(The Business Times) - In the lexicon of the restaurant world, there's one phrase we hate, and it's: "one day advance order required". Chinese restaurants do that all the time. Sometimes it's Peking duck, other times it's the suckling pig. Of course, we understand the wastage issue. But from our hungry point of view, it's an infringement of our basic eating rights. Surely, showing us something nice and telling us we can only have it tomorrow must qualify as emotional abuse of some kind.
Top on our prosecution list would be Lucky 8, a new restaurant in Shaw Centre that does not take any risks in the auspicious name department. It's a welcome addition to the limited Chinese dining options on that side of Orchard Road, but it's also the only restaurant we've come across where its entire list of signature dishes require a day's notice.
We've been told about its boneless fish head (S$118) steamed with Yunnan ham, so we're eager to find out what this rarely-seen deboning technique that originated in Yangzhou is all about. But no amount of persuading along the lines of "what kind of restaurant doesn't have a spare head lying around" works, so we're left with only our imagination and the rest of the menu to choose from. So if you want to know how the Lucky 8 pencai, braised duck with eight treasures or double-boiled supreme shark's fin soup with chicken and Yunnan ham taste, add 24 hours to your bill.
Lucky 8 is largely Cantonese, with stopovers in Sichuan and other provinces. If it had made a pitstop at the nearest proof-reader's office, we wouldn't be reading a menu filled with dishes such as "Emperial style" duck, "begger's chicken", "boneless gaint" fish head or "secret recipy" honey pork.
We are suitably impressed by the "secret recipy" (S$15.80) though, because it yields juicy, meaty char siew that's charred in all the right places and boasts a crackling sugar crust - just enough for an easy crunch rather than the suit of armour that covers other versions.
Even if crispy deep-fried chicken (S$38 for half) is a staple at all Chinese restaurants, don't miss Lucky 8's version. Much of the fat beneath the skin has been rendered off in the frying process, leaving it acceptably crisp and layered over meat that's silky smooth from leg to breast. The highlight of this isn't so much the chicken but its twist - a heavy shower of deep fried garlic crisps that cling to the skin like addictive golden floss. The meat itself is barely seasoned, so you can dip it into the unusual yellow salt that comes with it.
1 Scotts Road
Open for lunch and dinner daily: 11.30am to 3pm; 5.30pm to 10pm (Mon to Sat). Sun: 10am to 3pm; 5.30pm to 10pm.
The house-made soups feel like token affairs - the double boiled chicken with cordycep flowers and fresh abalone (S$20) is underwhelming even as it puts your chewing ability to the test with a rubbery abalone.
We skip the intriguing but ominous-sounding Chengdu oil-boiled fatty beef in favour of eggplant cooked in a claypot (S$26). It's a good choice, as it comes to the table bubbling furiously and emitting a mouth-watering scent of wok hei and salted fish. The latter adds depth and contrast to the minced meat and slippery-soft eggplant, forming a lovely, sauce-y accompaniment to plain rice.
But if you'd rather just nibble, then check out the shrimps with sesame and peach kernel (S$22). We order it partly to find out what peach kernels are, but they turn out to be candied walnuts surrounded by shrimp "toast" - chopped shrimp meat spread between two thin layers of dough, covered with sesame seeds and deep-fried into oily but crunchy canapes.
If your dining companion annoys you to the point where assault is necessary, then order the "bananas in hot toffee" (S$10.80) - so that you have another use for the tepid rocks of melted sugar-crusted tasteless bananas besides actually eating them.
Apart from a few blips, there's some decent cooking going on at Lucky 8. The chefs don't get everything right but they seem to be headed in the right direction. We reckon there are better things to eat, but we'll have to wait another day to find out.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: BT pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.