One of the most iconic experiences you can enjoy in Penang is to have afternoon tea at the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, one of the city’s grandest properties. But afternoon tea seems so very un-Malaysian and so very, very British? Let’s chalk its introduction to Malaysia down to colonialism, which dare I say, is another very British activity from years passed. I won’t get into the pros and cons of that so let’s just all play nice and agree on the merits of tea and cake, with a couple of sandwiches and scones in between. Any afternoon spent enjoying those things in beautiful surroundings is an afternoon well spent in my view.
The Eastern & Oriental Hotel has a rich history dating back to 1884 when it was first established as The Eastern. A year later, due to increasing demand and popularity, The Oriental was opened on the neighbouring site, and combined, they became the largest hotel in Penang. Unsurprisingly, there have been highs and lows throughout the years but now, the hotel has been completely restored to its former glory and a spot of afternoon tea in the elegant dining room of 1885 is a must for anyone visiting Penang.
After a few frenetic days exploring the city, this was much needed calm and luxury. We were immediately set at ease by the plush decor, our beautifully laid out table, and the accommodating service; all essentials when one is to properly ‘take tea’ I think. Their tea selection is good and aptly accommodated our spectrum of tastes from light and floral, to something more robust. Once chosen, they arrived swiftly, alongside our traditional English Afternoon Tea in the obligatory stands and pretty plates!
I’m not one to turn my nose down at a classic cucumber or egg sandwich, but I really liked how the Eastern & Oriental put their own little twists to these. The cucumber sandwich came with a smattering of tomatoes and cream cheese on a marble toast bread, while their creamy egg sandwich served in a small buttery croissant, a simple indulgence, was one of my favourites. The smoked beef brisket with mustard and gherkin, and the smoked salmon, were both encased in the the lightest of bread rolls, I hardly even noticed the obvious carb-loading we were engaging in.
On the top tier, a teeny vol au vent filled with marinated chicken, celery and horseradish cream had us all worried… it looked a little dry, but thankfully our fears were unfounded. The creamy chicken mixture did an excellent job of bringing all the elements together. And finally, a tuna sandwich with a facelift. The usual squishy grey mess (which I do confess to having a soft spot for) was nowhere to be seen, but in its place was an elegant sandwich collared with a slice of cucumber and topped with olive and tomato.
I’m an afternoon tea purist so scones are mandatory. Preferably with both plain and fruit, but I’ll be happy with whichever as long as they don’t self-destruct into a crumbly mess at the slightest of touches or on the contrary, pose a risk to my teeth or jaw. I learnt early on in food technology class that scones are one of the most deceptive of baked goods; seemingly simple ingredients and method, but mastering that perfect scone can be tricky. These passed the test: a thin crust, the right balance between cakey and crumbly, sweet and buttery in taste.
My sweet tooth was aching with joy at the sight of the vibrant cakes from the moment they were placed on the table. Let’s be frank, these were not as refined and delicate as some of the best London afternoon tea offerings, but they would still delight any avid afternoon tea fan. Deciding which to start with was a tricky affair – would it be the mini fruit tart filled with mango, strawberry and dragonfruit, or perhaps the strawberry macaron? The truth is, it didn’t matter because I ate them all – the tart, the macaron, the unctuous brownie, the lemon cheesecake, the panna cotta – no sugary bite was left behind!
We loved every bit of the experience at the Eastern & Oriental. It stayed true to the traditional British roots of ‘taking tea’ with a delectable selection of savoury and sweet bites, perfectly buttery scones, and good quality tea to wash it all down with. The service and atmosphere was also pretty faultless – our waiter was on hand when we needed him, but otherwise we were left to enjoy ourselves without being rushed!
When we were finally done, we had a snoop round the beautiful lobby and hallways and found ourselves enjoying a cheeky drink at the bar by the pool. From our table amongst the foliage, there were views of the sea, a gentle breeze, and that welcoming sense of serenity that comes from such secluded spots. It was the perfect way to end our afternoon before heading back into the hustle and heat of the Penang streets!
Where did you have your favourite afternoon tea experience?
Thanks to The Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Penang for letting us escape the heat and treating us to a fantastic afternoon tea experience! Also… special mention to my sister Lennie for some of the snaps in this post… all the good ones are probably hers!