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With its classic white exterior and a blooming English garden, the Smokehouse Hotel‘s Tudor architectural designs make it look like a relic left behind from colonial times.

That’s because it is. 

Founded by William J Warin in 1937, it used to be called “Ye Old Smokehouse Inn” and served as a home away from home for British expats living in Malaya. People weren’t able to go home as often as air travel wasn’t common yet, which made the inn a communal space for the homesick Englishman.

Image Credit: Smokehouse Hotel

Being an establishment in that era, the inn only catered to Europeans at the time. This left its beauty essentially hidden from the locals.

But that’s not the case anymore thanks to Malaysian anglophile Peter Lee. After purchasing it from Lieutenant Colonel Stanley Foster in 1977, he opened the hotel to the public.

Now, travellers of all backgrounds from in and out of Malaysia come to experience the 87-year-old historical accommodation for themselves.

Image Credit: Smokehouse Hotel

Keeping the look and feel authentic

“If you look at a lot of boutique heritage hotels and properties in Malaysia, what you get is a very authentic front but then it becomes a normal hotel,” Alex, Peter’s son and the current general manager, stated. 

“We’re not quite like that in the sense that we run ourselves as a staff body, kitchen, and hotel upkeep. Country house hospitality is our motto and we try our best to run it as an English country house.”

Image Credit: Smokehouse Hotel

This is not just in terms of the look of the place, though they do spend a hefty amount to maintain its British roots. About 95% of the arts and furnishings at the Smokehouse Hotel are either exclusively imported from antique stores in Europe or custom made to fit the aesthetics of the space.

As such, you’ll find an eclectic collection of antiquated furniture and trinkets in every corner. The toilet holders are made of brass from the Victorian era, their ceramics are Dutch, and their clocks are from old Italy and France.

This is also why all of its 23 rooms are designed differently. In fact, there’s probably no two lamps that are the same either.

Image Credit: Smokehouse Hotel

Speaking to Vulcan Post, Alex admitted that it can be quite challenging to source for antiques this way especially since it required building trust with the sellers. You can’t be too cautious, as there have been tales of people getting conned into buying fake antiques

But it’s a challenge that Alex and his family happily take up to ensure that the hotel stays true to its roots. He’d usually travel to the UK to hunt for these while visiting relatives there.

Peter Lee, Alex’s dad who bought Smokehouse Hotel in 1977 / Image Credit: Smokehouse Hotel

Subtle changes while staying true to its roots

Aside from aesthetics, another way Alex’s family is keeping the hotel as authentic as possible is by continuing to serve classic English fanfare. 

Dubbed “the finest English restaurant in the Highlands”, its in-house restaurant’s menu consists of British staples like roasts, cottage pies, cod and chips, steaks, and puddings.

Image Credit: Smokehouse Hotel

Though their clientele is mostly locals nowadays, the hotel has not adapted its menu to suit the Malaysian palate. Instead, they look towards the English gastropub scene for inspiration to innovate.

Alex explained that the current F&B trend there emphasises fresh and seasonal ingredients. This is something that we’re also observing more often these days following the food challenges that the pandemic brought about.

So the Smokehouse Hotel has been working to emulate this in its R&D endeavours.

Image Credit: Smokehouse Hotel

An example Alex shared is their savoury beetroot macaron, which is beetroot cured salmon served with avocados and topped with beetroot meringue. The produce is sourced locally from Cameron Highlands. This dish used to only be for special events some months ago but can since be found on its main menu.

It’s probably this blend of heritage food with measured changes that has helped its restaurant earn a name for itself and kept people coming back for more. 

Both a heritage and family legacy

Alex with his siblings, Robin and Guin, at the Smokehouse Hotel as kids (left), Peter with his daughter named Laura in the Smokehouse Hotel in the 80s (middle), Alex at the Smokehouse Hotel in the 80s (right) / Image Credit: Smokehouse Hotel

“To a lot of people, we are like a living museum,” Alex shared. “We have people coming from the UK for summer holidays and they go, ‘This is more English than what I’m used to’. That speaks to our aim to be authentic.”

That said, the Smokehouse Hotel isn’t an old-fashioned stay that can’t keep up with the times. 

Image Credit: Smokehouse Hotel

The hotel has been making gradual incremental changes to its furnishings. They still use physical keys but WiFi and Espresso machines have been introduced. Most of its TVs are getting switched to smart TVs within the next few months.

However, more than just being unashamedly a throwback of a bygone era, the Smokehouse Hotel is essentially the continuation of a family legacy.

Speaking openly, Alex shared that his father passed away in early 2008 and didn’t really leave a successor for the business. All four of Peter’s children had their own careers abroad, including Alex who was working in Thailand.

Image Credit: Smokehouse Hotel

But upon Peter’s departure, the family just knew that he’d wanted it for the children. Alex and his siblings basically grew up there and the hotel echoes their family’s history too. If you look closely, you’ll find pictures of Alex’s mother hidden in plain sight.

All of the rooms and parts of the hotel’s gardens are named after things relevant to the Lee’s. “That’s how we keep the legacy of our family alive through it,” Alex stated. “I’ve spent 15 years looking after this place [and] we’ll keep it for as long as we can.”

  • Learn more about Smokehouse Hotel here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Smokehouse Hotel

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© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)

Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)