Romantic and atmospheric
Tropical Spice Garden Lone Crag Villa, Jalan Teluk Bahang
T: (04) 881 3493/4
Finding a restaurant that serves great food at reasonable prices is never going to be a problem in Penang. However, if you want to add ambience and sea views into the equation, the island offers few options — and this makes it all the more worthwhile to seek out one of Penang’s most romantic and atmospheric eateries, Tree Monkey.
Situated about 15 kilometres west of Georgetown, beyond the coastal resort town of Batu Ferringhi, Tree Monkey is hidden away on a jungle-clad cliff overlooking the sea. As its name might suggest, monkeys roam the treetops above, and the thatched restaurant and deck are a great vantage point from which to view sunsets over the sea. As dusk descends, the warm glow of the restaurant and the artfully lit surrounding vegetation create a very special atmosphere, accompanied by a natural soundtrack of lapping waves and chirruping cicadas.
An extensive Thai menu is on offer, and one of the most popular offerings is the tapas plate, which includes prawn lemongrass skewers, fishcakes, mussels with chilli lime salsa and charmingly named ‘darling crab’ bites (30, 45 and 60 ringgit for 8, 12 and 16 mix-and-match pieces respectively). For something a bit more substantial, the Asian tapas plate offers a selection of dishes including satay, crispy fish fillets with ginger, green and red thai curries, deep fried boiled egg with tamarind sauce, and tomyum soup (8 dishes for 60 ringgit and 12 dishes for 90 ringgit, including two portions of steamed rice).
If you prefer to go the normal starter-and-main route, all the above plus other staples including pad thai, stir fries with basil leaves, spring rolls, spicy salads and laksas, can be ordered individually. Starters cost between 8 and 12 ringgit, and main courses between 10 and 20 ringgit, unless you order whole fish or prawns, in which case you pay the market rate. Desserts including coconut ice cream, mango sticky rice and thubthim krob (iced water chestnuts in coconut milk) are between 6 and 12 ringgit.
Another big draw, other than the atmosphere, is the wide selection of drinks and unusual spice and herb cocktails, including Monkey Mojitos and Tomyum Martinis flavoured with chillies, lemongrass and kaffir lime, or Malibu Monkeys with pineapple and basil. Cocktails are around 20 ringgit each, but are cheaper at cocktail hour, from 18:00. If you prefer beer or wine, there is a good international selection at the usual prices (around 12 ringgit for beer and 20 ringgit for a glass of wine).
This place gets very popular, especially at weekends and on public holidays, so it is a good idea to call ahead and book a table. There is an individual thatched bower, which sits four people but also makes a pleasant corner for a romantic meal for two. They don’t normally allow you to book this but you might be able to sweet talk the accommodating and friendly staff, as we managed to on our last visit.
The mosquitoes can be a nuisance, so it might be good to bring your own DEET, although the restaurant has its own organic repellent on hand, as well as mosquito coils. Buses on routes 1o1 and 102 pass throughout the day and into the evening on the main road below the restaurant, although it may be more difficult to get back into town after 21:00, in which case you should bank on getting a taxi for around 30 ringgit. The restaurant will be able to book this for you if you ask.
Penang’s proximity to Thailand means that the island’s Thai restaurants are about as authentic as you will find anywhere. It would be fair to say that there are better options than Tree Monkey when it comes to the food, but the atmosphere and setting are unrivalled.
The restaurant is attached to the award-winning Tropical Spice Garden, which is well worth a visit to see more than 500 species of flora over eight acres. If you are out and about during the day, Tree Monkey is also a convenient lunch stop on your way back to Georgetown from the national park or Escape theme park. However, the restaurant really comes into its own at dusk, so that’s as good an excuse as any to camp out here for the afternoon, settle down with a drink or two, and take in a perfect Penang sunset.
By Mark Thompson
Last updated on 30th August, 2014.