The restaurant is the perfect place to appeal to all our senses at one go.
WHEN gourmet indulgences dovetail with exquisite masterpieces, feasting pleasures prevail in the company of artistic treasures. A juxtaposition of appetite and sight, Fine Art Fine Dining, conjures a multi-sensory, epicurean delight.
The WAF Art Gallery’s novel “exhibition”, held in conjunction with the George Town Festival 2012, pairs the impressive artworks of 10 Latin American and Malaysian artists with the delectable cuisines of four leading establishments in Penang – Chez Weng, Hisago, Annabelle’s Place and Campbell House.
With art and space carefully chosen to complement each other, the spotlight is on a broad spectrum of cuisines and artistic styles. Though artwork in eateries is nothing new, the event is testament to the city’s growing, cultural sophistication as it celebrates the fourth anniversary of its Unesco World Heritage listing.
WAF’s director Brian Keh said the concept of art and food is rather common in the west, though only just catching on over here. Regardless, the intertwining elements represent a great opportunity to promote the arts and make it more accessible to the public, most of whom rarely set foot in actual galleries.
“The idea is for people to go around, sample different types of food, and admire different types of art. People in Penang have always loved their food, and this enhances the overall, dining experience.
“The artworks create a focal point within the restaurant, as one waits for their meal to arrive. Food is the soul of life, but art adds colour to it.
“Not everybody is keen on visiting an art gallery. Through this, they can do what they normally would, and spend time with the family over meals. If they see an art piece they like, they can then explore their interest further,” he said during the opening night at Chez Weng in mid-June.
The trendy, Western-contemporary restaurant, located in Precinct 10 at Tanjong Tokong, exhibits pieces by Venezuelan artists Jose E. Gonzalez, Jose Gotopo, Julian Villafane, Manuel Hernandez and Elvis Rosendo.
Gonzalez’s equine subjects stand out with their imaginative flamboyance. Immediately, one is drawn to their bold colours and triumphant undertones. Similarly, Gotopo makes use of intense hues for his avian subjects, though with thicker brush strokes.
Villafane and Hernandez both gravitate towards the abstract, the former with humanoid forms, while the latter focuses on animals. Rosendo completes the quintet with his contemporary realistic portrait of renowned English film director, Alfred Hitchcock.
Chez Weng restaurant manager Tristan Navarednam drew some similarities between art and food, pointing out that they both take lots of time, dedication and passion to perfect. Both being works of art – one literally, the other metaphorically – he is pleased that Penangites are increasingly more appreciative of art, to complement their penchant for food.
Art is part of life
Over at Annabelle’s Place in Lembah Permai, a quaint, cottage-styled café purveying fine foods, coffee and tea, one once again finds the works of Hernandez, but this time complemented by local counterpart Esther Geh.
Hernandez’s whimsical, animal depictions seem tailor-made for the suburbian establishment’s serene setting which overlooks lush, green fields. Geh’s gentle yet detailed depictions of flora, in particular the Hydrangea flower, perfectly complement the café’s popular, traditional English afternoon tea offerings and countryside ambience.
Owner Annabelle Teow, who has regulars hooked on her homemade cookies and scones, reasons that just like her favourite Hydrangea plant, food is elevated to a higher level when one invests copious amounts of tender loving care into making it.
“On my travels around Britain and Europe, I find that art is an inseparable component of people’s lives. This exhibition mirrors that, and gives everyday dining a more refined and prestigious feel,” she opined.
Prominent Penang water colourist Lee Eng Beng’s architectural heritage and street life pieces subtly capture a bygone era, and rightfully takes pride of place in the lobby of Campbell House, a boutique hotel nestled in the heart of George Town.
Latin artistry can be found within the hotel’s acclaimed Italian restaurant Il Bacaro, where another Venezuelan artist, Jesus Perez, perks up the intimate space with his small, abstract pieces.
Owners Roberto and Nardiya Dreon both believe that putting artworks in a restaurant allows visitors to see them in a different light. As opposed to just browsing around in an art gallery, here, one gets an all-encompassing feast for the senses.
“Artists paint with passion and warmth, and pour their heart and souls into it. It is the same approach we take with our cooking. While they put it on canvas, we put it on a plate,” Roberto says.
On their cuisine, which Roberto describes as modern Italian with an emphasis on Venetian specialties, he said innovation is paramount in ensuring guests always have something new to look forward to.
“Italian food is constantly evolving, and incorporates influences from other cuisines. Similarly, we try to incorporate the local produce found in Penang, into Italian dishes. Every morning, we go to the market, and see what catches our eye,” Roberto said.
Rounding out the quartet is Hisago Modern Japanese Restaurant at the retail marina complex of Straits Quay, which plays host to pieces by Rosendo, as well as local artists Pheh It Hao and Yeap Tho Seng.
Pheh’s almost monochromatic, contemporary water colour pieces, which play on negative space, are perfect bedfellows with the restaurant’s ultra-modern, zen-like dining area, where less feels like more.
Contrastingly by theme but complementary by subject, Yeap’s realistic, marine life pieces befit the establishment, as seafood has always been a prime element of cuisine from the Land of the Rising Sun.
Yeap, a former taxonomical artist with the Penang Fisheries Research Institute, puts his knowledge to good use as he takes the viewer beneath the waves, getting up close and personal with captivating creatures that thrive in the abyssal depths.
He hopes that through his pieces, the public would have better appreciation of aquatic life, and be more supportive of marine conservation.
Hisago’s general manager Eric Lim said all three artists’ works bring the restaurant to life with colours, and imbued the modern space with a distinct, traditional Japanese feel – pointing to Pheh’s pieces in particular, which resembled oriental ink paintings.
“Since the pieces were put up, we’ve had people walking around, looking at the paintings, and even enquiring in detail about the artists behind it.
“You don’t have to be an art collector to appreciate art. And with this, one can sort of visit an art gallery, without physically going to one,” Lim mused.
Should their pioneering initiative be successful, Keh said their gallery, also located in Straits Quay, would continue to organise such exhibitions on a regular basis. Though conceding that interest in arts and culture cannot be generated overnight, he hopes that one day, the Pearl of the Orient will have a thriving art scene that rivals those in other nations.
“The state already has about 40 art galleries, and this is just one more platform for artists to showcase their works. Perhaps it could even grow to be a major, tourist attraction,” an enthusiastic Keh adds.
For now, simply head to any of these four restaurants, and take in the beauty of the artistic expression. It promises to be a feast for the palate and the eyes. But hurry, as the Fine Art Fine Dining exhibition ends today.
Addresses and contacts
> Chez Weng, 10-C-18 and 19 Precinct 10, Jalan Tanjung Tokong, Penang (Tel: 04-899 9878).
> Annabelle’s Place, 101 Lebuh Lembah Permai 4, Tanjung Bungah, Penang (Tel: 04-890 1098).
> Campbell House, 106 Campbell Street, George Town, Penang. Tel: 04-261 8290
> Hisago, 3E-1-1 First Floor, South Quay, Straits Quay, Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang, Penang. Tel: 04-890 1251
> WAF Art Gallery, 3A-1-23 First Floor, Straits Quay, Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang, Penang. Tel: 04-8906220