[Penang] Nyonya lunch at Victoria Coffee House - CLOSED

Victoria Coffee House, newly-opened only since last Nov 2017, is a dining gem which we stumbled upon accidentally whilst photographing the 110-year-old Boon San Tong Khoo Kongsi clanhouse on Victoria Street.

The coffee house was a result of visitors to the clanhouse asking for a place where they can rest and have some light refreshments. So, it started off offering coffee and light snacks. However, customers began to ask for more substantial food options, and especially Penang-Nyonya food - unique to Penang and its surrounding areas.

It resulted in Victoria Coffee House experimenting with a Nyonya brunch/lunch offering (as the eatery is opened only from 9am to 5pm Monday to Saturday). Due to its kitchen size limitation, and also its constraints (only electric cooking hobs, no open fire allowed due to its location within a historic precinct with high fire hazard concerns), only a limited amount of menu items are available each day. The cooking is done by a Khoo Nyonya clanswoman, and has a homely taste as she only prepares limited quantities of food each day.

What we tried today at lunch:

  1. Nyonya Kari Kay - this Penang-Nyonya chicken-and-potato curry is one of the tastier versions we’d had in George Town these days, and has the requisite spice-rich Nyonya flavours.

  1. Jiu Hu Char - a very popular Penang-Nyonya stir-fried cuttlefish-flavoured jicama dish, consisting of finely-julienned jicama (Asian turnip), dried cuttlefish (rehydrated and finely-julienned), carrots, shitake mushrooms, pork and shrimps. This is served on a bed of Chinese lettuce. Whilst the dish here lacked the flourish in plating which other Nyonya spots in town offer (e.g. Nyonya Breeze Desire at Straits Quay, or Ivy’s Nyonya Kitchen in Chow Thye Road), it more than makes up for it with its fresh, authentic home-cooked flavours.

  1. Lor Bak - this is the Penang term used for the Fujianese/Hokkien wu xiang rou (五香肉卷). Essentially the same dish as what one gets in any Fujianese city, whether in Xiamen (China) or Taipei (Taiwan). Even in Singapore and elsewhere in Malaysia, it’s called wu xiang rou (in Mandarin) or ngoh heong bak in Fujianese/Hokkien. But if you call it lor bak, everyone knows you are from Penang - and, oh boy, do they make it so very well in Penang: tastier than any version I had in all my life in Singapore.
    Victoria Coffee House’s rendition is every bit as faithful to its Penang origins - a subtle balance of flavours: a touch of 5-spice in the pork marinade, a lingering sweetness from the additon of sugar, the salty tang from the crisp Chinese yuba wrapper, and the roughly-chopped lean pork texture (as opposed to minced pork used in less-authentic renditions in some places).
    My only wish was for Victoria Coffee House to serve it sizzling hot, instead of at room temperature, as it is wont to do for many of its dishes served here.

  1. Sambal Udang - the version here is more of the intensely-flavoured, long-cooked sambal udang condiment, used as a side-dish in Singapore or Malacca-style Nyonya cooking, instead of the fresh shrimps in tamarind-chili paste dish I had in mind. It’s pretty salty, as I think salted dried shrimps (hae bee) are also used in the mix to add a depth of flavour and aroma to the dish. I only wished they had slivers of fresh cucumbers served with the sambal udang, the way we served it at home.

  1. Kerabu Kay Kah - this is one of the typical Penang-Nyonya dishes which are influenced by Thai/Siamese cuisine. Poached & deboned chicken feet marinated in lime juice, sambal belachan (fermented shrimp paste) and raw onions. The rendition here seemed concatenated, compared to my family’s version which also includes thick coconut creme, and toasted grated coconut (kerisik). Victoria Coffee House’ rendition has the requisite tangy flavour, but not enough sambal belachan piquancy.

  1. Bunga Telang Steamed Rice - steamed rice, tinted blue using bunga telang (natural dye from the violet-coloured butterfly pea flower). The practice of tinting rice blue is not common in Penang (previously, only Kelantan-Malays do that for their nasi kerabu rice), but the trend seemed to have caught on in the recent few years, just as in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and other parts of Malaysia. It’s more for the striking Ming blue colour, as bunga telang does not impart any scent or flavour.

We had some interesting beverage options:

  1. Chilled white nutmeg juice - a quintesentially Penang drink, where nutmeg is grown in abundance historically. Malaysians and Singaporeans come to Penang to buy its nutmeg products. The chilled nutmeg juice was sweetened and very refreshing.

  1. Chilled green tea with Gula Melaka and chendol noodles - very pleasant concoction, unique to Victoria Coffee House, part-dessert and part-chilled drink.

  1. Chilled home-brewed coffee - my favourite beverage at the moment: thick, creamy, and with enough caffeine punch to send me up the wall. Victoria Coffee House roasts their own coffee beans, using their own recipe to obtain an aromatic, buttery flavour which they freshly-ground on premises and brew. Lovely.

  1. Home-brewed coffee - the rendition here is as good as any one can find in George Town’s traditional Hainanese kopitiams. Whilst not in the same league as those in Ipoh, where one finds some of the best coffee in the world, the one here is pretty good and hold its own. Served thick and foamy, slightly sweet in flavour.

Overall, a very pleasant, cool (air-conditioned) lunch spot - essential to get out of the hot, humid Penang weather at the moment. People in there are very pleasant, and switch from bantering in Hokkien/Fujianese, Mandarin and English effortlessly.

Victoria Coffee House
Boon San Tong Khoo Kongsi
117-A Victoria Street
10300 George Town, Penang
Tel: +6017-4748052, +6012-4565502, +6012-4935593
Opening hour: 9am-5pm Mon-Sat, closed on Sundays.


I have issues with places that do this. Or at least, places I’m trying for the first time. You never really know whether it’s intended or just been sat around. My worst example was a seafood place in Spain. It was a mixed seafood dish - some bits were properly hot, some room temperature, some lukewarm. I should have asked about it but it was one of those times where every server seems to disappear, presumably either to watch the football penalty shoot-out or for a cigarette break.

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I remember one time when I was in Hamburg during the 2014 FIFA World Cup football finals. For once, it was possible to get into the hyper-popular Café Paris, normally teeming with diners, but absolutely empty that evening - everyone seemed to be in a pub or at home watching Germany play Portugal (it was 16th June, and Portugal eventually got hammered 0-4 then). I distinctly got the impression that every waiter was at the back of the restaurant watching the match unfold “live” on TV. The only person serving me was a Ghanaian waiter, cool as can be, and perhaps the most detached person from the match in the restaurant. :smiley:

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Back to Victoria Coffee House for lunch. Tried their Curry Kapitan and Otak-otak this time, but both were not as strongly-spiced as I’d have preferred, and tasted quite bland-ish. Otak-otak was also not wrapped in banana-leaf before steaming, which was what I’d have preferred.

Looks like your second meal was less successful, do you still recommend the place?

Definitely need to go back again & see how consistent (or inconsistent) the place can be. Cook’s day off?

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An update - Victoria Coffee House has folded after 1.5 years. In its place is Waffle & Co. - I’d not tried it, but will report back here once I’d done so.