Food often tells a story, and this wasn’t more true than at East, one of the newest restaurant offerings in Edmonton. East opened in December, and comes to us courtesy of Richard Lim, whose also owns L’Azia and Wildflower Grill.
Richard immigrated to Canada from Malaysia in 1969. Since then, he’s amassed decades of experience in the field of hospitality, but even with three successful establishments under his belt, he still had yet to bring the flavours of his childhood to the city.
In 2005, Richard returned to Malaysia for the first time in thirty-two years. He really enjoyed reconnecting with his roots and exploring old haunts after such a long period of absence, and being a restauranteur, was especially inspired by the food. The seed had been planted.
In 2009, Richard began thinking more seriously about a Malaysian-centred venture. His trip on this occasion was for research purposes – he toured markets and tasted dishes for inspiration – what would he like to serve in Edmonton? Richard said that the final menu actually took a year to finalize.
Two weeks ago, Mack and I joined a group of food writers for a tasting of some of those dishes, preceding a grand opening that took place at the end of February. I can’t describe the night better than to say it was an assault of food. Dishes arrived rapid-fire from the kitchen, their overwhelming flurry matching Richard’s obvious enthusiasm and pride in East. We sampled more than a dozen of the menu’s appetizers, mains and desserts, and were fortunate to have both Richard and Executive Chef Nathin Bye on hand to explain them.
Nathin Bye and the Lims
Mack’s favourite appetizer, not surprisingly, was the spring rolls, enhanced with five-spice pork and the crunch of jicama. My soft spot for the roti canai and accompanying curry sauce was obvious – I wouldn’t let the servers take the dish away, try as they might. The roti were chewy and pliable, and eaten with the slightly sweet curry sauce, was the perfect way to start the meal.
Spring rolls and curry puffs
Our entrees began with several modernized Chinese-Malaysian dishes. The crowd favourite this round was the Alor Street chili mussels (Alor being one of the main street food thoroughfares in Kuala Lumpur). The sweet-spicy glaze complemented the mussels well.
Alor Street chili mussels
Another signature was butter prawns, wok fried and topped with egg floss. It was a bit like having dessert for dinner, as the flaky floss reminded me of crushed up egg rolls.
The fried crispy sweet and sour pork belly was another show stopper, a decadent version of a dish my Mum makes at home for special occasions. Tham’s family tofu was something I’d never had before – pressed spinach tofu paired with a pumpkin sauce. It had great earthy flavours and as with the previous two dishes, it again exemplified Richard’s view that Malaysian cuisine is “slightly sweet.”
Sweet and sour pork belly
Tham’s family tofu
We then moved into some more pure Malaysian dishes that Richard said the surrounding Malaysian community had embraced, telling him that they were reminded of home. One great example was their beef rendang stew, which had a nice front heat, with tender and slightly fatty meat.
The KL Hokkein noodle was a dish close to Richard’s heart. After a night of drinking, it was his go-to street eat: Chinese wheat noodles stir-fried with pork, squid, prawns, vegetables and a dark soy sauce. Richard admitted it was a drier, leaner version than the one he ate back in KL, as he removed the key ingredient of pork fat. But Mack in particular still enjoyed it, loving the sauce and the variety of textures.
KL Hokkein noodle
All of the dishes we sampled that night were fairly mild, though Mack and I were expecting otherwise. Richard said that is actually how he prefers it, though I can imagine a request could be made to the kitchen to kick it up a few notches.
Dessert was momochacha and a black glutinous rice. The former, made with sweet potato, was very similar to those I’ve had made by Malaysian family friends. The latter had good texture from the grains, and an interesting twist with the inclusion of orange zest.
Momochacha and black glutinous rice
East is very much a family affair. Richard and his wife are not only introducing Edmontonians to a cuisine not widely available in the city, but they are also passing along their knowledge to a new generation of chefs, including Nathin, who himself comes from a Prairie Ukrainian background. I am already looking forward to my next visit out East, with my own family in tow!
16049 97 Street
Lunch: Monday-Friday 11am-2pm; Dinner: Monday-Thursday 4:30-11pm, Friday 4:30-midnight; Weekends: Saturday 11am-midnight, Sundays and Holidays 11am-1opm