Penang is known for its street food. I am not just saying that because I live here. I’m saying that because it’s true. It is world-renowned amongst foodies and travel sites like Lonely Planet and Trip Savvy. However, Penang isn’t known for its fabulous restaurants, but it should be. It’s time to give credit where credit is due and write about the best places to eat in Penang on date night.
The thing is, most people only write about street food. It’s stupid cheap, super yummy, and everywhere. I get it.
But what about date night?
What happens when a girl wants to get dressed up, put on a pair of heels, and go on a date? This girl isn’t going to a food stall. I want food that doesn’t come on melamine plates. Or with disposal chopsticks. And for the love of God, I want to sit on a chair made from anything other than plastic.
I want a real restaurant, one that includes a napkin, bonus points for cloth. And one where there is toilet paper in the bathroom, and I mean in the stall, people. Not just for drying your hands.
I want ambiance.
Someplace sexy, without the interrogation lights that most hawker stalls and restaurants have. Speaking of that, why does every local place have fluorescent lights shining down on the tables? I feel like I’m under investigation while I slurp my noodles.
Ok ok ok, I’m still not the best noodle slurper, and I often splash noodle juice all over my face, but do you have to highlight me doing it?
I know these food establishments are cheap and could care less about ambiance. I mean, they are serving dinner for RM5/$1.19. But I care, especially on date night.
As Mark would say, “I want it all.” And damnit, he is right! I’m good with that.
So, this blog is all about those sexy, mood lighting kinda places that often go unnoticed in the wake of the street food scene. This is your guide to the best places to eat in Penang on date night.
The restaurants are in order from the most casual to fine dining.
This place is pretty casual, but the Indian food, without a doubt, is some of the best on the island. We were skeptical too. It’s in a touristy area, and the menu is vast, with everything from pizzas to seafood. So it was hard to believe the reviews.
The tipping point occurred when we met a couple of guys while spelunking through an underground river-cave in Ipoh. They were from India, lived in Penang, and we met them in a cave in Ipoh. Strange world, right?
Anyway, they told us, that hands down, Olive had THE best and most authentic Indian food in Penang. We had to find out for ourselves. And no joke, they were right. There must be Indians in that kitchen because they can cook!
The thing about Olive is that it’s a bar that shows sporting events on TV. Not my typical date night kind of place. However, the service, the bar, the happy hour specials, the DJ, and the food make it one mash-up of fabulousness.
Even though it is a bar, the ambiance is warm and inviting without a fluorescent bulb in the bunch.
If you want to sit under the stars, there is an outdoor area on Upper Penang Road. Otherwise, I prefer the ambiance inside.
Olive is the best place to eat in Penang for local food in a nicer setting.
Open daily 11:30 am – 3 am
- Half tandoori chicken RM30/$7.17
- Baigan bharta-eggplant mashed with onions and tomatoes RM24/$5.73
- Allo jeera methi-potatoes with cumin and fenugreek RM26/$6.21
What the Duck
This place is exactly what it sounds like… a duck restaurant. Even though it is duck-centric, its menu is very inventive. Think duck served a million ways (ok ok that might be an exaggeration, but a lot), with Asian and French touches.
If you’ve never been to Nagore Street, it’s a charming little street lined with restaurants and cute bars. What the Duck is no exception. It’s in an old heritage building decorated with a combo of Peranakan and Western motifs.
The floor has colorful tiles, the door has traditional golden woodwork, and the inside has the cutest duck motif tiles. It’s quirky and adorable.
If you’re starving, go for their set menu, which includes appetizer, soup, main, dessert, and a beverage. Depending on the main you choose, the price for the set starts at RM37.90/$ 9.05 and goes up to RM52.90/$12.64.
Add a glass of house wine for RM16/$3.82.
Open 12-2 and 6-10:30. Closed on Wednesday
- Duck lover trio (duck chowder, smoked duck on toast, Thai duck spring roll) RM17.90/$4.28
- Duck confit RM20.60/$4.92
- Balinese Crispy Duck (Bek-Bek) RM18.50/$4.42
Even the dessert is inventive, a sizzling brownie with homemade salted egg ice cream and caramelized banana (RM16.80/$4).
They do have other dishes, but why go to a restaurant with duck in the title and eat salmon? However, if you’re a fan of a little quacker, but your date it not, they’ve got you covered.
When you are full of duck, head across the street. There is an alleyway lined with cool bars to hang out in to complete your night.
What the Duck is the best place to eat in Penang when your craving a little quack.
What I love about this place is the story behind it. Picture this: two French friends sitting around drinking beers and missing the food of their home country. Neither had been in the restaurant biz before, but both knew Penang needed a proper French restaurant. They knocked back a couple more beers and voila… the idea of Two Frenchies was born.
See, good things can happen over a few beers! I’ve been known to solve the world’s problems with a couple of glasses of wine in me.
The long and narrow restaurant has just the right amount of eccentricity. The interior is mostly white but doesn’t feel stark in any way. On the contrary, it is very inviting with touches of sunset orange and pops of leafy green.
They have an excellent wine selection as well as a full bar.
The food, of course, is the star of the show.
Open Tuesday to Sunday from 11.30 am-22.30 pm.
Weekend Breakfast 10.00 am-11.30 am.
Two Frenchies is the best place to eat in Penang for authentic French food.
- French onion soup RM15.90/$3.80
- Escargot RM26.90/$6.43
- Sharing platter for two (terrines, meat, cheese, bread, dips, quiche) RM48/$11.47
- Boeuf Bourguignon-beef slow cooked in wine and served with caramelized onions on a bed of potato puree. Hearty and tender at the same time. RM53.90/$12.88
- Ravioles au canard sauce truffee RM29.90. Not to take away from these giant homemade ravioli, but I’m a sucker for anything truffle. You could put truffles on top of a dirty shoe insole, and I would find it divine. But seriously, what’s not to like here? Homemade ravioli, stuffed with 3-hour duck ragout, and truffle sauce. I mean comon.
Some of Penang’s bars are notorious for offering one hour of drink specials; it is literally 1.happy.hour. Not at BBB though, it’s all-day happy hour! From 12-9pm weekdays and 12-8pm weekends.
That means many happy hours and lots of time for day drinking.
When we first moved here, it was a little run down, but in the last few years, they have seriously stepped up their game and made this a great date night spot. It is one of the most beautiful al fresco dining spots with a view of the water.
It is in George Town, right along the waterfront, which makes this place unique. You won’t see the actual sunset because that happens on the other side of the island. However, it’s still worth coming around 6 pm to see the colors dance across the sky with a happy hour drink in hand.
The resident DJ plays chilled out tunes every day, which adds to the laidback ambiance.
Open daily from 12-1 am.
- Crab laksa (RM32/$7.64). Laksa is a national dish here, but their version with crab is drool-worthy. It’s a coconut-curry based soup with rice noodles, fresh mint, ginger flower, cucumbers, and onions, topped with shredded crab meat. It is served with prawn paste and calamansi limes that you add to taste.
I know there are other mouthwatering options, like the Vietnamese pho (RM24/$5.73), but I can’t bring myself to order anything else. I’m a crab laksa kinda girl.
This is without a doubt, the best place to eat in Penang with a waterfront view.
Don’t care about date nights in Penang? Read this other stuff: Pros (and Cons) of Being an Expatriate in Malaysia, So You Want to Be an Extra in a Movie, The Most Unusual Things to do in Phuket, and Top Things to do in Paros, Greece
This is the best place to eat in Penang for a romantic setting.
This is one of those places that people go just to look at the decor. You are literally eating in a garden, enveloped by exotic flowers and lush plants. The sound of flowing water from the koi pond make it extra zen (and makes me want to pee). There are dimly lit lamps on each table with fresh cut flowers.
If you have allergies, you can eat inside, which is also lovely, but the garden is where it’s at for me. I mean, how many places do you know where you can eat in a garden dripping with flowers? It’s like eating in the middle of the botanical gardens.
They go all out with their decorations for major holidays like Christmas and Chinese New Year.
There is such an enormous menu here that it borders on the ridiculous. You can get everything from satay to steaks, pasta to lobster. Chinese to Western, soups to foie gras. Entrees start at RM27/$6.45 and go to the RM80+/$19.11 (unless you want Maine lobster for RM175/$41.81 for 600 grams).
The wine menu is equally as extensive.
Honestly, I don’t have a favorite here. Everything I’ve had has been delicious, without fault. But it’s the ambiance and romantic setting that brings me back more than anything.
It’s an old standby in Penang.
Open 5-12 am daily.
Kebaya, in the beyond-stunning Seven Terraces Hotel, is a fine dining Nyonya restaurant. Built in the late 19th century, the hotel was a row of Anglo-Chinese owned terrace houses. The owner, Chris Ong (a fifth-generation Penangite), took painstaking delight in renovating the building back to its original grandeur…possibly even better than it ever was.
The term Nyonya refers to a female of Peranakan culture. What does that mean, you ask? Let me give you a brief but straightforward history lesson.
Back in the 13th century, when the Chinese traders came to Malaysia (then called Malaya), they married the locals, creating an entirely new culture.
Can you imagine marrying and having children with someone who doesn’t speak your language? They created a hybrid culture with a new language, food, and traditions that melded both cultures together. Fascinating, huh?
The cuisine is called Nyonya after the ladies who cooked it. It’s a blend of Chinese and Malay, with Indonesian influences.
Walking into Kebaya is like stepping back in time, the room is opulent with red velvets and dark woods.
The restaurant serves elevated Nyonya cuisine with a traditional twist. Just like the details of the five-star hotel it resides in, every aspect of this menu has been poured over. Every dish, down to the plate itself, is photo-worthy.
Open daily from 6-10 pm.
They have a prix fix menu only. The 4-course meal is RM128/$30.58 per person. For each course, you get to choose from 5-7 options.
This is the best place to eat in Penang to get a sense of a bygone era.
- Otak-otak (red snapper cooked in spices and baked into a puff pastry).
- Miang kham of salmon roe (betel leaf stuffed with toasted coconut, shrimp, and lime, topped with salty salmon roe).
- Prawn Geng (prawns in lemongrass curry)
- Kebaya Tamarind Beef (Australian beef shoulder sous-vide for 72 hours and glazed with tangy tamarind and palm sugar)
- Wing bean kerabu (we don’t get winged beans in the US, but they are one of my favorites over here. This dish has coconut, calamansi lime, and a local chili sauce made with shrimp paste).
- Tang yuen/onde-onde (glutinous rice balls stuffed with coconut and palm sugar-served in a warm coco broth).
Book in advance, they are always full.
Go early and have a drink at the BabaBar.
After dinner, the server will take you on a tour of Seven Terraces, just ask. If you are coming to Penang, and the hotel is within your budget, stay there. You won’t be disappointed. It’s like a museum.
From the moment I walked inside Gen Communal Table, I knew this would be a dining experience for all the senses. The clean lines of this minimalist restaurant gave me all the feels.
It has hard industrial lines of cement and concrete yet manages to feel warm and inviting. Maybe it is the luxurious wood table and curved lines of the chairs; it is a perfect juxtaposition. It is like bread and butter; it just goes together.
The simple vibe of the room is the ideal backdrop for the food. Every dish is creative, elegant, colorful, and innovative. The presentation is as extraordinary as the food itself.
The chefs at gen are pushing boundaries.
There is only one table, an 18 seater that runs the length of the room, like a bar. It separates the dining area from the kitchen so you can watch the master chefs at work.
We went with a group of eight, and when they brought each dish, they dropped it at the same time for all of us. Timed perfectly, which is unusual in Penang. Most places bring out food as it’s ready, which can be rather annoying. But not here.
Every plate was a work of art, some too pretty to eat…almost. The very first “course” was a bowl of scented water, meant to clear the palate and prepare us for what’s to come.
That is what I mean by the term dining experience. It’s a feast for all the senses.
If one is good, two is better.
They recently opened another location. The original gen Communal Table will have an ala carte menu meant to be shared, as well as a tasting menu. And gen (the second location), will focus only on tasting menus.
gen Communal Table: Ala carte dishes range from RM30-70/$7-16, and the tasting menu is RM118/$28.20.
gen: They have a 7-course lunch menu for RM180/$43. The 12-course dinner is RM300/$71.67. Wine pairings are RM160/$38.22 and RM200/$47.78, respectively.
The menus will change according to what is available locally. They have a full bar with inventive drinks but also a unique selection of wines from around the world.
We did a tasting menu, and each course was more incredible than the last. It is a crazy adventure for your taste buds and all your senses.
Open Tue-Sun 6-11 pm
gēn 根 communal table is the best place to eat in Penang for elevated gastronomy.
Obviously, all of these restaurants serve dessert. However, if you want something exceptional, head to China House. They are known for their display of over 30 cakes that are made in house. Have a glass of wine and choose a slice or two of the most decadent cakes on the island. My fave is the chocolate coconut one, can’t remember what it is called but give it a try. You can thank me later.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to leave you hanging. You can’t go home after dinner, it’s time to check out the speakeasys in Penang.
So, there you have it. My choices for the best places to eat in Penang on a date night.
Have I missed any? Tell me your faves in the comment box below?