CLOSED: Luckee (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 328 Wellington Street West
Type of Meal: Brunch

Susur Lee is best known for his “fusion” cooking combining tastes and ingredients from Asian and European countries. So, it was a bit surprising when he announced his newest restaurant, Luckee, would be dedicated to Chinese cuisine with a dim sum focus. Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical – how well could Susur be at traditional cooking methods and what would he do to stand out? But, being a fan on Chef Lee’s restaurants I gave it a try and concluded that he can certainly execute. Although most dishes were only of average eminence, some are done so well that it leaves me craving more.

The restaurant’s signature dish is the Luckee duck ($18 for small and $38 for a large; the smaller portion shown below).  After hearing so much about it and its infamously short availability, I immediately ordered it when we entered at noon as was advised we scored the last dish – success!

Was it worth it? While it was good, let’s be honest, it's not great. Perhaps I've eaten so much Peking duck and really this is not supposed to be Peking duck, but I found it too lean for me. I wouldn't say it was dry but the duck also wasn't moist. Even though the skin was crispy, it didn't have that salty flavor I enjoy; you really needed to use the accompanying hoisin and kumquat sauce. The variety of condiments (sticks of apple, cucumber and green onions) were a treat and the kumquat compote giving the dish an almost duck a l’orange quality to it – perhaps Susur’s French influence coming through. The pancakes were also expertly made to a nice thinness. In the end, the dish is worth a try but if they run out don’t be completely disappointed either.

The crab & tofu cake ($7) had so much promise but fell short. Although there was a fair amount of sauce topping it, the mixture was still pretty bland. Moreover, I really couldn’t taste any of the crab, shrimp or mushrooms that was supposed to be in the cake and instead the corn dominated. I can’t put my hand on what it is, but I feel there’s missing; maybe topping the cubes with a crab salad mixed with slivers of dried scallop or a using a different sauce like XO would help.

On the other hand, the crispy taro & turnip cake ($6) was outstanding! The turnip layer was like any other but the slivers of taro on top really made this something different. Pan fried so that they developed a crunchy texture the taro also added an extra flavour dimension. Simply served with soy sauce this dish also allows you to enjoy the plethora of condiments that arrives with the dim sum including chili sauce, Asian mustard, ginger & green onion pesto and soy with chilies.

Siu mai or chicken & shrimp dumplings wrapped in wonton wrappers ($7) is one of the most traditional Chinese dim sum offering. At Luckee, scallop and piece of black fungus is added on top to jazz it up. Throughout the chicken mixture bits of dried orange peel is incorporated giving it a lighter taste. All in all, it's a good siu mai but really not that much better from what is served elsewhere.

Xiao long bao or soup filled pork dumplings ($7) is a popular Shanghainese dish. It tests a chef’s skills at getting the wrapper thin enough (even less than a dumpling) but still retaining its strength to hold in the soup while it cooks and withstand being picked up with chopsticks. Luckee’s dumplings met this criteria with plenty of soup in it to keep it moist and delicious. Although good, they are definitely not the best in the city, I’d say Asian Legend’s is a tad tastier.

But, where Luckee shines is with the shrimp cheung fun or rice roll ($9). The dish was just amazing! Big succulent pieces of sweet shrimp are wrapped in a layer of crispy deep-fried rice roll and then wrapped in the second layer of steamed rice roll to give it a soft contrasting texture. Simply topped with chopped green onions and warm soy sauce poured table side the dish needs to be eaten fresh before it gets soggy or cold. I couldn’t get enough of this and commend the Chef for such a great take on rice rolls.

The Swatow chicken & preserved vegetable dumpling ($6) ended up being deep-fried glutinous rice balls with minced chicken and dried shrimp inside. You will also find these at other Chinese restaurants typically with a moist ground pork mixture. For most dishes Luckee was on par if not better than what can be found elsewhere. Sadly, in my opinion, these need to be improved. The mixture was too dry and the outside needs to be fried longer to develop that crispy crust and allow the dough to get fluffier. Note, we added another dish on after being presented with these so it could be the ones I tried (not pictured) was rushed through the process as the other dish looked more golden brown. 

The vegetarian Yunnan fried garlic rice noodles ($14) may look unassuming but tastes fantastic. There's so much flavor in the dish - from what I could tell satay sauce, plenty of black pepper, and deep-fried garlic slivers - making each bite aromatic and flavorful. The bean sprouts, bell peppers and slivers of mushrooms provide some contrasting textures against the chewy bean curd thread noodles. A great way to end the meal and ensure you’re not hungry in an hour.

Our last dish was the salt & pepper spiced crispy squid ($19) and it did not disappoint. With eight pieces a fairly decent sized calamari this is perfect for sharing in larger groups. There were tons of chopped chilies and bell peppers mixed throughout giving the squid enough heat to pack a punch. Topped with savoury “golden sand” and sitting on top of some fried noodles it was a great way to eat the little remnants that had fallen off.

For dessert we got a few things to share, each having its own appeal. We had differing tastes, but my favourite was the blood orange and lemon curd tart ($4). What a lovely refreshing way to end the meal with a tart blood orange Jell-O layer and a sweet lemony custard on the bottom. 

The black sesame tong yuen tart ($4) was a great take on the traditional dessert. Tong yuen loosely translates to sphere soup and generally describes a glutinous rice ball dessert found is sweet soups or rolled in a powder. The ball is an interesting soft but chewy texture and was filled with plenty of black sesame paste. Placed in a shortbread tart the shell helps to keep in the gooey sesame paste as it runs out.

Lastly, the rice donut ($4) is Luckee’s take on a popular dessert typically filled with lotus paste. At Luckee it’s filled with a custard mixed with salty egg yolk giving it a richer sweet and salty element. The jury is out on this one, I didn’t detest nor like it.

On Sundays there’s also push cart service. But the sole cart came by only once and offered fairly average looking black bean spareribs, chicken feet and lotus wrapped glutinous rice. We decided to skip it and this seemed to be the case with most other tables. In time, this novelty will likely be forgotten. I suggest Susur consider using it for dessert instead (a Chinese dessert trolley) and roll out the choices to tables at the end of the meal so that they can pick and choose to their heart’s content.

For someone who has had a lot of dim sum in my lifetime Luckee is definitely the most expensive meal. But, after sitting back to think about it, what I ended up paying wasn’t more than brunch at Splendido or afternoon tea at the King Eddy. So really, although expensive compared to no-frills Chinese restaurants, it’s not astronomical when related to other noon time offerings. 

In the end, you’re paying for the lovely chic décor, being able to make reservations and have an empty table waiting for you (learn more about typical reservation systems here) and the benefit of well-spaced tables so you’re not jammed between a screaming baby and a table talking at the top of their lungs. It’s the more sophisticated way to dine with plates being changed and dishes arriving at a quick but bearable pace. Our waiter Kris was a pleasure, a nice change from the sometimes stone faced staff at other places. And the fact that you can get a cocktail or a bottle of cava with your dim sum, well that’s just icing on the cake.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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