After teasing a hungry public for over half a year, Susur Lee, arguably the city’s most internationally recognized chef, opened his newest venture Lee Lounge last week. Formerly Susur, and then Madeline’s, the room has undergone a striking transformation at the hands of Brenda Bent (Lee’s wife and business partner) and Karen Gable—the duo responsible for many of Lee’s spaces, including the neighbouring Lee.
As the star chef explained to us last week, Lee Lounge is not quite a new restaurant, but an extension of the flagship, serving as a holding space for Lee patrons or diners just looking to graze and hang out. Compared to its predecessors, the lounge is more welcoming: the wall between both dining rooms has been opened up, and a long glass window now flanks King Street. Upholstered banquettes and chairs surrounding tightly packed tables encourage interaction, while a set of leather couches at the centre of the room offer a choice spot to people-watch.
Feminine features dominate the room. A pair of fuchsia light boxes at the rear are filled with wall mobiles made from 1940s propaganda posters. Among the treasures curated by Lee himself are a series of vintage Shanghainese cigarette girl posters lining the west wall and the chrysanthemum images embossed on the new menu covers. There are also personal touches, such as a black and white family portrait adorning the lounge’s entrance (Lee’s the tiny lad sitting between his father and mother in the front row). “I look at all this stuff and it reminds me of my trips to Hong Kong,” Lee explains. “It’s all the places that I’ve been—not just something from a store. It adds sentimental value.”
The menu is focused on shareable small bites, like a char siu–marinated duck wrap with a crisp tofu skin and foie gras mousse ($22), spicy Hunan chicken wings ($11) served with a Hainanese chicken rice dip and an Asian-style salmon ceviche ($11) dressed with smoky dashi and sweet black beans. Cocktails ($13.50–14.50) made at Lee Lounge’s backlit bar, meanwhile, boast tropical fruits, or receive a salted plum powder kick.
Although Lee admits to having more surprises up his sleeve—the the Top Chef Masters runner-up already has restaurants in New York, Singapore and Washington, DC—he promises he’s planning to stay in Toronto for “a long, long time.” Our fingers are crossed.
Lee Lounge, 601 King St. W. (at Portland), 416-603-2205, susur.com/lee.