[Penang, Malaysia] Modern-Nyonya lunch at Nyonya Palazzo, Church Street

I’m gobsmacked by the fact that, even in the midst of a pandemic, with its rolling lockdowns and on-again, off-again bans on dining out, some brave souls are still willing to risk it all and open a new eatery in the heart of town!

George Town’s latest cafe is Nyonya Palazzo, located within the grounds of the Pinang Peranakan Mansion on Church Street, which just opened its doors last Saturday, 6 March.

And like all things Baba-Nyonya or Peranakan, it’s over-the-top ornate and colourful.

Nyonya Palazzo is part-cafe, part-boudoir, where modern takes on Nyonya savoury snacks and sweets are served in a dining room lined with beautifully embroidered Nyonya kebayas and handbags. We found out that Li Er, the popular Nyonya bakery-cafe in Pulau Tikus, is one of the partners in this new business venture. The place seemed very popular with the ladies-who-lunch crowd.

We ordered a selection of their savoury items on the menu - Nyonya snack foods rather than actual dishes one finds in a proper Nyonya restaurant.

  1. Roti jala with chicken-and-potato curry and Nasi kunyit with chicken-and-potato curry - both the lacy crepes (“roti jala”) and steamed sticky rice (“nasi kunyit”) were good, though the accompanying chicken-and-potato curries were overly-salty.

  1. Cold laksa spaghetti - this was very tasty, like the classic Nyonya cold noodle salad, “kerabu beehoon”, except that pasta instead of rice vermicelli was used here. The flavours were milder than traditional “kerabu beehoon” - lesser sambal belacan (chilis-fermented shrimp paste) used. Vietnamese coriander leaves and torch ginger (“bunga kantan”) were used very sparingly as well.

  2. *Mee koo with kaya and butter - these were pretty good: very soft, fluffy bread, tinted pink traditionally as the original use of “mee koo” was as offerings to the gods. We liked the “kaya” egg custard spread here: rich with coconut milk, eggy and with a fragrant pandan aroma.

Nyonya Palazzo’s forte, with Li Er as its partner, has to be its selection of Nyonya kuehs (or sweet puddings).

  1. Kueh lapis - steamed 9-layered rice pudding, scented with rose syrup.

  2. Kueh Seri Muka - steamed glutinous rice, topped with egg custard.

  3. Kueh Kacang Merah - steamed rice-flour pudding enriched with sweetened red beans.

  4. Pulot Inti (left) and Pulot Tai Tai (right) - these were steamed glutinous rice topped with grated coconut-and-palm sugar, and with egg custard spread respectively.

  5. Kueh Talam - steamed rice-flour pudding, topped with coconut creme custard.

The “kuehs” (steamed sweet puddings) are all “Li Er”-standard, i.e. among the best in George Town, although the prices here are high, about quadruple the price one would pay in Li Er’s casual cafe in Pulau Tikus, albeit portions here are slightly larger.

As with all new eating places in Penang, the place was packed to the gills over the last weekend when it first opened. Today (Monday) was quieter, as it’s also a working day.

Nyonya Palazzo at the Pinang Peranakan Mansion
29 Church Street, 10200 Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +60 12-657 1068
Opening hours: 9am to 5pm daily, except Tue 9am to 5pm