hotel experiences / The Seven Terraces, Penang
A tour and Nyonya lunch at the Seven Terraces Heritage Hotel, Penang, Malaysia.
As a result of literally, a combination of seven Anglo-Chinese terraces, its facade stretches the entire length of the enclave behind the temple of the Goddess of Mercy - an unusual feature in contrast to its surrounding, extremely narrow shophouses. You may walk along its colourful tiled walkway (a.k.a the five-foot way), beside the old comb doors and windows seen on every other shophouse in heritage Georgetown, indifferent and dismissive to yet another hotel (albeit a REALLY well-known one). Oh, but its facade hardly tells the tale!
Today, come along, step inside one of its many glass doors, and delve into a modern re-enactment of a magnificent Peranakan Chinese courtyard house filled to the brim with history, stories, and culture.
And it all started…
With a traffic jam.
It was just another morning, another rush hour as we braved the traffic on the Penang bridge: annoyed sighs, bowed heads, honks, and impressive zig-zagging driving techniques.
At last, we arrived at the quiet streets of the hotel’s back entrance. The staff smiled kindly at our hassled expressions as they led us through to an airy lounge area. Light chatter and chirping birds filled the air. A ceiling fan swirled lazily, as the guests enjoyed refreshments in the cosy lounge, dappled with sunlight. While we, completely sweaty, rushed in with quick steps, joined them in this respite from the outside world. Someone offered me an (extremely delicious) iced nutmeg juice which I downed too quickly grateful sipped on.
This tour was once again, organised by Michelle Grimsley: the organiser of the most fascinating cultural, heritage, artsy events in Penang, including the Super Stylish Shopping markets, and the Swimming Upstream with Jonathan Yun Fashion Show. This tour was led by the owner of the hotel himself: Chris Ong. A Penangite, an international hotelier, an artist, and an antique collector with a huge passion for the Peranakan heritage and culture.
/ A little history of the hotel /
Before Chris Ong purchased these seven terrace houses and founded the hotel, this area was avoided by the locals. The terraces were dilapidated and vandalised. Drug addicts took refuge in them and people literally came in to saw off timber beams to sell. It was a wonder that the building still stood with most of its skeleton sawed off! Even after purchasing the property, the owner had to barricade the area to prevent more people sawing off more parts, so that the restoration works could actually happen.
Ok, this place in one word? A museum. Literally.
It is like a Penang version of Sir John Soane's museum!
The whole hotel is furnished with Chris Ong's personal collection of antiques sourced from numerous places and auctions. It is amazing - how one man can accumulate so many antiques!
/ Architecture & Interiors /
Georgetown's heritage shophouses were first introduced by Chinese immigrants almost 200 years ago. It was adapted to the tropical climate and building constraints- hence resulting in extremely narrow and long shophouses with two internal courtyards: the main one just after the reception, and another smaller one at the back for better ventilation and natural lighting. Similarly, all the rooms and the main areas like the reception, the restaurant, and the lounge of this hotel surround the central courtyard (which is a great place for pictures by the way!)
I, however, have a TERRIBLE sense of direction. Do you see that row of slatted timber screen doors? Almost anyone of them can be swung open to lead to the various spaces. Oh my god, in one morning, I've gotten lost so many times! From the toilet to the lounge, to mixing up the restaurant and the reception... But that is how I found this charming breakfast room.
The wealthy Peranakan Chinese households were essentially
the Crazy Rich Asians of their day.
This was the era of lavish mansions and architectural facades: such as the Blue Mansion and the extremely Insta-popular Peranakan Mansion. Decorative facades and ornaments were a symbol of social status and wealth. Rich businessmen started importing and retrofitting classical European details, such as the wrought-iron stair banisters, while also commissioning Chinese artisans for bespoke timber screen doors and ornaments.
/ Interesting Antiques and Peranakan Culture /
Top Left: Wood carving of a Peranakan wedding bed frame.
Top Right: The lounge.
Bottom: A display at the Chinoiserie Exhibition currently held in the hotel.
The Peranakan Chinese culture was at its peak in the 1920s. Western colonialism brought about the emergence of 'Chinoiserie', which means 'Chinese Style in the eyes of the West'. It inspired a style of interior decorating, brought about by a fascination for all things Chinese.
Fun fact: This brought about massive exports of Chinese decorative items and furniture, despite the fact that many of these items were never actually used by the citizens of China!
These are Chinese wall cabinet components sourced from Malacca, etched with European accents.
Mother of Pearl furniture- a luxury that rich Peranakan households desired. Each piece is a bespoke piece of art, like this opium bed!
And this is a Peranakan bridal headdress.
During that era, almost every marriage was an arranged marriage. Most likely, the couple would have no idea who their partner is, and the groom was only allowed to see the bride at night. And hence, the size of these colourful pom poms hint at the age of the bride. The bigger they are, the older the bride.
This one belonged to a 13-year-old girl.
Gosh, what was I doing when I was 13 years old? Thank god for the change of eras!
Traditional peranakan dress.
Left: These are dress collars. I have honestly never seen such small chokers in my life! I think these are exquisite, but I have to say, I am grateful for the modern invention of T-shirts.
Right: Embroidered chair covers. The colours and designs denote the status of the owners. And these darker colours indicate a widow in mourning.
/ The Rooms /
Pictured below is the Stewart Apartment.
The rooms are like your personal little Peranakan apartment: decorated with Mother-of-Pearl furniture, gold-gilded drawers and mirrors, and antique ornaments and sculptures. You'll be sleeping on a Peranakan wedding bed, with an opium bed as your sofa, and sometimes you'll have a confinement bed too. Gosh, the life of a Peranakan Chinese was more structured than my daily planner!
The Stewart Apartment is like a Peranakan loft - it has a living area and an ensuite master bedroom. In addition to that, it has a narrow wrought-iron stairway leading to another ensuite bedroom with two single beds.
Experience the splendour of the romantic Peranakan Chinese lifestyle as you start your day with breakfast in a peaceful sanctuary drenched in sunlight, to the sounds of water and birds. Explore the long hallways, peek down the small courtyards, dine beneath Peranakan embroidery, or have a chat with friends behind the privacy of timber screens. Finally, retire to your apartment through an antique gold-gilded door, and end the day atop an intricately carved wedding bed.
/ Dine: Nyonya cuisine at the Kebaya Dining Room /
Our two-hour tour ended with a Nyonya feast at the hotel restaurant (which I got lost trying to find. Again.)
- At a glance -
Imagine - dining in a traditional Peranakan-Chinese dining room, under beautifully embroidered red curtains, the soft clacking of heels upon the coloured tiles... This is a nice fine-dining restaurant to treat yourself to or for those special occasions.
Note: Remember to reserve before coming!
Food / Vegetarian options are available!
Classic Straits Chinese Nyonya cuisines re-interpreted, and elevated to fine-dining.
They also serve a variety of wine.
Parking is available at the hotel.
Contact details & recent news/
On the menu: Rice with -
Sous vide chicken in Nyonya curry with potato chips.
Fresh prawns fried in sambal tumis, ginger flower & laksa leaf.
Asam Glazed Seabass/
Tamarind and gula Melaka glazed seabass.
A traditional Peranakan pickled vegetable salad.
Sambal Hare Bee Salad/
Dried shrimp sambal salad with house-made peanut brittle.
Joo Hoo Char/
Traditional stir-fried jicama, carrot and shitake mushroom dish with julienned squid.
Dessert : Pandan Creme Brulee.
The restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner. Pictured above is actually the dinner menu that they served for lunch.
The food was really good and the presentation was beautiful! The food was especially poignant to me because it was like a very classy version of Great-grandma AND grandma's cooking. Served in Peranakan porcelain tableware, no less.
The Joo Hoo Char is a very common dish in local cuisine, especially as a popiah filling ( a popular Malaysian street food ).
My favourite was the Gulai Chicken and Sambal Hare Bee Salad.
This restaurant is a really nice place to experience the local cuisine in a beautiful setting.
For more information, this is the official Kebaya Dining Room website.
Unfortunately, the day had to come to an end. Quite regretfully, we stepped out into the afternoon heat, as the glass doors swung shut - jolting us back to the present.
I have personally never stayed at this hotel before, but it was certainly an experience unique unto itself. If you're looking to experience the splendour of the Peranakan Chinese lifestyle, and fully immerse yourself in that culture, then I'd say that this is the hotel to do it. In addition to that, it is located at the heart of UNESCO heritage Georgetown, which makes it incredibly easy for you to explore the coveted Penang street art, shops, heritage cafes, speakeasies, and of course, the temples!
There is more information on the rooms and history of the Seven Terraces Hotel, as well as Chris Ong's other heritage hotel projects in Penang on their official Georgetown Heritage Hotels website.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this. And thank you for reading!