three heritage shophouses converted into a multi-purpose outlet for dining, art, shopping and live performances. on your first visit, you could well be overwhelmed by what appears to be one long – it just goes on and on, all the way to lebuh victoria at the back – and narrow cafe that teems with eclectic charm but china house is actually divided into 14 different spaces that segue seamlessly from one to another. it's a George Town institution that deserves repeated mentions even if it may not require much introduction by now, because it's one of those places you will want to keep going back to.
step in from the lebuh pantai entrance and you will be woken up by the aroma wafting from kopi c espresso’s coffee bar, where gourmet coffees are brewed using beans from singapore’s nylon roasters and toby's. to the left is btb (bon ton bistro, named after china house's sister property in langkawi) & restaurant, where dark walls and dim lighting offers a mellow ambience that’s a stark contrast to the all-white walls and mirror-decked kopi c. a small area within btb is currently hosting pop-up shop lapan, an informal collective of handmade labels offering artistic creations by kl-based independent designers and artisans. upstairs, art space I and art space II stretch all the way to the front of the house again and surround a rectangular air well.
walk straight on from kopi c; a traditional wood and glass chinese door opens up to reveal 14 chairs, named literally after the mismatched seats placed around a 12ft-long marble table and surrounded by antique and contemporary art in pops of bright colours. during the day, natural sunlight streams into what is can be used as a meeting space but was designed to host private functions and even cooking classes. the next room houses vine & single, and is dressed like a gentleman’s club with dark wood panelling and leather couches but punctuated with vibrant chinese accordion lanterns and bar stools. just outside vine is the reading room, an open area made up of a long table flanked by bookshelves.
that’s the first two (side by side) shophouses covered, the third one has its entrance on lebuh victoria, which is the back of lebuh pantai and is linked by the chinese-style courtyard cafe where a short lap pool (not for swimming) and trees, often decorated with red ribbons, make for a shady garden hangout and have hosted a number of small weddings. walk through that and you will come to the canteen & bar - borders bookstores has a small outpost here too - where the spotlight regularly shines on live music performances and every first thur of each month, comedians take centrestage. above canteen is upstairs at victoria, a spacious and loungey spot that looks like the tasteful showroom of a vintage furniture store that’s ideal for a cosy gathering.
look down from the art space air well and feast your eyes on china house’s piece de resistance, which tempt with creamy, airy, spongey goodness in various shapes, sizes, heights, fillings and toppings. it’s the beach st bakery’s famous cake table, where every square inch is covered by some 30 or more varieties of baked beauties resting on cake stands and under glass cloches. from cream-frosted to fruit-studded and syrup-drenched, we have yet to meet a cake we didn’t like. there are also some golden brown savoury options in the mix. despite the many well decorated corners spread out around the multiple spaces, customers are inevitably drawn to this iconic table, making it the most photographed feature in the house.
don’t worry if you can’t work out where the 14 spaces are, you can sit almost anywhere (except 14 chairs and the art galleries) and order your choice of cakes – trust us, you won’t stop at one.
china house 153 & 155 lebuh pantai, george town, penang tel +604 263 7299 opens 9am-1am daily www.chinahouse.com.my