Photo: Steeped in history.

Suffolk House

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Most aspects of colonialism are, no doubt, best resigned to the past, but some of the buildings that the British left behind are worthy of praise and Suffolk House is one such example where you can get a real feel for the British colonial architecture and lifestyle.

Today the house serves as a fine dining restaurant, but is open to visitors to view on a self-guided tour 10:00 to 18:00 for 20 ringgit per person, redeemable for food or drink. The house itself is steeped in history having seen numerous owners and undergone several reconstructions, it stands on what used to be a pepper estate surrounded by jungle, although these days the enclosing jungle is concrete. Nevertheless, sweeping lawns, gravel paths and majestic old trees, conjure the original grandeur.

High tea? Yes please.  Photo taken in or around Suffolk House, Penang, Malaysia by Sally Arnold.

High tea? Yes please. Photo: Sally Arnold

The first building was a simple wooden and attap-thatched colonial bungalow, constructed in the earliest days of the settlement for the first Governor of Penang, Francis Light, and named after the British county in which he was born. After Light’s death, the current Anglo-Indian Georgian-style mansion was built in 1805 by a subsequent Governor, William Edward Phillips, and served as Governor’s residence, government house and Methodist boys’ school, before falling into disrepair in the second half of the 20th century. Restoration of the building was completed in 2007, winning a UNESCO award for heritage conservation.

Fans of architecture will admire the long arcades, grand columns, black-and-white marble floors, cool interiors and fine furnishings, which bring the character of the building alive and evoke a fascinating bygone era. Don’t expect a museum as such, while one area offers displays showing information on the restoration project, most of the building is set up for dining and functions.

Easy to imagine how it must have been back in the day. Photo taken in or around Suffolk House, Penang, Malaysia by Sally Arnold.

Easy to imagine how it must have been back in the day. Photo: Sally Arnold

As soon as you’ve had a decent look around, take advantage of this fact and indulge in a little colonial-era extravagance—head straight to the back verandah where high tea is served every afternoon 14:30 to 17:30 (no hats or gloves required these days). It’s priced for two at 90 ringgit (plus tax), but will happily serve a half size for single visitors (at half price!)—don’t forget to redeem your entry ticket.

Alternatively, you could enjoy lunch or dinner, but note that Suffolk House is considered one of Penang’s fanciest restaurants, and the prices are correspondingly quite fancy. Lunch is served daily 12:00 to 14:30 with an early bird set dinner available Sunday to Thursday 18:30 to 19:30 (maximum eight diners) and dinner, 19:00 to 22:30. Booking is advised at weekends.

Your table is ready now. Photo taken in or around Suffolk House, Penang, Malaysia by Sally Arnold.

Your table is ready now. Photo: Sally Arnold

Unless you are planning on dining or are a huge fan of colonial architecture, Suffolk House is not really worth a standalone trip, but is a worthwhile stop on the way to or from Kek Lok Si Temple or Penang Hill.

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How to get there
Suffolk House is just off Jalan Air Itam, about eight kilometres outside Georgetown, and bus routes 202, 203 and 204 will take you there. From Georgetown, ask the driver to drop you at the Han Chiang School bus stop, and the road leading to Suffolk House is on the opposite side of the road.

Suffolk House
250 Jalan Air Hitam, Penang
T: (0422) 83 930
Admission: Tour 10 ringgit

Location map for Suffolk House

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