Edward Soo Hong Wah

Edward Soo Hong Wah, Bangkung Restaurants

Edward Soo Hong Wah

In this interview, Edward Soo Hong Wah, co-owner of the Bangkung Row Restaurants (Opus Bistro, Cava, Leonardo’s, Lucky Bo), tells of challenges and realisations over his time in the F&B industry.

What do you do? How did you get into the industry?
I am a lawyer by profession. Twenty years ago, a group of us, who were all lawyers (except for one partner), started Opus Bistro. It was for a bit of fun – a place for us to hang out and entertain our friends and clients. It turned out to be a successful business venture, and so we opened Cava a few doors away when the space became available. Then, we opened Leonardo’s and Lucky Bo (and several other restaurants in between, which we have since closed). A few years back, I decided to close my law firm and concentrate more on our restaurant business.

Share with us a story from behind the scenes.
We are famous for our wagyu tomahawk served with wagyu beef fat char kway teow at Lucky Bo. This is how that dish came about.
One day, a friend had our Josper-grilled wagyu tomahawk and asked us to render down the piece of beef fat into lardons (like crispy pork lardons (chee yau char)) to have with his red wine. I thought it was a brilliant idea to make use of the beef fat which we used to throw away. Then I thought it would be an even better idea if we served the beef lardon with a char kway teow fried using the beef fat. I got the idea from how they serve Peking duck.
When we first started serving the wagyu tomahawk with beef fat char kway teow we had some customers who thought it was very weird to have fried char kway teow with grilled tomahawk. Fortunately, the idea caught on, and we became famous for the dish. So much so, we have many customers who ask just for the beef char kway teow, but we tell them they have to buy a tomahawk steak first!
We have since rebranded Lucky Bo as a Malaysian Steakhouse. I believe there is no other steakhouse in the world quite like Lucky Bo.

What is Edward Soo Hong Wah’s favourite food and beverage pairing?
Leonardo’s Iberico Pork Bah Kut Teh with a glass of Shiraz.

What’s a food memory from your childhood that stands out?
My father buying supper for us. It would usually be fried Hokkien mee or Cantonese fried noodles or pork innards porridge or yau char kway with tong sui (Chinese dessert). It was a treat, and we would have it two-three times a week. There is nothing like going to sleep with a warm, happy tummy.
Unfortunately, these days I worry about my growing tummy, and so I seldom have supper.

What’s one of the wildest things you have seen behind the scenes?
We used to have a very good looking waiter at Opus. There was this group of three ladies who would come late in the evening. Later I heard from the other staff that they would wait till the restaurant was about to close and then go into the toilet with our waiter for 20-30 minutes at a time. I leave it to your imagination what they did in the toilet.

What’s something you’d like guests to know about the Bangkung Row Restaurants?
I would like them to look at the artwork on the walls. They are all from my personal collection. I believe we are one of the few restaurants that display original artworks.
My friends joke that every time I run out of space to put up artwork in my apartment, I will open a new restaurant!

How has the pandemic changed your perspective or the way you operate?
The pandemic has been very challenging for the whole F&B industry, especially for restaurants like ours, which couldn’t pivot to a takeaway model. We even had to sell one of my favourite outlets, Bobo, which was a performance space. That was a very difficult decision to make.
We tried everything during the pandemic period – from having more takeaway dishes to opening an affordable fine dining restaurant at Bobo to selling wines retail, to selling gourmet burgers, nasi lemak, etc. None of those ideas worked.
What I realised is that we have to work on our strengths which are: (1) our location, (2) good service (3) affordable comfort food and wines.
I will elaborate on the last two points.
Service is currently an issue as we have a shortage of service staff in the industry. Fortunately, we have some very loyal staff who have stayed with us, and sometimes they have to work doubly hard. I am very thankful for them.
I am constantly working with my chefs to ensure that everything that comes out of the kitchen is up to my standards, and that starts with sourcing good ingredients. Unfortunately, the cost of food has gone up a lot. We expect it to go up even higher. And so, I have been working on providing more affordable options. For example, I brought back our RM15 soup of the day and introduced a minute steak at RM78 at Opus. I have also revamped the menu at Cava. And we have also recently launched our new “great wines at unbeatable prices” promotion across all restaurants. Our wines are now priced very affordably. You can get a glass of house wine from RM21-24 per glass.
I want to focus on our restaurants being friendly, affordable neighbourhood restaurants.

What’s your view of the Food & Beverage scene in Kuala Lumpur?
I think the F&B scene in KL is very exciting. In the past 5-10 years, a lot of good restaurants and cafes have opened.
I think the problem we all face is escalating costs (food ingredients and labour) and getting good staff. We will all have to adapt to this new normal. It is going to be a challenging period for everyone in the industry, and we each have to find our own niche.

Read more interviews such as this one with Edward Soo Hong Wah here, and stay up to date with the latest food and beverage happenings in KL here.

2 Comments

  1. Wowww!!! A lawyer with a string of restaurants to his name. Impressive!!!

  2. Edward’s story is so inspiring, maybe I should change my job too?

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