A hunt for the Best Croissants in town | Cafe-hopping in Penang, Malaysia
Cafe reviews and musings of an avid croissant hunter on a quest for the best croissants in Georgetown, Malaysia.
The Croissant. A wonderful paradox of fragility and full-on desire. To think of the many buttery layers of fat within its delicate crescent facade. The 2, sometimes 3 days of patience and labour required for the making of the croissant.
To EAT the croissant - well, that's a whole ordeal on its own!
Here I'm sat, pondering on the dressing up, the journey, the cafe and coffee to which accompanied the experience of eating a croissant. To TAKEAWAY the croissant - in the traditional brown paper bag way, or in a cream box wrapped in twine, what a thrill it was to carry that baggage! A little piece of luxury- the queen of pastries that demands its own plating, a spot on an Instagram feed, or a moment of your day to be savoured.
Oh, but the reheating of croissants: Another painfully detailed procedure where I constantly fear the collapse of its fragile honeycomb interiors, its flaky crust. And wait! Even at home, coffee, tea, some beverage HAD to be present before one bit into the crunch of its golden brown crust.
Amazing, isn't it- how this little pastry has somehow established itself as the symbol of a cafe experience. How it has somehow slithered, unseen, and adapted to so many different cafe cultures around the world, to be served on a dainty plate to hungry cafe-hoppers.
Whether it is a quintessential French way of living, or a canvas for flavour fusions, I conclude, from my adventures, that the croissant experience in Penang is a representation of the hodgepodge which is Malaysian culture: Rojak. Absolute rojak (Malaysian slang derived from a traditional salad dish that mixes wholly unrelated items in a surprisingly delicious melange). But I guess that is what makes Malaysian culture so unique unto itself.
So allow me to disseminate the knowledge I have gained from my pastry over-indulgences to present to you, a guide to finding the best croissants in Penang.
- For the avant-garde / experimental croissant hunter -
Australian / Japanese-inspired cafes
Let's talk about Seaweed-flavoured or Cream Cheese Croissants.
The two newest cafes in Penang's pastry scene: Little Collins Street Cafe and The Maker, stun all with their beautiful plethora of contemporary croissants. Of course, they have the traditional flavours, pain au chocolat etc, all with a unique twist. But in this era of innovators (especially the sudden emergence of talented bakers post-MCO), it hardly comes as a surprise anymore.
Coming from a loyal traditional croissant fan, these flavours were a delicious play between savoury and sweet. Both cafes sported a slightly lighter, flakier take on the croissant which I actually preferred.
1 / Little Collins Street Cafe
Having just opened its doors towards the end of 2020, this Australian-inspired cafe and its drool-worthy Instagram had risen to be a star in Georgetown's cafe scene.
My personal favourite pastry was actually the Mushroom Leek Danish.
Other dessert options included a small selection of more generic cafe cakes and giant cookies. Like huge, cover-your-face cookies. Sinful, but so, so good. Plus, they heat it up upon serving: making it all the more worth the calories.
The coffee was robust, smooth, and essentially, an Australian cuppa.
Little Collins Street Cafe definitely was amongst my favourite cafe interiors in Penang.
We entered an enclave of calm. Surprising, given that it was very busy and filled with people. Perhaps it was the tall ceilings, the plants, or the generous natural sunlight - we felt completely at ease. There was a space to breathe, to munch on delicious pastries as we chatted the morning away.
2 / The Maker
Another new kid on the block challenging the market of contemporary croissants. This garden courtyard of a cafe was hidden behind a small and narrow black facade. It warranted a few turns, and some indignant "Waze says it's here!" retorts to find the place.
Again, sporting a Seaweed Croissant (I personally prefer this one to the previous one), their bestsellers also included a Cream Cheese Crumble Croissant (this one had a nice texture contrast between the crumble and soft cream cheese), a Peanut Butter one, and various versions of chocolate and almond croissants.
With furrowed brow and squinted eyes, the pastries were halved and quartered. Murmurs and discussions were exchanged between the four of us croissant connoisseurs :
"Mmm. Butter. Flaky. Crispy, crunchy. Could it be... expensive butter they use?"
"Not too sweet. MMMmm. Good."
"What do you think, in comparison to Little Collins Street Cafe?"
"Mmmm. Mmmmmmmmmmmm. The same la I think. VVVeeerrrryyyy similar. Both good."
For the other options, the mango tart was a delightful tower of fresh mango cubes atop a crunchy base. And their multi-layered Chocolate Earl Grey cake had so many flavour nuances in every layer. It was a delightful end to an already very sinful meal.
Conclusion: It was good. Coffee-wise, I do prefer it here. I had the charcoal latte and I thought it less acidic.
I'm starting to think that having green fingers is an essential skill to compete in Penang's increasingly competitive cafe scene. This courtyard space was beautiful - what with all their ferns and hanging plants. It created a little enclave of peace and quiet for you to savour every layer of the croissant.
- For the French croissant experience -
Classic French inspirations
3 / Le Petit Four Patisserie
This cafe will always remain a classic in Penang - the original hangout place for quality, old-fashioned French pastries, and delicate patisserie.
In comparison to the previous two, the croissants here definitely have a stronger butter taste, with the traditional pain au chocolat or almond croissant options. Or mini mushroom quiches and cinnamon rolls as an alternative. The coffee here was also on the robust side.
Similarly, the minimalist interiors: the arches, the classy gold-fittings - all felt so inherently French. With a big glass window for you to car/people watch if you so wish. But beware: it is extremely popular and is usually very busy over the weekends.
4 / La Vie En Rose Patisserie
Another popular competitor in the traditional croissant scene: La Vie En Rose patisserie entices with its trays of beautiful, plump, layered pastries. These were bigger than the other cafes. And extremely hard to resist when driving by!
It was a window seat, the first time I visited. It was elation I remembered to be able to get a seat in the cramped space just before the entrance, as many queued eagerly. It was quite a number of photos I took of the huge, shiny croissant sitting atop that little plate before finally surrendering to a growling stomach and its fragrance.
Coincidentally, that was also the morning we accidentally discovered Bao Teck Teahouse (located just beside this cafe) on its opening day.
But this place is also where to go if you are craving pillowy soft, not-too-sweet beignets that melt in your mouth and oozes custard. Yes. Best in town, hands-down.
Artisan bakery cum French bistro
5 / Black Kettle
This is where to go if you'd rather a cooked meal instead of pastries away. Established as an artisan bakery, it boasts a range of quality breads and sourdough loaves. They also serve a French-fusion menu and award-winning Australian Dimattina Coffee, which was originally what we came for. Except someone spotted a lone croissant sitting in that glass case, and gripped with sudden desire, ordered. That. Last. Croissant.
As advertised on the counter, they use Lescure butter in their pastries. And that croissant had such a buttery fragrance, crumbling in our hands in a cacophony of crunches. With coffee sipped in between, it completed that brunch.
For alternative dessert options, there were brownies, a small selection of cakes and tarts. Our favourites being the strawberry cheesecake and the Paris-Brest.
Interiors-wise, it was very spacious with a huge table at the side for those who want to work in a cafe.
These are my favourite places for croissants and pastries. Please note that all these are based on my personal opinions!
Little Collins Street Cafe
Alternative Options/ Giant Cookies, Burnt Basque Cheesecake, brownies
Drinks/ Robust, smooth, good coffee. Also features Niko Neko matcha drinks.
Interiors & Ambience/ My favourite of all. Calming, spacious, generous daylighting from its courtyards. Beautiful plants and just very aesthetic interiors.
Parking/ Not too bad as it is not located beside a very big road.
Alternative options/ Cinnamon rolls, scones, tarts and many asian-flavours layered cakes.
Drinks/ Robust coffee, smooth, good. Loved the charcoal latte! They also serve T2 tea.
Interiors & Ambience/ Again, very calming with the beautiful courtyard in the middle. Very spacious as well, but more limited in seating.
Parking/ A bit of a nightmare as it is located near the cafe areas, and is very small.
Le Petit Four Patisserie
Alternative options/ Delicate French patisserie, cinnamon rolls, scones, mini mushroom quiches.
Drinks/ The usual variety of coffee drinks. They brew a really good brew here.
Interiors & Ambience/ Classy, but comfortable. A lovely place to read over a cuppa! (If it is not full as it is wont to be over the weekends.)
Parking/ There is a spacious, covered parking lot a 5-minute walk away from it. With a 'car-wash' sign.
La Vie En Rose Patisserie
Alternative options/ Custard-filled beignets! Warning: very addictive.
Drinks/ The usual variety of coffee drinks, chai latte. In all honesty, the coffee and chai latte here was not my favourite.
Interiors & Ambience/ I personally found the space rather cramped? I absolutely love their pastries, but would prefer to takeaway.
Parking/ As it is situated just beside a corner bend, it is rather difficult to find a park.
Alternative options/ A variety of breads, a French-fusion meal menu, and other desserts.
Drinks/ The coffee here is one of my favourites in Penang. The mocha is sinful, but thick and delicious. Other than the usual variety of coffee, they too feature other milkshake/tea options.
Interiors & Ambience/ A far bigger space than the other cafes, this place is ideal for groups simply because there are much higher chances of getting a seat. Also good for those who wish to study in a cafe.
Parking/ The easiest by far. There is an outdoor parking lot on the opposite side of the road.
So, it has come to the point where croissants are the highlight of my week. It is these little details, these petite joys that have truly kept me going in this pandemic. Though comical - to consider the effort behind getting ready for a sinful pastry meal - it has become a ritual, a breath of fresh air. And it is wonderful to see everyone out of their pjs for once, actually freshened up, striding confidently and excitedly to a new croissant cafe.
I think that's what makes life worth living: the little joys.
Wherever you are, I hope you are safe and well. This too shall pass!
Thank you for reading!
Let me know in the comments below, if you've tried these cafes, have other suggestions, or just want to comment. :)