There are few places in the world closer to my heart than Kampong Ah Lee: Malaysia Delight. The Malaysian restaurant on Edinburgh’s Clerk Street is undoubtedly a highlight of the city’s food scene, serving incredible unpretentious food at reasonable prices. Cat and I have been eating there for years; and, in fact, built our whole wedding around having our meal in their erstwhile sister restaurant Kampung Ali, in Tollcross. This week, celebrating my new job with my mum and her partner, we dropped in once again for some of the best Malaysian food we have had outside of Kuala Lumpur.
The restaurant has changed a little since our first trip more than ten years ago. The formica tables and Malaysian Tourist Board posters were recently replaced by smart booths and oiled wood. The vibe is still the same, though. The booths are a little too small, and the constant queue hungrily eyes your dinner from two steps away. When my mum asks if there is somewhere to hang her coat, she is informed that ‘this is not a fancy restaurant.’ And that is the beauty of Kampong Ah Lee. It doesn’t need any pomp or ceremony – the food really does the talking. That said, we have built a great relationship with the owner and his family over the years – and we have been very well looked after.
After our wedding – when we crammed 120 people into their Tollcross restaurant – we visited the family’s tiny village, Titi, on our honeymoon. The village was so small that nobody had heard of it, and after convincing a very friendly taxi driver to drive the hour from Seremban (itself, an hour and a half from KL by bus) we arrived to find our hosts were out of the village for the day. After some confusion (and a lot of attention as the only white people to have ever visited the village), we managed to track down a friend of the Lee family who summoned our hosts back from their shopping trip, and gave us a snack. When the younger Lee brother returned, we were paraded through the streets, causing quite a commotion. People were nearly falling off their scooters as they gawped at the pasty 6’4 ginger and his big pale wife. We were well fed on local fruits and pastries, before we were sat down for a massive meal. It was an incredible experience, and one which we won’t forget in a hurry.
We know the menu at Kampong Ah Lee off by heart, and ordering is like singing our favourite song. The food is still just as good as it was when we first started going. The Roti Canai is served with a deep curry sauce, shot through with the flavour of fresh curry leaves. A firm favourite, golden spicy duck – neither golden, nor spicy – is deep fried, umami, dark brown and molassesy. I haven’t met a person yet who doesn’t immediately grin when they eat it. Other favourites include Char Koay Teow (flat rice noodles with pork, prawns, and egg), Minced pork with aubergine and salted fish, and the wonderfully coconutty and spicy Beef Rendang. I have never had a bad meal in Kampong Ah Lee, and I’ve certainly had enough to catch a dud. The good prices and BYOB make it a hit with just about anyone, and it is often full to the rafters.
If you haven’t already, check out Kampong Ah Lee asap!
** What restaurants hold special memories for you? **