[Penang, Malaysia] Lunch at Suffolk House

We decided to return to Suffolk House for lunch, after a 5-year hiatus, yesterday. It was done on a whim, actually, as we were driving to the Gurney Drive waterfront for a Japanese meal but, suddenly, having Continental cuisine seemed more attractive. A quick right turn from where we were driving on Scotland Road brought us into the lush gardens and greenery where Suffolk House, an elegant Georgian mansion built in 1805, is located, with the Ayer Itam River meandering lazily by it.

It was a sunny, languid day, and we had to resist the temptation to just sit on one of the garden benches and bask under the sunshine.

But lunch beckons. Suffolk House’s Executive Chef, Mathijs Nanne, is Dutch, but describes his style as more “Australian” due to his formative years spent in Sydney. He 's been the heading the kitchen here since 2016, but the last time I was here, it was still under the previous executive chef who’d offered a more British menu.

Truth be told, I never really liked Suffolk House’s main dining room - it was too vast & dark for my taste. I could imagine how foreboding it was 200 years ago, when it was lit by hanging candelabras of candles.

This was the exact space where Sir Stamford Raffles, back in 1818, met Penang’s Acting Governor, William Edward Phillips, to discuss his plans for the founding of Singapore the following year.

We were the earliest lunch guests, so were shown to the “brightest” spot in the dining room (upon my request), which was next to the sun-lit tea-room next door.

We started off with a couple of cocktails - a Suffolk’s fruit punch and a Strawberry Daiquiri:

Starters were:
Cream of cauliflower soup - it came sprinkled with sourdough “granola”, thyme & a what was described as “spiced oil”. Quite interesting - almost like an East-meets-West mulligatawny soup, but without the curry powder.
I love creamy soups, and this one did just fine.

My lunch companion’s starter was much less successful: the “Rendang” of chicken rillettes, with beetroot crémeux, pickled dates & 5-spiced granola seemed a tad misnamed. There was nothing on the plate resembling rendang, which ought to be a dry-ish, thickened curry.
The tiny clump of meat in the centre of the dish looked more like English potted chicken, flanked by garnishes in various altered states: gel, liquid, semi-solid. The tastes ran in one direction, from sour to sourer to puckered-lips sourest.

The noodle dish that followed was, in my opinion, the most successful dish at lunch today: the so-called White Laksa. Described on the menu as “pumpkin noodles, chicken & prawn, served with ginger bud-dried chili relish” - it turned out to be Sydney-style “Aussie laksa”! Yes, Malacca has the Nyonya laksa, whereas Singapore has our own Katong laksa, whilst Penang has its famous asam laksa, and Borneo its Sarawak laksa.

In Sydney, for the longest time, I’d always gone back to the The Malaya for its own unique brand of laksa: lightly curried, ultra-creamy, and topped with luscious cuts of poached chicken breast-meat. I dreamt of Sydney’s “Malayan laksa” when I was back in Singapore. Surrounded by various types of Asian laksa, I’d yearn for their Aussie counterpart.

The Malaya is located in Sydney’s trendy King Street Wharf dining precinct nowadays but, in its original Haymarket location back in the early 60s, it was a favorite hangout amongst journalists from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) headquarters located right across from it. The journos, covering the on-going Vietnam War, at the time, would converge at The Malaya, which became a de facto staff canteen for them.

The Malaya’s laksa was so popular, it spawned copycats all over Sydney, and became a genre all of its own. I now seek out this kind of “Aussie laksa” in not just in Sydney, but Perth, Melbourne and elsewhere in Australia.

Suffolk House here in Penang just gave me a taste of what I’d regard as a “comfort food”, almost - Aussie-style white laksa! I’ll come back here again for this. Again and again.

The other mains were good, but not spectacular:
The braised lamb shank, with galangal & cardamom, spiced carrots & potato mash, served with a mélange of radishes & shoots sounded fussy on the menu, but turned out to be a competently prepared Anglo-Indian dish which would not look out of place on the Governor’s Table in Calcutta at the turn of the century British India, or on the buffet spread at Raffles Hotel Singapore’s Sunday curry tiffin lunch.
The texture of the lamb shank was perfect: tender, yet retaining that toothsome bite we’d look for in a red meat dish.

The duo of chicken pies with salad, served with tomato & roselle ketchup looked like escapees from a deli or pie shop somewhere. The pies had light, buttery flaky pastry on top, but slightly thinner-than-expected short-crust pastry shells at the bottom, rendering them pretty wobbly. The creamy chicken-meat filling suits the local palate here: sharp, distinct flavors.

Dessert was bread-and-butter pudding, done very, very well indeed: light and custardy.

I’m still thinking of the “White Laksa” right now. :yum:

Suffolk House
250, Ayer Itam Road,10460 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +604-228 3930
Opening hours: 11am to 11pm daily


Ironic that, in seeking out “Continental cuisine,” the laksa was the star of the show, albeit Aussie-style. It looks and sounds divine.

Precisely! :joy:

Back to Suffolk House yesterday, just for its White Laksa. Seems like I could never get enough of it.

My lunch companion who’s quite conservative, taste-wise, chose an item in the menu closest to “what one can find back in New Zealand” - Fish ‘n’ Chips! Oh well.
Anyway, the fish ‘n’ chips was served “Penang-style”, i.e. with tartare sauce on the side, instead of vinegar as would be the case in New Zealand. :joy:

The dessert we had was a revelation, though - it was Chef Mathijs’ signature: 𝘣𝘪𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳-𝘴𝘸𝘦𝘦𝘵 𝘤𝘩𝘰𝘤𝘰𝘭𝘢𝘵𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘯𝘶𝘵𝘮𝘦𝘨 𝘱𝘢𝘷𝘦, 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘤𝘢𝘴𝘩𝘦𝘸𝘯𝘶𝘵 & 𝘤𝘪𝘯𝘯𝘢𝘮𝘰𝘯 𝘤𝘳𝘦𝘮𝘦𝘢𝘶𝘹, 𝘮é𝘭𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘯𝘶𝘵𝘮𝘦𝘨 𝘧𝘳𝘶𝘪𝘵, 𝘸𝘩𝘪𝘵𝘦 𝘤𝘩𝘰𝘤𝘰𝘭𝘢𝘵𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘯𝘶𝘵𝘮𝘦𝘨 𝘴𝘰𝘳𝘣𝘦𝘵.

Chef Mathijs gave the nutmeg the same treatment as he would a quince - he slow-cooked the fruit, thus removing its astringency and making it gentler to the palate.
He then paired nutmeg, prepared four ways: as a preserved fruit, a semi-liquid gel, a soft but firm jelly, and a sorbet, with a chocolate pavé . An absolute stunner.

The dining room was full today - Penangites, like most people anywhere, I suppose, liked to splurge on a fancier meal at the beginning of the month.

We met Chef Mathijs afterwards. He’s Dutch, but has been in Malaysia for the past 13 years - the last 6 with Suffolk House.

Chef Mathijs gave the restaurant’s offerings a more “Continental” feel, and with Asian touches here & there, whereas his predecessor, Gordon Robertson’s cooking was decidedly British.


Coming back to Penang from big-city Singapore is always calming - as one returns to the languid pace of life in placid George Town, with its small-town atmosphere.

It was my first day back in Penang after a week of whirlwind catch-up meetings with various family members and old friends in Singapore, and lunch was at Suffolk House’ newly-refurbished second floor dining room:

There were 3 of us at lunch today, and some of what we had:


Cream of cauliflower soup, with sourdough granola & thyme.

Fish rilettes, with miso emulsion, Malaysian pickles and chrysanthemum dressing.


Kulim chicken ballotine, with roasted butternut squash, stone fruit and rendang spices.

Duo of chicken pie with tomato-roselle ketchup, served with a green salad.

Seared seabass, with Momotaro tomato & asam gazpacho, melange of local greens and ulam foam.


Mango pudding with mixed fruits & berries, and toasted coconut ice-cream

Very relaxed ambience up here for a quiet lunch.