In the year following the announcement of Susur Lee’s new project in the storied room that once was Susur restaurant, it was tempting to believe that the chef was planning a triumphant return to Toronto. Speaking on his behalf, Brenda Bent, his wife and the designer of his Toronto restaurants, sounded keen to have her peripatetic husband back in the city more often. She even went so far as to enumerate the days Lee is contractually obliged to spend at his restaurants in New York, D.C. and Singapore (a total of 58 per year), adding that her husband wanted to “offer a more intense level of cooking” here at home.
This was great news for diners craving something more ambitious than Lee, the casual, cash-spinning and comparatively low-maintenance restaurant he has run, albeit often from a distance, since 2004, or Madeline’s, which stood for a couple years in the former Susur space but never came close to being as good as its predecessor.
Could diners dare to dream that the chef might give it his all in a Toronto kitchen again? When the new place, Lee Lounge, opened on Valentine’s Day, after eight months of delays, the first thing you saw inside the door was a black and white picture of Lee as a child with his family in Hong Kong, and the words “Re-Entry Permit” written above the photo on the wall. “Re-Entry Permit” was the theme of the Lee Lounge launch. What else were we supposed to think? Susur Lee was back.
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