The Private Kitchen
I’ve heard so much about this private dining venue where the waiting time for a booking is one year.
One year ? I’m a instant gratification kind of guy. I’ve never waited that long, not even for a venue to get married.
I’ve always said that my patience for queuing and waiting for food is 30 minutes, so in my mind I knew that I will never taste the delights of Lucky House in my lifetime.
Lucky House is a simple private dining venue in a terrace house at 267 Upper East Coast Road where you sit around a table in the kitchen of Chef Sam Wong, a self-taught home cook who has been running his home based kitchen for the past few years.
Self taught ? That is highly unusual when most of these private dining venues or new eating spots tend to be helmed by ex chefs in the F & B business.
But just in case you thought he switched on some you tube videos last September and took some notes, he says self taught as in he has been tinkering in the kitchen since he was 14 years old.
He learned how to cook from his paternal grandmother.
And now forty years later, he is ready for the world. Or at least Singapore.
I should bloody think so. 40 years is a long time to be tinkering and learning.
Oh and the man is a fishing enthusiast too. So presumably he knows his fishes.
And by day, he runs a wholesale company that trades wedding and dancing shoes.
The dinner is priced at S$80 nett per pax, for a total of 7-8 dishes.
The food is said to be simple but wholesome and very authentically home cooked, with minimal seasoning used so as to retain the original flavours of the dishes.
I was chuffed when one of my buddies surprised us to say he had a booking and would we like to skip one year and go next month ?
Do pigs like mud and swill and McDonald’s Happy meals ?
Chef Sam Wong does all the cooking with some help from his Indonesian helper and throughout the course of the 2-3 hour meal, he would appear from the backyard to introduce each of the dishes and serve us personally.
He was warm, personable and friendly, and patient with all our inane questions.
I don’t know how he does it.
When I cook, I turn into a cantankerous monster bitch with the biggest menopausal headache this side of the Yangtze River and I hate everybody.
I would probably yell if someone starts asking questions about the food.
“ Why is the chicken yellow ? Why ? Because I peed on it that’s why !! And I didn’t drink enough water ok !!! Ok ???!!!
You’re happy now ??!!!
No food for you ! No food for you !
And none for you you fat cow !!
(Panting) sorry mom. Didn’t mean to yell at you ….. And no your’re not fat ….”
I arrived early and soon we were sitting in air conditioned comfort in his spacious kitchen adorned with old fashioned food artefacts and arrays of Chinese herbs and condiments.
Furniture and ornaments looked rustic and dated, adding to a feel of nostalgia and old school charm.
It added to the experience and I loved that aspect of it.
The backyard kitchen
The backyard is where the magic happens.
With Chef’s permission, I started snapping pictures.
Old school pots and pans. Massive wok covers, Charcoal fires and huge clay soup pots.
We got ourselves comfortable and poured our wines.
The story is about to begin.
The Cantonese are serious about their soups so we started with a Duck soup boiled with Shitake mushrooms, monkey head mushrooms, Tea Tree mushrooms and dried octopus.
The soup has been slow charcoal boiled since 930 am that morning for 11 hours where the flavour is lovingly extracted.
It is cooked Au naturel in that there is no salt, no pepper, no Chinese wine and needless to say no msg. It was just concentrated with its very Essence and it’s Ying Yang.
I love my Cantonese soups and Cantonese cooking in general.
Let me digress and tell you a true story.
I once unwittingly hired an old Indonesian transfer maid whom, I discovered one day months after hiring her, had worked in Hongkong for years.
She learned chinese cooking from “Ah Por” whom she was looking after, and her employers ran an italian bistro where she was helping out a few times a week.
She asked me if I liked pasta and pizza in flawless Cantonese and when I said yes in my halting Cantonese, she asked me to go buy flour because she was going to hand make those!
I kid you not.
And each week I rattled off a wish list and she will hand make everything.
Hand made Char siew, Siew yoke, Wantons, Sui kows.
I asked for congee and she asked me to go buy Japanese rice which she will soak for hours with a few ingredients to cook the congee.
And there was a timing for her to put the sliced fish at the end (I can’t remember how many minutes she told me).
But the end result was Hong Kong restaurant quality congee with thin ginger strips and condiments.
The woman was a culinary witch.
In exasperation because it felt like she was challenging me each week to name dishes for her to cook, I once described to her the Air dried crispy duck served in London Chinese restaurants.
Next thing I knew, she was in the backyard trickling boiling oil in fumes over a plumb duck held by its neck, muttering probably some Cantonese curse words or voodoo incantation to some Cantonese kitchen deity.
And every dinner at home I came back to thereafter after my late hours at work started with “yum tong” ie imbibing some double boiled soup.
This was after she sent me off to the chinese medicinal shop with a long list of ingredients for her soups like aged dry orange peels, goji berries, angelica and astragalus root etc.
And at the end of the dinner was the ubiquitous “tong sui” or handmade Chinese deserts.
She was stubborn and querulous at times. And it is possible she looked even uglier than me.
But I took her shit and contemplated making ugly babies with her because she gave me amazing true blue Cantonese cooking.
I’m a sucker for good old fashioned “Pak Chum Kai” so when I saw chef’s coming out with a wrapped chicken, I yelped with joy (internally).
The Chef called it in Cantonese “Chiu Yi Ho Heong Kai” which is chicken steamed in a banana leaf and lotus leaf wrap.
The chicken looked plump and seductive. And she was frigging delicious.
The sauces of the chicken she was nestling in was heavenly fragrant and an explosion of a thousand flavours.
The fish of the day was a Red emperor fish steamed (of course) with delicious minced ginger, minced garlic and plums, and decked with fresh looking Chinese parsley.
Chef told us the fish was from Batam. It was extremely fresh and the flesh was white, nice and yielding. And the juices coated it beautifully.
The next dish that arrived was a plate of crispy Japanese anchovies.
The oil that the anchovies were fried in was then used to fry singapore Kai Lan vegetables which still retained its beautiful colours, and no doubt was flash fried over immense heat.
The stalks were crunchy and the savoury Piquant lingering flavour from the anchovies lifted the clean and uncluttered taste of the vegetables.
It had a comforting mouth feel and even the most vegetables adverse amongst us (we call it grass) I could see, was partaking with some unbridled gusto.
The piece de resistance was the Lucky House Roast Duck. This is one of the chef’s signature dishes, where the duck is marinated for two days, sun-dried for a day, before finally being roasted in the charcoal oven.
Jeez talk about elaborate measures.
This duck is given more attention than your first born’s PSLE exams (from the father’s point of view of course, the mother would have gone hysterical).
And the attention showed.
It was beautifully moist and seductively perfumed with smoky undertones.
Layers of flavours undulating from succulent and tender flesh with a hint of Chinese herbs (like five spice perhaps), maybe rubbed with some good quality soy and shaoxing wine or other unworldly pleasures.
And the skin was slightly charred which just made me feel happy to be alive and covid free.
The Crayfish Noodles
The final dish of the dinner was a regal looking plate of thin Kway Teow crayfish noodles.
It was visually attractive and was redolent of flair and pizzazz.
The Crayfish shells surrounded the noodles like a guard of honour.
The crayfish flesh had been added to the Kway Teow noodles which have been tossed with seasoning and adorned with a mountain of deep fried shallots.
Many of my dining companions loved the dish but I must confess that I found the shallots to be overpowering. There was just way too much of it.
Crayfish is also not my favourite crustacean as I find it briny and fishy and the flesh rubbery and all round overrated.
So I do find the choice of crayfish renders the dish too briny for my liking, perhaps explaining why the Chef had to introduce the copious amounts of fried shallots.
So this was my least favourite dish of the evening but it was a crowd favourite.
A delicious longan dessert ended our meal with a sweet finish,
This meal was special.
I don’t like frills and I don’t like too much drama and I certainly don’t like fusion food which seems to be a thing nowadays.
I don’t need the Chef to be standing over me pouring some angsty sputum foam over my half cooked salmonella E calamansi prawns with a chilli celeriac finish, and whinging about how many hours he took to extract the foam.
I would probably stand up and applaud, then slap him.
But dining in someone’s old school kitchen eating the most authentic comfort food cooked with heart over a slow charcoal fire is nothing short of special.
I will remember this meal fondly.
Lucky House Cantonese Private Kitchen
267 Upper East Coast Road
Tel: +65 9823 7268
Monday to Friday: 6.30pm to 10pm
Closed on Saturdays and Sundays
Oh and don’t forget the one year waiting time. It’s still one year.