Penang’s Best Cafes

1. The Mugshot Cafe
Twins Jesse and Jerry Tan are the proprietors not only of this cafe but also of the popular Rainforest Bakery next door – a local bread institution. The cafe is a welcome extension to the bakery, manned by barista-turned-partner Tristan Navarednam, and as with most independent coffee spots in town, it has a rustic ambience and a charmingly eclectic interior.

Here, sharing a tiny table with a stranger is the norm and the only music you’ll hear is the brewing of a cup of espresso from the La San Marco coffee machine. It’s all about building a local coffee community for the folks here, and the friendly, laidback baristas are likely to strike up a conversation to make you feel at home. From the coffee counter to the shelves, the furniture is made of recyclable items or built from scratch by Tristan. Some of the smaller wooden tables and chairs are hand-me-downs from local primary schools and nurseries. The cafe offers a straightforward menu of yoghurt, bagels, and drinks. When you’re here, go for the crisp wood-fire toasted bagel with either the popular bacon and egg or cream cheese and smoked salmon. The freshly baked bagels are from the bakery, of course.

The homemade Greek yoghurt topped with fresh fruits and soft muffins are good snacks. You won’t find fancy flavoured coffee here since the Tan twins are pretty keen on keeping the purest flavours of coffee brewed from Arabica beans. These days the menu has broadened to include hearty mains like homemade meatballs and a fruit juice stall.

2. Brown Pocket
Perched high on the sixth floor of Gurney Paragon mall, this cafe offers desserts and a good cuppa. Being in Penang’s latest mall makes it accessible to shoppers, perfect for a quick snack before you head home.

Polished cement floors give the spacious cafe a sleek, industrial feel that matches the neat cluster of retro chairs and wooden tables. It certainly avoids the stereotypical cutesy aesthetics of your regular run-of-the-mill dessert cafe. Owners Bruce Tan and Aw Kaiho aren’t afraid to go raw and bold with its interior – you’ll find jabs of testosterone in a framed picture of Iron Man with sharp horns and a plastered bull sculpture that will catch you off guard.

The menu gives the place an overall soft touch. The house speciality is liege waffles flavoured by chocolate banana, mixed fruits and beanie matcha, sinfully drizzled with chocolate sauce and topped with a cold scoop of ice cream. There’s a fun breakfast for the kids here of waffles made of eggs, chocolate sauce and chopped fruits for a pop of colour.

Once you’re settled with your order, lean back and look up to the wooden tree centrepiece with branches that snake across the ceiling, dotted with drop-light bulbs that really liven the place up in the evenings. Between that and the ladder-shaped shelves filled with books, you won’t notice the hours go by. Families and kids are noticeably absent here. Instead, groups of girls giggling away and couples looking for a bit of quiet seem to be the regulars. When night falls, head over to the balcony for a view of the sea and the twinkling lights of Gurney Drive below.

3. Moustache Houze
Instead of a hostel, owners Catherine Yeo and Christine Ooi transformed a long forgotten space into a three-storey cafe. As its name suggests, the thematic cafe carries all things moustache. Catherine cooked up ideas such as a box of removable moustaches for picture taking to silly moustache straws.

The cafe’s ground floor is dotted with a mix of furniture, two indoor swing sets that are favoured spots in the house and a metal piping that doubles as a bookshelf. There are four private rooms on the second floor with quirky murals and furniture, and remember to take your shoes off. The largest space is on the third floor – it has a balcony with a view to go with your latte.

The cafe’s speciality beverages are the ice-cube drinks made from frozen fruit juice, with choices like passion fruit, kiwi, pineapple or strawberry and soda. The trick here is you’re going to have to mix it up yourself, according to your taste. For coffee lovers, there are the espresso cubes with a side of fresh milk for some mixing fun.

What’s cute here is the 3D foam art that tops a cup of frothy cappuccino or latte. It’s done upon request and is completely free of charge. The desserts and cakes are mainly sourced from out of Penang to ensure a one-of-a-kind menu. So you’ll discover rare finds such as the cookie puff, a crumbly cookie pastry with a vanilla ice cream centre that feels like a modern take on the local fried ice cream. You’ll also find Oreo crepe cake, hazelnut creme cake and tiramisu. Since it’s open until midnight, it’s a favoured spot for the after-dinner crowd.

Penang-Best-Cafe-by-Cheng-Sim-2Image credit: Nolan Isaac via Unsplash

4. The Twelve Cups
Why twelve, you ask? Manager Ng Kim Loon describes the number as an important symbol in Chinese and Western astrology as well as our daily lives – it represents the months in the calendar. It’s also wonderful serendipity that they found a location at number 12 on The Whiteaways Arcade. Whether it’s the corporate crowd on weekdays or a younger set on weekends, their homemade 20-layered mille crepe, prepared by one of the proprietors herself, is a favourite here.

Bright yellow walls, wood-accented furniture, coupled with dreamy cafe music, encourage you to kick back and exhale. The scent of brewing espresso wafts from their gurgling Vibiemme coffee machine, which produces coffees with a sweeter profile and a bolder espresso taste due to the supremo blend beans they use. Non-coffee lovers can enjoy mild hot chocolate or a green tea latte.

5. La Vanille Cupcakes
Even on busy afternoons, this cafe is neat and well stocked with pastel-coloured cupcakes and bite-sized macarons. Even though the cupcake shop is petite, you’ll discover a secret garden of flower pots, quirky figurines and cupcakes within.

Here, sweet and pretty confectionary rules the glass display. Driven by her love for desserts, opening this cafe is a bold move for owner Joey Yeo, who had a nine-to-five desk job. She defines her craft as ‘creative pastry’, an apt term to describe her work of beautiful decorative pastries shaped into Marvel superheroes and teddy-bear cupcakes.

Constantly challenging her expertise, she moved to baking, which resulted in some of the best red velvet cakes, tiramisu and macarons in town. If you’re craving a substantial meal, the menu extends to honey-grilled chicken and ham cheese croissants with salad and hash browns. Parking is a bit difficult in this part of town, so you may find yourself parking a little further up the road and shedding a few of those extra calories on the walk back.

This article titled ‘Penang’s Best Cafes’ was published on Time Out Penang in October 2014. Kindly refer to this link to view from its original publication.