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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

By Erin Hershberg| Photography by Joshua Best
What's on the menu at Lee Restaurant, Susur Lee’s old-yet-new kitchen inside the Waterworks Building

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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.”

Susur Lee's new Lee Restaurant location, in the Waterworks complex and Richmond Street West and Portland Street in Toronto

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 food

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.

Susur Lee's signature Singapore-style slaw at Lee Restaurant
Lee’s signature Singapore-style slaw is his vegan take on the traditional Chinese New Year dish, lo hei. The towering salad, which he developed as a Chinese-restaurant consultant while living in Singapore, is a playful collection of 24 ingredients—some raw, some cooked. Things like pickled ginger, lotus chips, crunchy taro root, crisp daikon, jicama and edible petals are dressed in a bright vinaigrette of ume, beet juice and Japanese vinegar. $34

 

A closeup of chef Susur Lee's Singapore-style slaw at Lee Restaurant
Here’s a closer look

 

The Char Siu Barbecue Duck dish at Lee Restaurant in Toronto
The char siu barbecue duck, plated to look like a painter’s palette, is a Cantonese barbecue and Peking duck mash-up with a little bit of French influence on the side. Locally sourced duck is marinated in Cantonese spices for two days before being cooked and sliced. It’s accompanied by a smooth foie-gras-and-chicken-liver paté as well as some crunchy deep-fried tofu skin. The idea is to wrap a bit of everything in a thin Chinese pancake, slather it with the house Dijon-and-brown-sugar sauce, and garnish it with Chinese leeks, pickled ginger and cranberry-ginger compote. $62

 

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A closeup of the bbq duck at Lee Restaurant in Toronto
Here’s a better look at that duck

 

A shareable platter of chef Susur Lee's desserts, all in bite-size form, at Lee Restaurant in Toronto
The All-Time Best is a sharable dessert platter featuring the menu’s sweet standouts in bite-size form. The stunning assortment features Lee’s version of his mother’s tong yuen, glutinous rice balls stuffed with nougat and Ferrero Rocher ganache; a French twist on Indian panipuri, filled with lemongrass crème brûlée and strawberry and topped with matcha-dusted whipped cream; crisp deep-fried dumplings bursting at the seams with caramelized mutsu apples; and a salted peanut butter chocolate bar—just in case things weren’t sweet enough already. $36

 

A closeup shot of a dessert platter at Lee Restaurant, Susur Lee's new restaurant in Toronto
And, again, a closer look
The drinks

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 Asian Oyster Caesar at Lee Restaurant in Toronto
The Asian Oyster Caesar is Lee’s take on the traditional Canadian cocktail. He adds Sriracha, Tabasco, hoisin, rice wine vinegar, Thai basil and cilantro to the standards and garnishes it with a freshly shucked Colville Bay oyster and a slice of dehydrated tomato. $22

 

The Shanghai 75 cocktail, a twist on the French 75 at Lee Restaurant in Toronto
The Shanghai 75 is Lee’s refreshing rendition of the French 75 made from lemon balm–infused gin, ginger syrup, cucumber juice and prosecco. $19

 

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The Velvet Dream cocktail at Lee Restaurant in Toronto
A new selection on the cocktail card is the fruit-forward Velvet Dream, a layered dessert drink of white rum, vodka, blue Curaçao, Maldon salt and cream, garnished with a few rose petals. $20

 

The sangria cart at Lee Restaurant in Toronto
Tableside sangria, anyone?

 

A closer look at the components of Lee Restaurant's sangria cart
A closer look at the sangria cart

 

A spread of dishes and drinks at Lee Restaurant in Toronto
And a whole spread of dishes and drinks
The space

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.

The front foyer of Lee Restaurant in Toronto
A closeup of the abacus-like divider in the foyer of Lee Restaurant
Bar seating at Lee Restaurant, a new restaurant in Toronto's Waterworks complex
The bar, looking out to the dining room, at Lee Restaurant
The embroidered seats of barstools at Lee Restaurant in Toronto
The main dining room, with a view of the bar, at Lee Restaurant
Another view of the main dining room at Lee Restaurant, Susur Lee's new restaurant in Toronto
A sweeping view of the main dining room at Lee Restaurant, Susur Lee's new spot in the old Waterworks building
Photo by Joshua Best
The private dining room at Susur Lee's new restaurant in Toronto, Lee Restaurant
Photo by Joshua Best
Artwork on the walls of the private dining room at Lee Restaurant in Toronto
The side patio at Lee Restaurant in Toronto's new Waterworks complex
The front patio at Lee Restaurant, Susur Lee's new restaurant in Toronto
The entrance and front patio at Lee Restaurant in Toronto

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