Google “Penang, hawker fare” and you’ll be flooded with entries heaped by food-savvy Singaporeans on this gastronomic hot spot. It’s a well-deserved obsession. Some of us make that yearly pilgrimage – with a short plane ride or a leisurely cruise – to indulge in a weekend of sweat-inducing and rewarding hawker trails.
If Penang’s world-famous, sweat-inducing Assam Laksa (spicy-savoury soup with mackerel fish flakes, prawn paste and flour noodles), or Char Kway Teow (glass noodles stir-fried on a huge fire) don’t get to you, her creamily sweet dessert known as Chendol, will. So yes, the diet and the #cleaneating hashtag can wait.
More than her culinary prowess, Penang is famed for the Eastern & Oriental Hotel (known affectionately as the E&O), a 130-year-old property that epitomises heady nostalgia with Singaporean baby-boomers.
The place breathes an untouchable colonial beauty, the kind of beauty that has witnessed thousands of high-society parties. The service today remains no less impeccable. If you haven’t experienced doormen and bellhops dressed in formal uniforms and making you feel like royalty, you haven’t lived.
Built in 1884 by the Sarkies Brothers – sociable Armenian traders and businessmen known for establishing early 19th-century luxury hotels throughout Southeast Asia, at a time when wealthy and privileged Westerners still considered this part of the world “the exotic East” – the E&O remains the belle of the island, and one of the most iconic landmarks in George Town, Penang.
The brothers also founded Singapore’s Raffles Hotel in 1887, which explains the vast similarities in architecture, design, and the refined spirits of old-world hospitality in both properties. Both hotels boast grand foyers, classically-styled ballrooms and authentic butler services. Prestige service was immaculate. No one in the hotel staff is wearing a man-bun, showing off tattoos, or goes overly casual. In true Victorian hospitality, you’re usually greeted with a refreshingly formal, “Good morning sir, how can I help you?”
With a total of 122 sea-view and sea-facing suites, guests at the E&O have a unique perspective of the gently lapping waves. If you’re located in a Corner Suite, you’ll enjoy a 270-degree view of the blissfully calm Indian Ocean. En-suite bathrooms are fitted with claw-footed long baths, pedestal ceramic basins and breezy-but-private balconies.
But the Victorian sensibilities, celebrated as they were, end there. Known as the largest hotel in Penang in her time with more than 100 rooms, the E&O captivates guests with a large seafront view that remains a hit with guests at sunsets.
Location, location, location
Located just 20km from Penang International Airport, at the intersection of Farquhar Street and Penang Road, a bustling nightlife hub in its own right, the hotel is a grand testimony a headier, more decadent time. No anecdote about Penang’s modern history would be complete without a story about the E&O.
For an intimate glimpse into past, visit the hotel’s classic food and beverage outlets, Sarkies, 1885 and Farquhar Bar. While the former two are well-appointed establishments, the latter, for example, feels like a bar where time stood still, but not antiquated. The ceiling fans spin lazily, while the wooden bar stools bear the happy marks of many lively parties and long nights.
Fatigued from over-eating? Take the afternoon off to rejuvenate at the Panpuri Organic Spa, which offers a range of Thai and Oriental-influenced treatments with ache-relieving therapies. You’ll wake in a stupor, but your knotted muscles would have been properly kneaded and released.
A Heart For Art
With the recent addition of the E&O Gallery in the hotel’s Victory Annexe, a joint venture between E&O and the Think City Sdn. Bhd. , there is a creative space for local artists to showcase Penang’s cultural milestones. These are sensory touch points that enhance the hotel experience for guests and arts patrons alike. With the well-documented appeal of George Town as a hub of diverse artistic talents, the gallery is a fitting crown in the hotel’s modern legacy.
Eastern & Oriental Hotel, 10 Lebuh Farquhar, 10200 Penang, Malaysia. Tel: +604 222 2000 www.eohotelc.com
All photos courtesy of the Eastern & Oriental Hotel.