What’s on the menu at Lee Restaurant, Susur Lee’s old-yet-new kitchen inside the Waterworks Building
Thankfully, the Singapore-style slaw and cheeseburger spring rolls made the cut
Name: Lee Restaurant
Contact: 497 Richmond St. W., 416-504-7867, leerestaurant.com, @lee_restaurant
Neighbourhood: Fashion District
Chef-owner: Susur Lee
Accessibility: Fully accessible
When Susur Lee opened the doors to Susur, his original King West restaurant, in 2000, the acclaimed Toronto chef staked his claim on the strip’s evolving culinary and cocktail scene. He continued in this fashion with Lee, his second spot on the block, which he opened in 2004 and closed last March. And though the King West of today is much different than it was 23 years ago, Lee made the choice to close his restaurant not because King West had outgrown him but because he had outgrown King West.
“When I first came to the neighbourhood, it was a different vibe. It was just me and a couple of other small places. Customers were coming because they knew you were there—you were the destination,” says Lee. “It’s not like that anymore, and I just wasn’t feeling inspired. Business was still booming, but I needed to feel satisfied, and I wasn’t, so I decided to get out—not to start over but to continue the journey in a way where I felt comfortable and fulfilled.”
In his new digs, situated in the heart of the beautifully restored Waterworks complex at Richmond and Portland, he’s brought much of what he loved from the old Lee—including both menu and design elements—to a shiny new canvas. And while it’s important for Lee to bring his past into the present, it’s equally important for him to contribute to the culinary world’s present—he is a TikTok star, after all—with a few new dishes.
The menu comprises meticulously plated sharable dishes full of surprising textures and curious layers of flavour, all implemented with French technique, Asian soul and artistic vision. While all the steadfast hits of the OG Lee remain on the menu (because how could a cheeseburger spring roll get old?), there are a few additions that nod to current trends. New items include steamed chicken dumplings in a ginger soy glaze, finished with Lee’s take on the condiment of the hour, chili crunch, and Miyazakigyu A5 striploin, grilled over Japanese binchotan coals and served with daikon ponzu.
A short list of wine, sake and beer is rounded out by a selection of fruit-forward cocktails (and mocktails), including Beds of Nirvana, a dark rum–based drink washed with coconut and stirred with Campari, ginger and lime. There’s also the bar’s take on a spicy margarita, a blend of tequila, Cointreau and calamansi juice with an Asian chili rim.
The impressive dining room is full of quirky, beautiful, anachronistic elements to surprise and delight. Hanging woven tapestries (designed by Susur’s wife, Brenda Bent), reclaimed chairs and bar stools covered in vintage embroidery contrast with modern light fixtures, a stark marble bar and low-slung leather banquettes. Much like with Lee’s signature 24-ingredient Singapore-style slaw, there’s a distinct seek-and-ye-shall-find vibe about the restaurant: look one way to admire an indented walnut wall that resembles a Chinese checker board, another way to spot a sculptural floor lamp that looks equal parts sea creature and extraterrestrial. It’s almost like a museum, which is fitting for a restaurant whose dishes are themselves works of art.