Eastern & Oriental Hotel, Penang
Penang is a fascinating, culturally diverse destination. This is one of very few places where you can experience Peranakan culture (you have to dine at Seven Terraces). Downtown Penang is vibrant and colourful. There is a host of cheap eateries around Little India as well as a perfect Feng Shui Mansion. There is the art and craft quarter around Armenian Street and you can visit a Christian Church, a Buddhist temple, a Mosque and a Hindu Temple within a few hundred feet of each other. It all seems to sit in harmony together as all the cultures here are united in their quest for trade.
The Eastern and Oriental hotel in Penang is a colonial style hotel reflecting this city's importance to the British Empire. Founded by the Sarkie brothers from Armenia, in fact the hotel is older than Raffles, which was founded by the same family and is of a similar style.
On arrival at the hotel (23:00), we were delighted to be greeted by name and asked to sit whilst enjoying a refreshing welcome drink. Imagine our surprise when the lights go out, the music starts and the staff walk out with a cake singing us a song to wish us a happy anniversary! We've never before been greeted by a song when checking into a hotel!
Jamie Case, the COO of the hotel at the time of our stay, was generous enough to invite us to look around the new wing. This was due to be open 3 months after these photos were taken. The new wing will basically double the capacity of the hotel and is aimed more at the business traveller. Most rooms will be deluxe rooms, which are of a good size and with a balcony, with a few corner suites. These corner suites are the rooms we would choose to stay in - a bit more modern than the original E&O building and large with a wrap-around balcony.
This new wing will include a fully-equipped gym, rooftop swimming pool, treatment rooms and ball rooms. In addition, all guests in this wing have access to a new and very spacious club lounge, offering continental breakfast (full breakfast will be available in Sarkie's) afternoon tea and evening cocktails and canapés (although unfortunately no champagne - too expensive in Malaysia). We would say the Victory Annexe makes the E&O the premier venue in Penang for business travellers and an excellent choice for leisure visitors to this fascinating corner of Asia.
We were lucky enough to be upgraded from a Premier Suite to a Straits suite. At first, we weren't sure if we wanted the upgrade (although at that time of night we wanted to get to bed), as our original reservation had a balcony. However, we liked our suite and were glad of the extra space.
On entering the suite, we were led into the living room (with en-suite powder room). In the corner of the room was a table with a large bowl of fruit and a plate of white chocolate and almond delights. The bedroom was a generous space with a dressing table and plenty of wardrobe storage. Both rooms had full views of the Straits of Malacca. The bathroom (clad in Bianca Carrera marble) was large and housed a claw-foot bath, his-and-hers washbasins and a separate rain shower.
Whether you like the period style is personal. There were though some signs of wear indicating that the planned soft-refurb in this wing is overdue. for example the curtains were sagging and did not close completely and there were some cracked and worn tiles in the shower.
The only meal we took at the E&O was breakfast, which was served in Sarkie's. There was a fantastic choice of dishes, including dim sum, noodles, curries, English breakfast, pancakes, pastries and fresh fruit. There is an open kitchen style egg-station where eggs can be ordered in any style. The "omelette with everything" is very good. There is also a freshly cooked to order Asian specialities bar for noodles etc. The dim sum changed daily. Quality was generally good, although the fresh fruit was not as tasty as in Thailand. Service was generally excellent but a little patchy. e.g. coffee ordered on taking the table never arrived and had to be re-ordered.
Farquhar's Bar is a beautiful Gatsby era polished dark wood cocktail bar offering a range of cocktails and drinks - the special whilst we were there was champagne cocktails at around $15 each - not bad. There is also a fantastic range of eateries within easy distance of the hotel and the GM was relaxed about giving dining advice rather than only promoting his own outlets. We took one of his suggestions and loved it so much we will be reviewing it separately (Seven Terraces).
The E&O is a classic heritage hotel in a great cultural city. Mostly, the service was fantastic, but there were some problems. For example, we asked for a taxi and it took 10 minutes for a member of staff to go to the road to hail one, and a further 10 minutes until we were in the back of the car. Also, some orders at breakfast were not fulfilled. The current heritage side of the hotel is not to our taste - and a soft refit looks overdue - but we look forward to seeing the new wing.