Butterworth Cafe was started by Hainanese chef Cheng Sin Kuan to cater to the RAAF Station Butterworth airforce personnel back then. The airbase was formerly the British RAF (Royal Airforce) Butterworth from 1941 to 1957, before it was transferred over to the Royal Australian Airforce (RAAF) which ran it from 1957 to 1988. The bar at the Butterworth Cafe was a favourite meeting point for RAAF personnel and their family & friends during this period.
Mr Cheng Sin Kuan and his son, Cheng Yeuk Yik, did most of the cooking for nearly 30 years, but they both retired after RAAF closed down in 1988. Today, the cafe is partly-owned by one of Mr Cheng Sin Kuan’s daughters, together with a business partner. It’s still a popular spot among locals nowadays, though much quieter than during its hey-day.
Cream of mushroom soup, with garlic bread - I was given to understand that the cafe serves one of the better versions of this soup, but I get a distinct feeling that the base was out-of-the-tin, courtesy of Campbell’s, but pepped up with additional stock/add-ons.
Shepherd’s pie - this is the second Hainanese place in a row I’d been to which mislabelled a soup served en croute as a “pie”. The first was at Yaw’s Roast & Grill a few days ago where its “chicken pie” was actually cream of chicken soup en croute. Go figure.
I’d thought the waiter served me the wrong dish when it came. Butterworth Cafe’s “shepherd’s pie” is actually a cream of chicken/vegetable soup en croute. An old mistake that was never fixed, and became a Hainanese-Western dish of sorts.
Chicken Maryland - the version here bore no relation to the one found in Maryland, i.e. pan-fried chicken in creamy sauce. Rather, the version here closely resembled the ones commonly found in Australia, i.e. breaded, deep-fried chicken and bananas. The renditon here also included pan-fried ham, French fries and a coleslaw.
Chicken Cordon Bleu - another old retro favourite at Hainanese-owned “Western” eateries here in Singapore or Malaysia.
Spaghetti Bolognese - an Italian favourite, but the Hainanese version will see the pasta boiled till soft, as Asians traditionally liked their noodles soft and may regard “al dente” as being undercooked.
Banana split - this was an old childhood favourite of mine, but almost extinct these days, so I simply couldn’t resist ordering it when I saw it listed on the menu. A halved banana, served with Neapolitain ice-cream (one scoop each of strawberry, vanilla and chocolate flavours), topped with out-of-can whipped cream, “hundreds and thousands” (the Aussie term for colourful sugar sprinkles) and glacé cherries.
The food offerings at this little cafe were pretty simple and basic. The whole place seemed tired, like a place which had seen its better days. Every now and then, retired old servicemen from the British or Australan air force might drop in, just to look-see and relive their memories. But most of the time, local Butterworth folks form the main clientele.
2, Lorong Zamrud, Taman Zamrud
Province Wellesley, Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +6012-481 8812
Operating hours: 6pm-11pm Tue-Sun. Closed on Mondays.