China House: An artsy place for a slow meal, or two

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I love serendipitous sightseeing the best. China House was one of these. I saw the business card for it while staying at Temple Tree and carried it with me to Penang. So I did look for it, but it’s not something I could have found on Tripadvisor or Lonely Planet. It’s also across the street from a temple I would have visited, but who has time to stop at every shop/restaurant there is?

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Actually, I was apprehensive about going in, and hemmed and hawed a bit before going into the expensive-looking cafe. 12 MYR for a slice of cake? Not when I can get a banana roti for under 3. I even consider the 6 MYR slice of ice cream cake at Jaya too dear. But it’s an interesting space–three houses turned into a mini-mall, if you can call a place that only has eateries and an art gallery a mall.

It’s a nice place to go to to escape the heat midday, and soak up a bit of contemporary artwork and traditional architecture. I have to admit I was more interested in the layout of the space than the artwork on the wall.

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There was live music that night, there were burgers on the menu at one of the restaurants, and we had hardly touched any of our daily budget, so I took Mike there for dinner that night. We got there just in time to see the sunset through the ruin of a house next door.

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Unfortunately the Courtyard Cafe and Burger Bar was closed, so we ordered from the Canteen & Bar, expecting fancy bar portions (i.e. small).

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The 12 MYR fries could have been a meal, but they were oversalted. We still ate most of it to taste the five flavors of dip they came with. They were all good, though these same ginger ones were a little strong. Even the “tomato sauce” wasn’t your average ketchup; it had a mild red wine flavor. Mostly, it was fun to identify the sauce and then judge which one you liked best. I think I liked the red wine vinaigrette one. I may try to replicate it someday. It shouldn’t be too hard–just substitute some vinegar for lemon juice when making mayonnaise.

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Mike’s Thai chicken buns were pretty small, though pretty good. They had all the spicy creaminess of green curry, but without the curry. I also liked the mint garnishes. My miso duck quesadillas were a full-sized meal though. It came with papaya and corn guacamole, and I thought they were bullshitting me, because it seemed like corn salsa, but the red sweet stuff was actually papaya. Unusually good.

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Of course, between the exorbitant drink prices and the salty fries, we drank a lot of water. Also, besides the occasional sightseer, we had the romantic courtyard to ourselves.

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I was feeling spendy, and we hadn’t exceeded our budget yet, so I wanted to try one of Beach St. Bakery’s many pricy desserts.

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But we were pretty full after dinner, and what we could hear of the band from the courtyard didn’t seem that enticing, so I dragged Mike upstairs for awhile to look at the art gallery. When he had had enough of that, we went downstairs to order a pot of chamomile tea from Kopi C. Espresso to help us sleep. To counteract that, we got a slice of their three-layer coffee and chocolate cake.

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The cake was really good. Dense, but soft and moist. And generously layered with coffee frosting and chocolate chips. It’s a cake that’s meant to be savored. Especially while playing math games on your table overlay.

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On that note, China House does have wifi. Mike and I used it to look up what bright thing was next to the crescent moon that night (Saturn). But most adults at the place were actually not on their devices too much, which was nice. In the baker/cafe, if the adults were not talking, the were using he crayons to doodle or play games. This is ironic, because I remember when crayons at restaurant tables were for kids. Most of the kids I saw there were playing video games on iPads or taking pictures. What does that foreshadow about our future society?

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