Posted on Monday, 27th July 2015
EASTERN & ORIENTAL HOTEL, PENANG
Penang is known as both the foodie capital of Malaysia and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So it was with much anticipation that we visited this vibrant island, to both sample its food diversity and relish its many cultural and historical offerings. In Penang we first stayed at the luxurious Eastern & Oriental Hotel. Located in Penang’s old town, George Town, the hotel is minutes away from Penang’s food and shopping strips, the financial district and all of Penang’s main cultural destinations.
In its early days when Penang served as an outpost of the East India Company, the island drew in a variety of travellers ranging from merchants to missionaries that made the arduous route from London to Singapore, a journey that generally took about four long months. But it was not until the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 that travel to Asia took on another dimension, with writers, actors and the rich from Europe and America all making the trip to Asia to see what the oriental world had to offer. And with this new breed of affluent travellers, the demand for luxury hotels flourished.
And so The Eastern & Oriental Hotel was founded in 1885 by the Sarkies Brothers, the same brothers who were also instrumental in the construction of the famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore. The Eastern & Oriental is a tale of two halves. There are two wings to the hotel, first, the traditional Heritage Wing, and the second, the ultra modern Victory Annex. The Heritage Wing evokes a sense of tradition, one that is filled with old, colonial charm. The Heritage Wing maintains many of its original features such as the spacious domed lobby and a grand marbled floor corridor. It’s where many old time traditions have been kept such as the doorman in khaki shorts, knee-high socks and pith-helmets, and the gentlemen at reception with their bow ties and slicked back hair. The Eastern & Oriental Hotel is a popular spot for weddings, and the Heritage Wing truly makes for the perfect backdrop for that all-important wedding photo.
We stayed in the Heritage Wing, in a lovely deluxe room that was comfortably spacious and modern, and which had many traditional touches such as old-fashioned light switches and antique furnishings. Our room looked out onto one of the hotel pools which was set within a beautiful manicured garden. Facing the sea, this pool area provided a generous space for hotel guests to comfortably relax and unwind and to recharge their souls. We both loved this pool area simply because it had such a quintessential old-world charm to it.
In contrast, the Victory Annex was ultra modern, super slick and every bit as luxurious. On the sixth floor of the Victory Annex was a well-equipped gym, an organic spa and an incredible infinity pool that looked out onto the sea. Also on the sixth floor was Planters Lounge, a lounge area for the exclusive use of guests who stay in the Victory Annexe. Here at Planters, guests can tap into complimentary breakfasts, tea and coffee during the day, and evening cocktails with canapés.
There are a range of dining options at The Eastern & Oriental Hotel including Sarkies Corner, a colonial coffee shop that serves light meals, cakes and coffees. 1885 is the hotel’s award winning fine dining outlet which was recognised by Malaysian Tatler as one of Malaysia’s best restaurants in 2012. Classically romantic in design, 1885 offers a contemporary brand of haute cuisine. It also has a charming afternoon tea option that includes a collection of sandwiches and scones and pastries. We tried the champagne afternoon tea which we thoroughly enjoyed it. Beautifully presented, the sandwiches were tasty and the pastries were well-made.
Sarkies is the Eastern & Oriental’s main dining outlet and has a lovely al fresco dining area. This is where we had our buffet breakfasts which included a plentiful selection of Malay, Indian and Western options. I particularly enjoyed the noodle bar where you could order Char Keoy Tow cooked to order. It also had a fresh juice bar, but this got crazy busy and often resulted in long queues. The first day I waited in line, but the second day I discovered that the trick with the juice bar was to order with the waiter who’ll do all the waiting for you! The breakfast buffet had everything you could possible want in a 5-star hotel breakfast. The only drawback was that it was extremely busy and quite crowded, and at times it was difficult to attract the attention of the waiters.
Sarkies also has a dinner buffet that is famous amongst the locals for being both the best quality and the most generous buffet in Penang. We tried the buffet one evening and it truly was incredibly generous. The choice was astounding, from a selection of cooked Chinese, Malay and Indian dishes; to a whole roast lamb; to a seafood bar with a variety of sushi; to a grill section where you could order different meats and seafood to be cooked to order. There was also a noodle station, a pasta station, a Chinese roast duck station and a selection of Asian and Western salads. The dessert range was plentiful too. There were cheeses, a variety of Asian and Western desserts, as well as an ais kacang station, an ice cream trolley and a chocolate fountain. It was impossible to try everything, but overall I thought the buffet to be hugely fresh and great value. For me the highlight was the fresh salmon sashimi and some of the desserts which were really tasty. Again the only drawback was just how busy the restaurant became during dinner.
I adored the old-world elegance of the Heritage Wing of the Eastern & Oriental Hotel. My stay here invoked a sense of history and tradition that was quintessentially charming. That said I would just as happily stay in the Victory Wing of the hotel on a future visit given its stylish sophistication. On the food front, the hotel did an accomplished job and I would gladly eat at the dinner buffet at Sarkies again. However, where the hotel could do better is in the area of service. On the whole this was friendly, but it could have been slicker and smarter. And on a few occasions the service felt stretched, with not enough waiters at breakfast and dinner for example. Nevertheless, the Eastern & Oriental Hotel is a beautiful property and embodies the spirit and essence of the lovely island of Penang.
1. The old world charm of the Heritage Wing.
2. The slick modernity of the Victory Annexe.
3. The poolside area at the Heritage Wing.
4. The variety of the buffet dinner at Sarkies.
1. The service could have been slicker and stronger.
Overall hotel rating: 4/5
Overall food rating: 3.75/5
Overall Service rating: 3.5/5
Rooms start from 960MYR++ (about £163++).
The buffet dinner is 128.30MYR (£21.70), includes taxes and service but excludes drinks.