Eastern & Oriental Hotel, Penang, Malaysia

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.

Eastern & Oriental Hotel - London Food Blog

Eastern & Oriental Hotel

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Skip Garden by Global Generation

Skip Garden

Skip Garden

The Skip Garden was established in 2009 by Global Generation, a charity launched in 2004 whose core purpose is to inspire and empower young people to develop a living relationship with the natural world and to take a lead in generating positive environmental and social change in their communities.

The Skip Garden is the base for the Global Generation’s youth work programme and is located within the King’s Cross development site. It is a portable urban garden where a variety of organic vegetables, herbs and fruits are grown out of both skips and polytunnels made out of reused materials from the surrounding construction site. It is at the garden that the young people are trained in leadership and accredited vocational business and horticultural programmes, whether it be working on the garden or building furniture.

One of the skips in the Skip Garden

One of the skips in the Skip Garden

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Amico Bio

It’s not often that I blog about vegetarian restaurants. But the concept of Amico Bio is rather unique and seemed worthy of a visit. Not only is Amico Bio vegetarian, it is an Organic Italian vegetarian restaurant. Head Chef and owner is Pasquale Amico who trained with the likes of Gary Rhodes, Bruno Loubet and Giorgio Locatelli. Prior to Amico Bio he also owned the successful Via Condotti on Conduit Street which held a Bib Gourmand.

There are two Amico Bio outlets in London – one in Holborn and one in Barbican. There’s also a third restaurant in Naples, Italy. The menu contains a range of starters, antipastas, pastas and main courses with vegan options and gluten free pasta. Amico Bio uses ingredients from Pasquale’s family farm in Capua, Italy, and given the efforts to bring the produce over from Italy (organic no less), its surprising how reasonably priced the menu is. Amico Bio sings of heartfelt, green, healthy cooking.

We started with a lovely roulade of potato and mushrooms with aubergine caponata and roast pepper sauce (£7) which was nicely done. The mushrooms were delicious with an excellent texture and well placed alongside the potatoes. The caponata and pepper sauce worked well with the roulade.

Amico Bio - Roulade of potato & mushrooms

Roulade of potato & mushrooms

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Ottolenghi – Islington

I can never resist the patisserie delights at Ottolenghi. Whenever I walk past the branch on Ledbury Road in Notting Hill, I invariably end up gazing longingly through its shop window at all the treats on display and walking away with one a few minutes later. But Ottolenghi does much more than the sweet stuff. There is also a savoury selection at the display counter, and at the Islington branch (there are also branches in Kensington and Belgravia), there is a laid-back communal dining area, furnished in white, where you can choose from a menu (Islington is the only branch to offer this serviced dine-in area).

This menu is updated daily, and is split between dishes from the display counter and those ‘from the kitchen’. The dishes are all starter-sized, and so Ottolenghi recommends that you order three dishes per person. There were 15 choices on the menu on the evening of our visit (the menu is updated daily), and as there were 5 of us, K came up with the excellent idea of ordering all 15 dishes for us to share. I love to share! And I love to taste lots of little things, so this was ideal for me.

Left in a clockwise direction: tuna, pear, pumpkin, beef, aubergine

Left in a clockwise direction: tuna, pear, pumpkin, beef, aubergine

We started with the dishes from the counter selection. A line-caught seared tuna (£8.80) wrapped in nori (seaweed) and panko (breadcrumbs) was resoundingly fresh, and given a burst of life from the gentle heat of an accompanying wasabi cream.

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Vanilla Black

Bubble and squeak cakes

Bubble and squeak cakes

I am not a vegetarian (obviously), but it wouldn’t do not to try a vegetarian restaurant now and then. I have many vegetarian friends and they always lament the lack of good vegetarian restaurants around the shop. Moreover, they lament the lack of vegetarian options in most restaurants, which usually limit their choices to pasta or risotto.

So Vanilla Black, which has been on my hit list for a while now, seemed to be an interesting choice for my first veggie write-up. All the more so when you consider that their approach to vegetarian food, as explained on their website, “is not that of vegetarian in the traditional sense, but rather a passion for meeting the challenge of cooking without meat or fish”. So I went along to Vanilla Black with some veggie and non-veggie friends to test how well they would meet this challenge.

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Angela Hartnett’s Murano Restaurant

Polenta with parmesan and poached farm eggs

Polenta with parmesan and poached farm eggs

A girl has to eat, and when a girl has to eat, a girl has to eat well. A fellow girlie friend happened to have the day off from work, and so I had to think of somewhere nice for our girlie lunch. I cranked through the inner recesses of the restaurant database in my brain. Hmm, perhaps something a little bit upmarket. Yes, a Michelin-starred restaurant would be a nice touch. After all good food is what one would expect a girl to eat. Mayfair came to mind, perhaps somewhere near the Elemis spa in case we feel like a bit of pampering afterwards. Aah, what about Angela Hartnett’s recently crowned one-star Michelin restaurant Murano I thought? One-star Michelin, Mayfair, and with Angela Hartnett, one of the most successful female chefs in the country at the helm, it seemed only just to support her restaurant as a nod to girl power.

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Ketut’s Place: The Lonely Planet Effect

Throughout the years, I have always used the Lonely Planet travel guides. My loyalty had developed in part probably due to my familiarity with the format of the books and knowing exactly where to locate the information I needed. Not having used other guides, I can’t compare Lonely Planet to any others, but for my purposes they have served me just fine.

However there is this phenomenon I called the Lonely Planet effect. Whenever a restaurant (or a hotel) scores an entry in Lonely Planet, it obviously increases the exposure of that particular institution, and as a consequence usually increases tourist traffic. All things being equal, this sometimes has the effect of pushing prices up and possibly altering the dynamics of both the service offered and some of the original reasons the restaurant (or hotel) may have warranted a mention in Lonely Planet in the first place.

Take for instance Ketut’s Place, mentioned in Lonely Planet for its Balinese buffet which is served on select nights of the week. Last night being one of those nights, I went along to take a look at Ketut’s Place. Ketut, the owner, greeted all the diners with a speech which was wonderfully welcoming and informative. He talked of the typical layout of a Balinese home and of certain Balinese customs. Ketut’s command of English was excellent, and as he was a wonderfully charismatic and charming man one would be hard pushed not to have felt welcomed by him. However, in the end I declined to take the buffet.

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Rumah Roda Homestay & Restaurant: Ubud, Bali

There have been many husband and wife teams from years past that have worked well together. One couple that comes to mind was Marie and Pierre Curie. Although not Nobel winning, perhaps another couple might be that of Darta and Suti, the friendly husband and wife team who have turned their family home at 24 Jalan Kajeng (Kajeng Street) into both a guesthouse and a restaurant known as Rumah Roda.

Darta and Suti

Darta and Suti

Suti – wife, mother and chef – began her cooking career elsewhere. For about eight years she was the cook at Han Snel’s Bungalows, a slightly more upmarket tourist accommodation spot with individual bungalows in Ubud, Bali. After leaving Han Snel’s, Suti turned her attention to cooking a limited range menu for tourists at the family home in Ubud, Rumah Roda, where guests would sit at the one table for four placed right next to the family kitchen. About three years ago, the family decided to expand, and the current restaurant was built as an open air dining area overlooking the street, right above the family bedrooms. The extension provides a much larger seating capacity, about 20-25 rather than just four, and gives customers the option of either sitting at dining tables or on the elevated cushioned platforms.

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