10-month-old Winn’s Cafe at Irrawadi Road is seriously pitching itself as a candidate for Best Nyonya Restaurant in Penang. In fact, many locals are looking for good alternatives to old stalwarts like Nyonya Breeze Desire (Straits Quay) and Perut Rumah (Jalan Bawasah) after standards of cooking deteriorated at both places. Finding good Nyonya food commercially in Penang has always been challenging - but that’s where Winn’s Cafe is a breath of fresh air, with its meticulously prepared and beautifully-plated dishes.
Irrawadi Road is lined with repurposed residential bungalows-turned-restaurants, and Winn’s Cafe is one of them:
The eatery offers both a la carte, as well as set meals, where a diner picks a main course, and it’ll be served with an appetiser platter consisting of tasting portions of 3-4 appetisers. We ordered to sets: one with Chicken Curry Kapitan, a Penang-Nyonya specialty dry curry made from fresh turmeric, galangal, oninos, garlic, lemongrass, chillis, and flavoured with tamarind juice and coconut milk. It’s served garnished with finely-julienned kaffir lime leaves.
The second set came with steamed Nyonya-style fish, where the spice mix is a light, almost fruity mix of fresh turmeric, ginger, onions and chillis. It’s pretty sourish-sweet.
The appetiser platters were colourful affairs, and consisted of a variety of well-known Penang-Nyonya food items:
Lor bak, or 5-spiced meat rolls:
Cucur udang - Malay-style prawn fritters:
Otak-otak - a spicy, custardy fish mousse.
Jiu Hu Char, or shredded jicama cooked with dried cuttlefish. Winn’s Cafe does not use pork for this dish, so the signature porky flavours of this dish was missing.
Nyonya achar - vegetable pickles.
Winn’s Cafe uses the local “bunga telang” flower for garnishing and also to tint its steamed rice blue.
One popular a la carte one-dish meal is the Nasi Ulam, or herbal rice - basically steamed rice flavoured with a variety of finely-chopped herbs and vegetables, toasted grated coconut, dried shrimps, and “sambal belacan” (chilli paste with fermented shrimp). It comes garnished with finely-julienned “daun kadok” (aromatic wild betel leaves) and pink torch ginger.
6) “Bee koh moi”, which is the Penang term for “pulut hitam”, as the same dessert is known in other parts of Malaysia and also Singapore. This is black glutinous rice cooked with sugar and coconut milk. The Penang version also incorporates dried longan. It is served with additional lashings of fresh coconut milk.
- Sago with Gula Melaka. This is a classic Nyonya dessert which is also common in Singapore and Malacca, two other cities with a strong Nyonya tradition. Winn’s Cafe serves a terrific version - very fresh coconut milk, and high quality Gula Melaka syrup, with a deeply aromatic, smoky fragrance which one cannot find in lower grade Gula Melaka (palm sugar). It was better than any version I’d ever had in Singapore or Malacca.
Overall, Winn’s Cafe provides a pretty comprehensive menu which should please most of the finicky diners in Penang. It’s not perfect, but it gives a better account of itself than other Nyonya restaurants in town currently.
2, Jalan Irrawaddi, 10050 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +60 19-451 1631
Operating hours: 10am-3pm, 6pm-10pm, Monday-Saturday (Closed on Sundays).