The brother/sister team of Kay Lim and Vivian Ip have been in the U.S. for about 30 years, having left their home in Malaysia to relocate to Long Island with their mother.
“I had a pretty good job as a civil engineer back home,” says Lim, “but since my family was all moving here, I came too. My mother had run a restaurant in Malaysia that featured all kinds of foods from the surrounding areas, so we grew up around that.”
In 2004 the current space their restaurant resides in became available and he and his sister opened Matsulin together in Hampton Bays on Montauk Highway.
“We looked at lots of restaurants out here that were so-called ‘Chinese’ and found they were not very authentic, so our idea was to combine more authentic dishes from China along with foods from Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan and Malaysia. There was nothing like that and we wanted to encourage people to try something new as well as higher quality favorites.”
“What we do is expose the mouth to the balance of spices, it’s all yin and yang,” says Ip. “In our culture, life and religion and food is all about contrast and balance. We get seafood and vegetables from locally, but most of our spices and chilies come from Chinatown. It’s good to eat spicy foods when it’s hot, as it makes your body sweat and cools you down. Then in the winter it warms you up, so it’s good year-round.”
The restaurant is open year round but a special summer menu was a particular success with lobster done six ways, including Cantonese with garlic and snow peas, Malaysian with shrimp and chili, Thai with lemongrass, Hong Kong with ginger and scallion and two kinds of curries.
“The special summer lobster menu was a big favorite, we had celebrities like Michael J. Fox and his family coming in once or twice a month for it,” says Lim.
The regular menu is extensive with pages of offerings ranging from Pad Thai to sushi to Vietnamese to family style Chinese plates. Next to each item is written the country where it originates from.
“There’s something for everyone and we will create a special tasting menu if you want to really explore,” he says.
Ip brings out a dish she says was created by her grandmother and handed down three generations—anchovies served cold in a spicy sweet sauce with cucumber salad. Slighty chewy, these were unlike the salty, oily anchovies you only usually see in American pizza or Caesar salad.
“This is unique, it has a chili paste in it that only comes from Malaysia” she says. “For very adventurous eaters!”
Other tasting menu specials include chicken skewers with spicy peanut sauce; crispy calamari with onion and tomato; and vegetable spring rolls. A full sushi bar and lots of windows make for a sunny, cozy room.
Another good thing to know is that Hampton Bays was one of the few East End towns that was up and running after Hurricane Sandy, something having to do with the separate power grid they are on.
“We were one of the few restaurants in the Hamptons that kept power during the hurricane last year,” says Lim. “It was our busiest month ever.”
Ip has a 15-year-old son. “One child is plenty,” she says with a laugh, while Lim explains that he has no children because he works every day.
“If we lived back in Malaysia we would actually not work as hard as we do here. In America when you own a business you are responsible for everything and so need to be there every day. We have employees and taxes and need to keep track of the quality and the freshness of the food. But we like it here, it’s home now.”
The restaurant is open every day for lunch and dinner, they have a Facebook page that posts specials and an occasional offer for a free sake shot. They do catering and welcome special requests for diners with preferences.
“This is truly authentic and different Pan-Asian cuisine,” says Lim. “All we ask is you walk in and try it!”