a tea “high” and its quintessential hallmark is daintiness: cucumber sandwiches and miniature scones, fresh whipped or clotted cream, and strawberry preserves. And, of course, cakes galore. So where is best to go in Penang for this taste of heaven?

My first port of call was the old lady of Penang – the E&O Hotel – where one can enjoy high tea in the 1885 Restaurant (the date refers to the year of the hotel’s founding). Despite her great age, she has worn tremendously well and her service was as gracious as ever. There is a good choice of teas (all loose-leaf teas) with hints on how long to brew each variety. The food offerings include stacks of finger sandwiches: the roast beef and the smoked salmon are particularly tasty, but the use of white bread was a little unimaginative. The scones were good, the jam divine, and the cakes delectable and in great variety. Allow plenty of time, this a tea to linger over and can easily develop into a sun downer on the E&O’s terrace overlooking the sea.

If you like home cooking but haven’t the time to do it yourself, you must try Annabelle’s in the up-and-coming suburbs of Tanjong Bunga. (It’s literally a stone’s throw away from the the Expat Group office in Penang.) A bog-standard concrete shop house shell has been convincingly transformed into cosy English tea room with a view of tropical hills. Annabelle herself presides with the teapot and offers the Windsor Tea Set (scrumptious scones, cream and jam, mini sandwiches, cakes and fruit) on Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons. The tea is served in pretty china cups and it’s so Beatrix Potter that you wouldn’t be surprised if Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle popped in for a cuppa. Annabelle’s philosophy is very simple: “I make the best food I can with the best ingredients I can find. No corner-cutting, MSG or fillers.” It has served her well: her food is home-baked with love and she is gathering quite a following in the blogosphere. It’s a great place for kids, too, as there is a park opposite where they can play and Annabelle often has a tray of freshly baked cookies to soothe the most fractious of toddlers.

A different kind of love is in the air at the Joget High Tea at the Rasa Sayang in Batu Ferringhi. Held fortnightly, it’s a clever take on a “tea dance” when discreetly dating couples waltzed amongst the aspidistras of elegant seaside hotels early in the last century. Joget is a traditional Malay dance which originated in Malacca and has strong overtones of the Portuguese branyo. It’s a gentle dance, popular in Malaysian villages, and usually performed with traditional instruments including violin, flute, accordion, and handheld drums. The staff of the Rasa Sayang performed the dance beautifully, dressed in wonderful traditional costumes, and they twirled paper umbrellas flirtatiously.

The food is rather special. There is a choice of Malaysian sets which feature such nyonya delights as chicken norbak with a chili dip and assorted sweet kuih, the wonderful scones (flavoured with green tea and sunflower seed), cream, fresh strawberries, and jam. The sandwiches are made with an assortment of different breads, baps, and focaccia while the cakes are morsels of heaven.

The highlight of the joget tea was the performance of the Rasa Sayang’s own song. I hadn’t realised that Rasa Sayang which translated as “a feeling of love.” It’s a great Malay folk song and as I bravely took to the floor to learn the simple steps of the joget, I definitely got the warm feeling of love. Or then again, perhaps it was an afterglow from the scones and whipped cream.

E&O Hotel
Farquhar Street, George Town, Penang.
Tel: 04 222 2000
High Tea Set RM52++ per person
Available 2.30pm-5pm daily.

Annabelle’s
10, Lebuh Lembah Permai 4, 11200 Tanjung Bungah, Penah.
Tel: 04 890 1098
Windsor Tea Set RM17 per person
Available Thurs-Sat afternoons.

Rasa Sayang Hotel
Batu Ferringhi Beach, 11100 Penang.
Tel: 04 888 8888
Joget High Tea Set RM35++ per person.
Available fortnightly.

Source: The Expat May 2012
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