It used to house the horse carriages of the rich. Now it’s a boutique hotel with a cafe that serves a mean breakfast and other yummy treats.

THE more I get to know George Town, the more I realise just how deserving it is of the UNESCO World Heritage status. Everywhere you go, there are little nooks and crannies, each with its own compelling story to tell.

A case in point is Muntri Street (Lebuh Muntri), said to have been named after the 19th century Menteri of Larut, Ngah Ibrahim. The Hokkiens know it as Lam Wah Ee Kay because the renowned Lam Wah Ee hospital started life here in 1883.

9176EE73987D4175BC2CAC9FBE985A6AOng with his collection of old chinaware.

According to local historian and writer Timothy Tye (of the website penang-traveltips.com), this quiet street which runs from Love Lane until it intersects Penang Road has some of the best-preserved examples of Straits Eclectic-style houses in the country.

Take a walk here, and you’ll see what I mean.

There are all types of businesses housed within these buildings: antique and knick-knack shops, backpackers’ hostels, little eateries; temples, old associations and more. What is not so well-known is that in the late 19th century, Muntri Street was where the horses that drew the carriages of wealthy folk in the surrounding areas were stabled.

And just a bit further along, is a small mews, a deep, two-storey building in which the carriages were kept.

“The drivers and staff were quartered above,” explains Christopher Ong, homeboy and internationally acclaimed hotelier. “During the Edwardian period (1920s), the place was converted into garages for cars.”

Ong should know, having delved into the history of the street after buying the Grade 2-listed, two-storey building in 2009. The place had morphed into slum housing for trishaw drivers after WWII. Today, it has been restored and turned into a beautiful, pet-friendly boutique hotel, called Muntri Mews, that’s popular with tourists.

History is all well and good, but I have come to explore what really interests me for this article: the food at Mews Café.

The air-conditioned part of the cafe comes across like an upmarket kopitiam, complete with marble-topped tables and chairs, but there’s also alfresco seating. The pork-free menu, “inspired by Asian cuisine combined with a selection of tasty international favourites”, was conceived by Ong and executed by the cook to his exacting recipes. It offers an interesting mix of East and West.

We start outside with drinks on the lounging sofas positioned under the swaying leaves of the tall canna plants which line the mews. The last vestiges of twilight are chased away by the warm glow of table lamp as Ong explains the interesting history of the mews.

After that, we head inside to start with Vietnamese Spring Rolls served with a tart fish sauce, home-made gnocchi, and chicken satay. Of course, we also have to try the enticingly named Helen’s Curry Mee. No, it wasn’t named after yours truly but in honour of Helen, mother of Daphne, Ong’s business partner in this venture.

Helen apparently used to cook – and sell – said specialty at Fettes Park, and today continues to make her special rempah, a closely guarded recipe, for them.

The cafe’s Nyonya Laksa Lemak is made with a chicken and ikan bilis stock that is further enhanced with mackerel, prawns and crab to “add another layer”. According to Ong, it’s sort of a Penang bouillabaisse. The laksa is quite rich and thick, and has a rather interesting flavour because you don’t usually expect the taste of ikan bilis in laksa, but it works.

A3CC645335654AF19F68ABA8BAA69B1AVietnamese spring rolls starter.

Then there’s the Mews Chicken Pie, Hainanese-styled with light puff pastry and a soupy base – “so that the accompanying chips can be dipped into the gravy!” laughs Ong. Western dishes include salads, sandwiches, fish and beer-battered chips and their classic chicken schnitzel.

Many dishes are served on antique crockery that Ong, an avid collector, has amassed. If you are keen to take a piece home, just pop into his retail outlet round the back where there’s a huge selection for sale.

Mews Café starts serving from 8am because Ong is keen to promote the breakfast culture that’s so big in Sydney and Melbourne. There’s French toast, bacon and eggs and, of course, this being Malaysia, roti perata and nasi lemak – but the “deluxe” version, mind you.

All this is washed down with a good cup of coffee, which Ong considers essential. “I have a wonderful barista who takes his job very seriously,” he points out.

With beverages, wines, beers and cocktails on offer all day long, Mews Café is a place where you won’t be left hungry or thirsty. Non-alcoholics must try Ong’s Mews Madness, a mocktail of lychee, passionfruit, lime and mint. It’s refreshing and very in-yer-face. Me, I thought it would be perfect with a dash or two of rum!

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