SINGAPORE - Lucky 8 may sound like a Chinese restaurant in a small American town with chop suey and General Tso's chicken on the menu.
However, the two-month-old restaurant in Shaw Centre is actually a bona fide Hong Kong-style restaurant serving Cantonese fare and a small selection of Sichuan dishes.
Hidden away on the third floor of the mall, however, the restaurant's business was slow the two times I dined there, with just two or three tables taken up. That is surprising because one would have thought that foodies would have discovered by now that this is where they can find one of the best versions of roast pork in town.
Called Golden Crispy BBQ Pork Belly ($13.80), the roast boasts a thick, but light crackling that is delightfully crispy. What also makes it so good are the alternating thin layers of fat and meat. Versions at some restaurants here are too lean, lacking the fat needed to make the meat tasty and succulent.
Do not confuse the roast for the Secret Recipe Honey Pork ($15.80), which is what char siew is called here. But that is pretty good too, with tender and juicy meat in a honey glaze that is not overly sweet.
03-07/11 Shaw Centre, 1 Scotts Road, tel: 6836-3070; open: 11.30am to 3pm (Mondays to Saturdays), 10am to 3pm (Sundays), 5 to 10pm daily
Food: 4/5 stars
Service: 3.5/5 stars
Ambience: 3/5 stars
Price: Budget from $70 a person
If there are enough of you, get the BBQ Double Combination ($37.50), which comprises both meats. They balance each other very nicely with their contrasting flavours.
The restaurant also serves American "fatty beef" in various cooking styles and at decent prices.
Fried American Fatty Beef With Hor Fun ($18) works on so many levels - from the slices of tender, flavourful beef to the delicious soya sauce used to season the flat rice noodles. The dish boasts good wok hei (wok breath) too.
Another beef dish I enjoy very much is Chengdu Oil Boiled Fatty Beef ($28), a classic Sichuan dish with the meat slices cooked in broth topped with bright-red chilli oil.
Many Hong Kong-style restaurants that serve Sichuan dishes tend to tone down the oiliness and spiciness that give the cuisine its character. But not Lucky 8. The oil-boiled beef is suitably tongue-numbingly spicy and aromatic, which is how it should be.
Not all the Sichuan dishes are spicy though. An example is the Duck Smoked In Camphorwood ($48 for half), another classic dish that is executed very well here. The meat is fork-tender and the skin is crisp. And aromatic spices permeate both.
On both visits, the staff point out that the restaurant's signature dish is a Crispy Deep Fried Chicken ($28) that, they stress, is different because it comes covered in deep-fried garlic.
The chicken turns out pedestrian, being neither particularly tasty nor juicy. The garlic bits lift the dish though, with their crispy texture and alluring aroma.
But you can find the same qualities in another dish, Hong Kong Style Fried Crab ($10 for 100g), which is a dry fry with the deep-fried shellfish covered in deep-fried garlic, salted black bean and chilli. The crab is a tad dry, which is typical of the dish, but the flavours are addictive.
I prefer it to the Chongqing Style Spicy & Hot Crab ($10 for 100g), where the deep-fried crabs are covered in a thin coat of starch. The layer of goo helps to keep some juice in the meat, but also introduces a weird texture that spoils the dish for me. Otherwise, the spicy and fragrant ma la flavour would have gotten the dish a thumbs up.
Classic Cantonese stir-fries are executed expertly too, if the Fried Scallop With Broccoli ($38) is any indication. The dish is off menu, but recommended by the server. Stir-fried scallops can easily get overcooked and turn rubbery, but the plump pieces here are sweet and juicy. The broccoli, too, is cooked just right - neither too hard nor too limp - and soaks in the delicious gravy nicely.
The dining room at Lucky 8 is long and narrow and the space is made to look even smaller because of a big pillar right in the middle. The decor is typical of a family-style Cantonese eatery - pleasant and neat, but unmemorable.
That is good enough for me, however, because I am returning for the food. The roast pork alone will get me back.
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•The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.