Travel and Lifestyle Journalist

Luxury with a Dash of Nostalgia

Originally published in SCMP, August 2013


Luxury with a Dash of Nostalgia

Originally published in the South China Morning Post, 29 Aug 2013.

Penang’s capital, George Town, was awarded Unesco World Heritage Site status in 2008, mostly for the island’s preservation of its historical architecture. Soon enough, enterprising businessmen entered the scene, converting many of its crumbling buildings into luxurious hotels that embraced the island’s mix of colonial and Chinese culture.

One of the most impressive additions is Seven Terraces. Karl Steinberg, an Australian, and Christopher Ong, a Malaysian, opened the hotel late last year. The duo is also the team behind the Galle Fort Hotel in Sri Lanka.

The George Town property was formed by converting seven terraced houses into one complex. The challenge was to stand out from luxury crowd in the area, including the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, which was founded more than 120 years ago by the Raffles’ Sarkies brothers.

Steinberg and Ong achieved some differentiation by making Seven Terraces a highly exclusive spot. The hotel provides an unrivalled feeling of privacy, considering its location in the middle of the city, within walking distance of all the major sights.

Most of the areas in the comfortably sized complex are for residents only. But the public can still enjoy cocktails at the old-fashioned Baba bar or dine in the upscale restaurant, Kebaya.

The restaurant serves French fare with a Malaysian-Chinese bent. Dinner highlights included the pork mantou (steamed bun) and the hong bak lamb. The former is a delicious contemporary take on the classic street favourite, with tender pieces of pork and sautéed vegetables wrapped sandwich-like in a soft, moist bun. The latter is prime New Zealand lamb shank cooked for two days sous-vide to intensify its flavour and served with a spicy korma sauce.

The sense of exclusivity extends to the hotel’s 18 private suites, which are designed to feel like a home from home, with a touch of nostalgia. The finest of these are The Grand Apartments, two spacious suites that even impress when separated.

When they are connected together, the suites have the atmosphere of a luxurious 19th-century residence, with courtyards where you can enjoy afternoon tea, private decks overlooking the city, and smaller bathrooms for “the help”.

Those of us who can’t afford that luxury can experience similar comforts in a standard suite. Most of these are separated into living rooms and bedrooms across two floors. They are spacious enough for guests to spend the majority of their holidays lounging on a private daybed with a good book. The team at Seven Terraces has left nothing to chance, not even the bathrooms. Every one of them is laid out as if it was designed 100 years ago.

The rooms are large rectangles without any partitions. When the early morning sun shines over the heritage houses and in through the bathroom’s tinted windows, you could swear that you had stepped back in time.