Cover Abby Lee at work in Mambow (Photo: Abby Lee)

The London-based chef shares what she misses most about home and where she goes to get the taste of home in London

Abby Lee grew up among loaves of bread and pots of assam pedas in her family's bakery and home kitchen. Her fondest childhood is the smell of freshly baked bread. Eventually Lee earned a diploma from Le Cordon Bleu and landed a job at Michelin-starred Pashà Ristorante in Italy. 

She opened her own restaurant, Mambow, in 2020; the timing was unfortunate and she was forced to close down the fast casual restaurant during the pandemic lockdown. She reintroduced Mambow recently at London's Peckham district. This time, however, it is a full service restaurant with food inspired by her growing up years in Malaysia and Singapore. At Mambow, she's constantly recreating and reinventing flavours she grew up in. 

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What was your Le Cordon Bleu experience like? 
 
In Malaysia, most dishes start with a rempah, so not being able to use this approach at Le Cordon Bleu was weird. I also noticed the flavours at Le Cordon Bleu were much simpler—the dishes focused way more on the flavours of the produce itself, with much more delicate seasoning and lots of butter.

The other big difference was the plating and measurements. In Malaysian cuisine, portions are more generous and a lot is measured with the eye or by feel, whereas at Le Cordon Bleu everything was incredibly precise. I literally had to measure out bits of vegetable and fish with a ruler when plating dishes.

What inspired Mambow? 
 
My aunt and my grandma and their way of cooking. Their recipes and watching them cook over the years were a big source of inspiration. I knew that at some point in my life I wanted to inherit their recipes. With Mambow, I can introduce to the people in the UK about our beautiful Malaysian food. Cooking is also a way to preserve and honour the memories of my family as well as keeping my heritage alive. 

Tell us more about the process of creating Mambow's menu.

It began with me spending four months in Malaysia with my aunt and grandma, learning all about traditional recipes and dishes. Next, I learnt what people in the UK liked through the pop-ups that I did. They really helped me understand what dishes worked well for the UK palate.

The menu at Mambow is essentially a combination of traditional Malaysian dishes inherited from my family and some adapted and modernised dishes that I knew would work here. A good example is the Hainanese Chicken Sando.

See also: A Taste of Home: Sambal Shiok Laksa Bar's Mandy Yin on Her Favourite Pasar Malam

If someone from Malaysia visited Mambow, what would be the dish you'd recommend?

Ikan Asam Pedas made with my family’s signature rempah. It's the punchiest dish on the menu.

What food do you miss most when away from Malaysia?

The ones that come to mind are popiah, chee cheong fun and iced Milo.

Do you have a favourite restaurant in Malaysia?

Soon Hock Cafe & Restaurant in Sibu. I've been craving kampua mee so much recently.

If you have guests visiting London, where would you take them for a real taste of Malaysia? 

Dapur in Holborn is amazing for its nasi lemak. Malaysian Deli for its sambal mackerel and aubergine. Putera Puteri in Notting Hill is great for curry puffs and wat tan hor (Cantonese rice noodles with seafood or meat in starchy sauce).  

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What café in Malaysia do you go for your coffee fix?

I go to The Alley in George Town. It has its beans beans roasted in Kuala Lumpur.

Do you stock up on any Malaysian ingredients or packaged foods before flying back to the UK? 

I always bring back some belacan and Taiping soy sauce. The latter is a proper dark soy sauce which you can’t really get in the UK. I also stock up on bunga kantan, properly wrapped and ready to go in the freezer as soon as I arrive home.  

What restaurant would you like to try when you're back in Malaysia next? 

Gēn Penang. It looks very inspiring! 

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