Where to Eat : At Viva Victoria ‘s Psychedelic Food Garden with Penang Island’s creatives

Clockwise Mandy Maung, Me, Tina Lee Degreef, Nasir Nadzir, Aboud Fares, and Ivan A.F. Gabriel (missing Love Lee Lily)

This is first my attempt at writing since lock down, no…I lie..its since FOREVER. We are, at the moment, enjoying momentary freedom after the Movement Control Order (MCO) was lifted . “Momentary” because, we suspect, with this new found freedom we’ve touched and hugged and breathed already too much of each other. We’re doing ok, compared to other bolder and not necessarily “bigger” countries. But each time a person gets infected or has recovered , our heart skips a beat, we’re always watching those digits go up or down, very very closely. Such strange times…

It was about a week ago Ivan texted me a very casual invite ;

Ivan : Hey babe, watcha doing this week? Wanna eat? Come to our Artists Lunch at 12.

Me: Yeah. Nothing. OK . See you at noon.

Ivan, … It would be incomplete to mention Ivan without describing him. Ivan is the creative-energy-bunny of GTown, Penang, his smile is recognisable on this island, he is a curator and an artist. Some folks wear their heart on their sleeve, he wears his heart on his FACE. Not many cool art events and activities happen without Ivan, June 2019 Penang Free Sheet , March 2020 Malay Mail , April 2020 The Star . Ivan Alexander Francis Gabriel , hah!, even his full name has of ALL my favourite baby names.

I arrived at Viva Victoria a bit before noon. And had plenty of time to soak in the ambiance. It wasn’t my first visit, but the first visit officially, as a reviewer. True to our current SOP set by our government , the staff took my temperature and details were recorded. You’ll notice the floor to ceiling shelves full of books either donated by diners , collected by owners or other eclectic reads for sale.

If Adam and Eve were to re-do their first date , this place would be the place they’d meet. So green and inviting, crazy plants lazily reach out and seem to want to hug you, with wild tie dyed table cloth tops, and ample space that stretch further in. I imagine the owners , when picking up stuff around, for their establishment ” This looks crazy cute right ?! Let’s get it!”

First face I saw was artist Nasir Nadzir, a quiet shy soul, …until you come across his art and realise that quietness and his keen observance are his strengths ! Silent, so fine, so intimate, poignant pencil strokes telling tender stories of the plight of almost and recently extinct animals. You can find his amazing work here , HERE! AND on FB here ” I make wildlife and nature drawing. “ I wanted to share these , because they moved me so much :

“This is a painting based on final camera shot of Tam Tam, our last male Sumatran Rhino.. it is 3ft by 4ft acrylic painting on canvas, its still hung at The Art E Space (TAES) in Straits Quay…This painting will be going to Sabah come December. ” – Nasir Nadzir

A picture says a thousand words but his works tells a thousand more, pure emotion, honest truth and the potential loss of beauty and purpose of nature if we don’t take care of her.

“I did this tribute painting in collaboration with Tabin Wildlife, the reserve centre that runs a forestry resort in Lahad Datu, Sabah, and also look after lots of endangered wildlife species in their sanctuary, because I did a small illustration piece for them back in 2016. It was an A4 colored pencils on paper. Never did I anticipate Tam was going to leave us 3 years later” Nasir Nadzir

I met a few more warm and interesting characters. Farida Khan-Evans , who heads the art department at Prince of Wales Island International School . She’s so sexy, and colourful and walked in like the summer after winter. She recently participated at an exhibition with other artists highlighting the sufferings of trishaw pedallers without tourists during the lock down, here an article by The Star on the art event . Farida is also with Open Studios and has been exhibiting internationally for 30 years, her FB for The Art Room , more on her work here .

Then there was Love Lee Lily , a self taught Mandala artist , who I need to get to know more of. We were sat next to each other, and because we share the same name, I liked her instantly! …I wonder if she does tattoos..

The hostess and co- founder of Viva Victoria , Tina Lee Degreef , is an artist herself. She is a gold smith and works with both silver and gold. She hand makes jewellery and recently picked up painting too. She talks a mile minute but rarely about herself, her excitement comes from pushing ideas, fund raising, campaigns, motivating others into getting their butt in gear and… food.

Mandy Maung a personal friend of mine, I love her so much! She is one of my favourite artist who really captures sentiments of childhood on canvas. She is a little warrior and will scale walls 100 times bigger than her and dress it up with fantastic murals, take a look at some here. I get to be on her personal FB but Mandy Maung Art is just as personal and warm.

Another favourite art personality of mine was also part of the lunch group, I am a big fan of his work. I met About Fares almost 6 years ago, he turned up at my house for dinner with a mutual friend. I am so proud of my Damascus sculptor friend and proud of how far he’s come. He’s always had a peaceful demeanour about him , like a satisfied tabby cat. Take time to look at his work, or read up 10 things about him from Malay Mail for a start.

It was lunch, we were served my favourite bubbles , a personal treat because I LOVE PROSECCO . Fresh from the oven chocolate chip cookies thrown in as a sweetener and conversation starter, all soft and pillowy and smelling of childhood with a hint of sin. You won’t find choc-chip on the menu. On some days, when the kitchen tries out new things you may get lucky to sample new dishes and asked your opinion. Like the Som Som with Sago for dessert. Its rice flour, coconut milk custard with sago (starch extracted from the core of palm stem) and lastly topped with Gula Melaka, its our version of yummy pudding. I really liked it, it was still at experimental stage when I visited, but now on the menu after perfecting it. A popularly fun item on the menu is the Truffle Mushroom Cappuccino, thick and creamy sips with wafts of truffle to compliment the whole experience.

FOR MAINS, WE HAD: Nyonya Kukus (steamed)Nasi Lemak with Assam Prawns ( Assam is a sourish paste made from spices and tamarind) and fried yellow tail, boiled egg and raw sliced cucumbers, the traditional must-haves combo with every nasi lemak. We also got to sample a cheeky bowl of cauliflower cooked with Thai Basil, all these are on the latest menu. If you’re a light eater , you should try the Nasi Goreng , its wholesome, nutritious and a perfectly tasty meal, its a plate of lightly fried rice, chicken bits, simple veggies, topped off with Malay style fried egg.

Much of the conversation between chewing and swallowing was about Covid-19 . How unknown, how scary, how lonely, and just how unbelievable the world situation was and still is under strict lock down. We concluded how lucky we were to be on the island, and being stuck here was just a mild nuisance in contrast to what the rest of the world was going through. In sickness, in health and in death we are all connected , who would have thought from a tiny town far far away a virus so deadly and monstrous can bring world to its knees, rich or poor we are all vulnerable.

We must always try to look at the positive side of any bad situation, this was hard for many and harder for many more. Selfishly we looked for hope from Mother Nature as she purged and healed while we were quiet and still in our houses, how ironic is it , that to save our planet, all it took was humans to stop just about every thing and just be silent.

Art is a great form of communication and I believe self healing. Art does minimal damage to Mother Nature, most times Art helps along side nature, using gravity for dancing , her sounds inspire musicians, her colours of water, sky and earth we transfer to canvas, there is a lot we owe her.

If by chance you need to heal through art, go seek out these wonderful gentle artists at The Art E Space , sign up to learn a new brush stroke, experience a new colour, participate. Keep Art alive in your heart, Mother Nature tells us so.

Take care world.

Viva Victoria

Contact details:  +604-261 0000

169 Lebuh Victoria , 10300 , George Town, Penang Island

Penang, Malaysia

Type: Restaurant , Bar

Operating Hours : Tuesday – Sunday 12pm – 10 pm

Price Range : RM6 – RM60

If I could describe it 3 words: “Definitely, my space”

Specialties : Truffle Mushroom Cappuccino , Indian Pizza , 24 Hour Slow Cook Lamb Shank

Good for : work/casual/solo lunches, with friends , very family friendly, fun night out at the bar , events , dinner with friends and family

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