One of the most iconic buildings in Penang is certainly Cheong Fatt Tze, otherwise known as The Blue Mansion. While it has quite an interesting history and is classified as a heritage building, today the mansion is a boutique hotel and tours are often held for guests who would like to explore its historical and architectural significance.
Joining the line-up of restaurants at The Blue Mansion — Indigo, The Bar and Courtyard — is Cafe Mangga, so called because of the mango tree that still stands tall there. “There was always this space by the entrance of Cheong Fatt Tze, which I think was originally used as the servants’ or gardeners’ quarters. Subsequently, we used it as a storage area. We always had plans to utilise it a bit more,” says executive director Loh-Lim Shen Yi.
The idea to transform the space into a café then came about. “It all started with us having a vision, or a goal rather, to find ways to make the mansion more accessible to both Malaysians and Penangites,” he says. “Cheong Fatt Tze was always the sort of place international tourists would visit, and 90% of our clientele was international pre-pandemic. We felt a more casual, laid-back café would be a good idea. That was how we came up with the concept of a grab-and-go brunch place with good coffee and unique F&B options.”
Cafe Mangga was set to open its doors in March 2020, but the pandemic-induced lockdown put a stop to that. During the fourth or fifth iteration of the MCO, Shen decided it was time to launch the café for deliveries at least. The menu — curated by the same head chef who runs Indigo — has been transformed a few times since the café’s opening. “We wanted a fusion of East and West. The initial menu was very much designed around grab-and-go type of food but I think since then, it has evolved a bit more to sit down and have brunch and a chat. That’s how the tagline ‘where conversations begin’ came about,” he explains. As they have an in-house pastry team, Cafe Mangga also serves pastries and desserts.
Shen feels that the café had all the usual bumps and turns encountered by most F&B businesses, but having the experience of running Cheong Fatt Tze’s other eateries certainly made the process smoother. “I think the biggest challenge with any F&B outlet is when the owners aren’t the chefs because then they really have to find the right team. I think we’ve been fortunate enough to find a good team that curates the right menu,” he says.
Gaining traction on social media and ensuring that the space was Instagrammable for the younger generation to enjoy the café to the fullest was also important. “We wanted to make it contemporary, yet not look totally out of place with the mansion,” says Shen. “And of course, we had the mango tree. Then we thought, you know, we have to do something with this space. And I think when we look at Asian cultures in general, it has always been the norm for people to gather under a tree, where we chat, have nasi lemak or a picnic. So we thought, okay, let’s try that. Let’s try that sort of casual, picnic-style dining experience and see how it goes.”
While the pandemic may have slowed things down, there are some exciting plans for Cheong Fatt Tze. “We will refocus our energies on upgrades to the existing rooms. We recently launched The Town Houses — which are a 10-minute walk from the mansion — so guests will have complete privacy with their own kitchen space and living rooms with the perks of Cheong Fatt Tze. I think travel will return with a vengeance once the borders reopen. We are at a point where we know we need to expand, so we need more rooms. That will hopefully happen over the next couple of years,” says Shen.
Cafe Mangga is located just before the entrance to The Blue Mansion and is marked by a blue-framed doorway. Its namesake mango tree sits in the centre of the courtyard, surrounded by a raised platform with chequered yellow-and-white mats and tables for guests to sit comfortably at for a picnic. The outdoor seating is made bright with the café’s colours: yellow, white and blue. Sheltered by the tree, it is easily the perfect spot to spend an afternoon. An indoor seating area is also available.
On my visit, I wish I had more stomach space to sample one of their pastas, nasi lemak or roast beef sandwiches. Instead, I opted for the Pulut Hitam Crème Brûlée. With the perfect sugar brûléed top and glistening creamy custard, the dish was given more texture with the addition of the pulut hitam at the bottom of the ramekin. Seated outside, I devoured this dish with Mangga’s Limeade, which was refreshing and cooling on that hot day. I also packed a couple of almond croissants and a portion of Gula Melaka Oat Cake for the road — proving that Cafe Mangga truly has great options for dine-in and takeaway.
This article first appeared on Mar 7, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.