Text by Georgina Downes

Photography by Johanna Simon

Angeline Ong, co-owner of The Tamarind, is shy and a little nervous about being interviewed but when we arrive, she has the heating on and greets us with a big smile and a warm handshake.  She is very hospitable and offers us a latte, or an Americano, or tea perhaps.

“Sit wherever you like,” she says,  waving her hand around the attractive restaurant. We’re spoilt for choice. Every table looks good in this family-orientated, cheerful space with its honey-coloured wooden floor and white, linen tablecloths.

Angeline and her husband Andrew moved from Malaysia to Ireland in 2005. Initially, they were in Galway but settled in Tralee having been enticed by stories of the Rose of Tralee Festival, of all things.

Most people will know The Tamarind, located on the corner of Matt Talbot Road. It’s the restaurant with two giant, concrete lions standing outside its doors. How did you get them here, I ask. Angeline’s voice is soft and beautifully-accented.  “Ah, by fork lift and trailer. It was a very big job.” The lions symbolise safety and luck, male on the left, female on the right. Yin and Yang. Andrew and Angeline. How do they find working with each other 7 days a week, I wonder.

Angeline laughs and tells me they aren’t together all the time. She’s mainly front-of-house, providing the familiar face the customer love to see, while Andrew is behind the scenes in the kitchen cooking food. In the afternoons, while she preps, Andrew is busy organising the restaurant’s social media. But she admits it’s difficult finding that elusive work/life balance. When their three children were very small, Angeline might have struggled more had it not been for her mother-in-law’s help, but they got through the hectic, early years, and grew their business into the excellent and renowned Thai fusion restaurant it is today. Their twin daughters, Caitlin and Maeve, are 17 now and help out regularly, while their younger sister, Cyrena, is making her Confirmation this year.

The couple try to get back to Malaysia once a year but it’s not easy and Angeline’s dedication to her regular customers makes it even more difficult.

“I don’t like if people come in and they expect to see me and I’m not there.” she says with a tinge of anguish. We all need a break though, “I know, I know,” she laughs, but clearly she’s uncomfortable letting anyone down.  “The customer is out for the night,” she says,  “I like to make sure they have as good an experience as possible.”

The wonderful food helps, of course. The produce is locally sourced and the menu is bursting with authentic and delicious Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian and Chinese dishes and fresh sushi at the weekends. If you can’t get to the restaurant, no problem. The takeaway menu is as popular as the in-house one.

What drives her commitment to the business?

“When a customer praises the food or the service, it makes everything worthwhile,” she says. “I tell my girls, ‘don’t compliment me because I am your mum, compliment me because you really mean it.’”

As we leave, Angeline insists on giving us gifts; prawn crackers, lollipops and fortune cookies and she invites us in for dinner next time we’re passing. My cookie told me my problems will soon dissolve and my life will be full of happiness.  Excellent. I choose to believe it