Five minutes with: Abby Lee

The chef and founder of Mambow on the restaurant’s at-home service, all-weekend dinner parties with Dennis Rodman and butter

Food and Drink 29 Jul 2020

Mambow in Shoreditch is currently offering an at-home delivery service
Smoky Aubergine
The Mambow At Home spread

Tell us a bit about Mambow at Home…
At the moment, we are focusing on a special part of my Malaysian heritage through Nyonya/Peranakan cuisine with a menu called “Nyonya Summer” – marrying British produce with Nyonya inspired dishes. It is a simple DIY home meal kit, with a funky instruction booklet to show you how to assemble each dish. All the sauces are ready to go and the herbs are chopped, so it’s a quick way to have a restaurant-style meal at home.

How has your heritage influenced the dishes on the menu?
I never thought I would be cooking food from my home. I absolutely love the cuisine and having always cooked Italian and Mediterranean food for years, this feels like Christmas. After 10 years of not living near home I’m no longer running away from it – only in the past year have I wanted to learn my family’s recipes and I’m loving it. I now appreciate how lucky I am to be from such a beautiful country with such an incredible cuisine and it’s punchy flavours – this is what I now try to achieve with every bite of my menu. Malaysian food, especially Peranakan cuisine, is a laborious process and some dishes taking two days to make. I am falling back in love with something I used to take for granted and had little interest in.

What is your favourite dish on the menu?
Nasi ulam. One bite and it transports me back home with all its indigenous herbs and the calamansi lime cutting through. Freshness and sourness are my favourite sensations, so this is an absolute winner.

What are your store cupboard essentials?
Fish sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, cumin, coriander, turmeric, farro and black rice.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given in your career and why?
It’s not about the big end goal and needing to be successful, it’s about the process, and the little things you experience day to day that you need to find solace in. You’ll be less scattered and more focused. This is something I feel everyone should do. Being more present reduces the feeling of being overwhelmed by external pressures. I am trying my best to stick to this, but it’s not easy!

Who is your role model and how have they influenced you in your work?
My Aunt. She has subconsciously passed on her passion and work ethic for food down to me. Generosity is what she is all about, not stopping until all bellies are stuffed. She puts flavour above all else with the best quality ingredients. It sounds simple, but these things can easily be forgotten. Also, her palette is second to none. She is the last member of my family to hold all my grandmother’s recipes so it’s been an amazing experience learning from her over the past year.

Mambow’s vegan tofu kapitan

What ingredient can you not live without and why?
Butter! Is there anything better? Slab it onto crusty bread with lots of sea salt, toss it in at the end of your pasta dish, finishing off every sauce, basting a fish, herby butters, and the best cakes. Think I’ve covered all bases…

What item, apart from your passport, can you not travel without?
My portable speakers. There’s a song for every setting so why miss a chance to blast some music and annoy the neighbours.

Where is your favourite place to eat in London?
Cornerstone in Hackney Wick. I’m pretty sure I’ll be buried in a tomb of scallops if it’s legal, and chef Tom Brown kills it every time. Also, Nandine in Camberwell, which serves beautiful Kurdish food.

What do you like the most about your favourite London restaurant?
As you may have guessed, I love seafood, while the interesting and vibrant flavours of Middle Eastern cuisine has always been high on my list.

What do you like to do on a day off?
Go to a rave or order a fat takeaway and watch Lord of the Rings.

Apart from food, what are your biggest passions?
Music and collecting records – I love jungle, dubstep, techno, jazz, all of the 80s music, rock, Italian disco, Japanese pop. Combining cooking and music is my idea of a good time. They both make me feel alive and allow me to express myself. I also love interior design; imagining what spaces could be, the shapes, the colours, and the lighting – whether it’s in a cafe, a kitchen or even a bathroom.

What is the first thing you look forward to when lockdown eases?
When the clubs reopen and I can feel the sense of community and togetherness. Eating in a crowded restaurant, buzzing with atmosphere and the smells of an open kitchen.

If you could choose anyone from today or history, who would be your ideal dinner party guest and why?
Dennis Rodman. The dinner may start on Friday but could end on Monday.


Mambow’s menu is influenced by flavours from all around the world, including Singapore and Malaysia, where Lee grew up and where herbs and spices are the foundation of every dish. Lee trained in restaurants across Italy, which helped to instil her love of community-driven dining. The dishes at Mambow are created using sustainably-sourced, seasonal ingredients;