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The Kebaya Restaurant at the Seven Terraces - Georgetown, Penang

The Nyonyas and Babas were affectionately accepted by Queen Victoria as the 'King's Chinese".  The Kebaya reflects on such sentiments by offering the fish mousse (the otak-otak) to be eaten with miniature chicken pies.

Christopher  Ong and partner Karl Steinberg have done an excellent job in restoring several formerly decrepit Victorian styled terrace houses into a  swanky and yet historically beautiful abode for visitors in the Seven Terraces.  Their most noted restoration before Georgetown's Old Quarter was the Galle Fort Hotel in Sri Lanka.

Tads too sweet that evening when we were there - the Tub Tim Krob, a Thai dessert to illustrate pomegranate fruit floating in a sea of milky white.

Cream Brulee with a twist  - with lemon grass, spice and everything nice -  a Thai layer over the French idea. The two main chefs at the Kebaya are Penang born but French trained.

The Kebaya's dining room is straddled along the fronts of the restored Seven Terraces, located behind the iconic Goddess of Mercy Temple in old Georgetown.  Kebaya refers to the esteemed traditional and elegant dress worn by Nyonyas for special occasions - the cut is such that women need a lithe and slim figure to bring out the best in the look of a kebaya.  There is  teak panelled art deco bar on one side of the restaurant.

Dishes, on first glance,  that would have been an everyday menu for the Straits Chinese family in the 19th and 20th centuries in the British Straits Settlements of Malaya and Singapore.  However, sitting down at the table and sampling the food, I realised that this was a new genre of cuisine, although based on historical conventions but all given a fresh attitude and approach.  This may set the menu at the Kebaya apart from its fellow practitioners in commercial Straits Chinese cuisine.

A snack of pai tee - vital are fresh ingredients, textured cuts to enhance the bite and a crunchy though petite holder.  The name for this unusual creation comes from a southern Chinese dialect pronunciation of the English word "party".

A place to read, a corner to hide away and a seat to soak in a Penang island moment.  The adjoining hotel has only 14 guest rooms with reproduction wedding beds and furnished liberally with antique porcelain.

The buffet holding side dishes, water jugs and drinking glasses.

A stringent and tasty stir fry, perfect for vegetarians, with broad beans  and corn slices in a mish-mesh with cashew nuts and capsicum - an idea for a working day's dinner at home as well.

Fujian sweet dumplings (mua chee) or Japanese mochis adapted to a tropical clime - served in sweet coconut milk although still sprinkled by sesame seeds.

A classic Vietnamese favourite - sugarcane sticks skewering deep fried prawns, combining the best of land and sea.

Fish fillet in a wet curry sauce, echoing Thai styles and flavours.

A porcelain egg tray cleverly holds sauces and condiments, essential to the taste buds when delving in the various forms of south east and east Asian food.

I am so glad that Kar Wai, Sue Chee, Henry Quah and Fai Keong took me to the Seven Terraces and dinner at its Kebaya Restaurant - it was an eye opener and excellent illustration of how UNESCO heritage status can help renew and reconnect Penang's rich historical background to a viable present and hopeful future, giving each island resident a vital appreciation, glimpse and reality of Georgetown's multi-cultural past.  Committed funding, a spunky determination and an innovative vision lay behind the developers of such recent architectural and socio-cultural dimensions.  Our group was also introduced to Chris Ong, whom I found affable and with a friendly countenance - and at that moment I realised that history of growth is often made relentlessly not only by politicians, but relentlessly by individuals in the background, quietly making their mark as leaders.

Location:Stewart Lane
Georgetown, Penang Island


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