Nicola is renowned for her diverse achievements. Her career in food, wine, and travel spans various dimensions, but what truly stands out to us is that she’s an exemplar of a girl boss.
As a RADARLIST contributor, we initially discovered Nicola as a wine guru through her insightful pieces focused on wine tasting featured on the site. As time has progressed, we’ve uncovered her other impressive roles. Alongside managing her real estate investment company, she contributes wine and travel content for Singapore’s The Business Times and RADARLIST. Additionally, she passionately channels her inner wine lover in her role as the Ambassador of the Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne in the Lion City.
Another noteworthy achievement is her recent appointment as the Academy Chair for South-East Asia (South) at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. In this role, she leverages her expertise and profound understanding of food and wine to illuminate and present deserving culinary trends and promising chefs in the region.
We had the opportunity to chat with her and ask about her favourite places to eat, drink, and shop in the city she loves: Penang
“I love food trips to Penang because of its old-world charm and history. Penang is just a short flight away from Singapore and it offers a quick respite from the bustling metropolis. One has the choice of being based in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Georgetown (since 2008) or the tranquil beaches of Batu Ferringhi. From street art to Straits Chinese culture to the cool breeze enjoyed on Penang Hill, there is so much to do on this multicultural island. It is also a food haven for street food lovers,” said Nicola.
Without further ado, here are some of her absolute favourite venues, which we think should definitely be on your radar. Let’s jump right into Nicola’s Penang city guide.
Pulau Tikus Market
“No visit to Penang is complete without a local breakfast and Pulau Tikus Market is the perfect stop. This charming market consisting of rows of stalls and pushcarts is a great place to experience the local community and flavour. Start your day early and head to Kedai Kopi Swee Kong where you can dive into a bowl of Penang Hokkien Mee — an intense, rich, brick-red prawn broth served with yellow noodles and vermicelli.”
“For a lighter touch, enjoy a simple bowl of Kway Teow Th’ng (flat rice noodles in a clear broth) served with meatballs and fish cake. The coffee shop also offers a good Char Kway Teow (stir-fried flat rice noodles) if your stomach has the capacity. No matter what, end your meal with freshly made appom from Mr. Ravi whose family has been making it since 1922. Made in clay pots using charcoal, these soft, thin pancakes made from fermented rice batter and coconut milk are superb and should be eaten immediately.”
317 Jalan Burma for Kedai Kopi Swee Kong (the market is at the rear) 10350 George Town
Siam Road Char Kway Teow
“If you’re up for the challenge of a two-hour queue, head to the Char Kway Teow stall at Siam Road. What makes this classic Penang dish special is the fragrant ‘wok hei’—meaning the breath of the wok—a flavour that comes from the charcoal used to fuel the fire for the wok. The elderly Mr. Tan Chooi Hong, who was featured in BBC Travel’s “50 Reasons to Love the World” in 2021, and his son take turns preparing each plate of fried rice noodles filled with Chinese sausage, prawns, chives, and eggs. I recommend arriving early, before the shutters open, to avoid standing in the queue, which may expose you to the elements. Is it worth the wait? If time is on your side, absolutely give it a try, but consider bringing a book to help pass the time.”
83 Jalan Siam
10400 George Town
“Established in 1965, this is an institution in Georgetown and is popular with both locals and tourists. Snagging a reservation here requires some effort. You will need to call in advance, as the chance of getting a table upon arrival is highly unlikely. The restaurant serves a delightful mix of Cantonese, Teochew, Hakka, and Peranakan dishes. Their signature Assam Tumis Fish (fish in a sour spicy gravy) comes with either Stingray or Black Pomfret options. Another must-try dish is the Double Roasted Pork Fried with Chilli Padi, known as “Char Siew Bak.” The thin slices of pork belly fried with a secret marinade will leave you wanting more!”
18 & 20 Carnarvon Street
Kek Seng Cafe
“Ice cream the Penang way is only to be had at Kek Seng. Serving homemade ice cream since 1906, this local coffee shop is something of a time capsule. The faded signboard and charming wooden booth seats are a blast from the past. How you wish the walls could talk – what adventures they would have to share with the many customers who have passed through their doors. Order their Ais Kacang, a refreshing mountain of shaved ice with rose syrup and a blend of red beans, creamed sweet corn, ice jelly, and attap chee (nipah palm seed). While Singapore has its own version, the one at Kek Seng is different and worth trying. Their durian ice cream, which is made in-house, is also a very popular dessert and worth a try.”
382 – 384 Jalan Penang
Hameediyah Nasi Kandar
“Known as the oldest Nasi Kandar (which translates to rice on the shoulder) shop in Penang, Hameediyah does not disappoint. Serving delicious Indian Muslim dishes since 1907, it offers an excellent variety. Try the popular Lamb Shank, Ayam Kapitan, and the Murtabak, among many other dishes. The flavours are subtle and mild but still flavorful. Expect long queues, so it’s advisable to go early.”
164A Lebuh Campbell
“Sixth Sense, located next to the popular ChinaHouse café (which incidentally is also worth a visit for its cakes and original interiors), is a homegrown lifestyle store that offers minimalist-inspired local fashion. Housed in a restored shophouse along Lebuh Pantai, you can admire the restoration and pick up something for yourself or friends back home. The founders have also opened Warehouse 129, a little further down the road, which offers a more youthful and edgy version of Sixth Sense’s current lineup of clothes and accessories.”
“Since 1856, Ghee Hiang has been producing sesame oil, ranging from blended to pure to roasted. The staff is on hand to guide you through the varieties and suggest the most suitable type of sesame oil for your needs. Their roasted sesame oil is hygienically filtered and allowed to settle prior to bottling, thereby retaining its aromatic flavours. No chemical additives or bleaching agents are used. These make perfect gifts for those who love their food and enjoy cooking.”
Hin Company Ltd
“Located at Jalan Gurdwara in the heart of Georgetown, this building was constructed in 1947 in the Art Deco style and is now home to artisanal craft shops, art galleries, and art spaces. Formerly a bus depot of Hin Company, which successfully ran bus routes in the north of Malaysia, the company closed in 1999. The building was later restored and opened to the public in 2014. Enjoy a stroll through the premises and stop for tea.”
Pinang Peranakan Mansion
“Known among locals as the Green House, this charming private museum hosted HM King Charles and HM Queen Camilla on their state visit in 2017. Spread over two floors, you can enjoy the lovely Peranakan collection and savour the life of the Straits Chinese from a century ago.”
Where To Stay
Shangri-La Rasa Sayang Penang / Eastern & Oriental Hotel
“The Shangri-La Hotel, affectionately known by locals as the Rasa Sayang, along with the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, are two legendary hotels in Penang. Both offer breathtaking views of sunsets and the sea. Located at entirely different locations, a stay in either of these hotels is always a special experience.”
“You may not think of Penang as home to a speakeasy cocktail bar, but Backdoor Bodega will prove you wrong. Hidden behind the clothes racks of a fashion shop (dubbed “An Overpriced Pin Shop”), Backdoor Bodega serves locally inspired cocktails prepared by owner and bartender Koh Yung Shen. Their Georgetown Gimlet is a refreshing concoction of Southeast Asian herbs, including torch ginger flower, daun kesum (laksa leaf), galangal (blue ginger), lemongrass, belacan (shrimp paste), and tamarind. I don’t think you will ever have a Gimlet quite like this again. Backdoor Bodega’s Kelapa Hotak, which is made from house coconut rum, is another cocktail hit. It was voted No. 97 in Asia’s 50 Best Bars in 2022.”