Full of Luck Club: Bringing sexy Cantonese cuisine back

So, this is about the reset button, breaking from the proven structured Chinese fine-dining formula that has made Li Bai the darling of Cantonese cuisine lovers.

Full of Luck club  福乐, a brainchild of the same team behind the opulent Li Bai Cantonese restaurant in Sheraton Towers (read about my previous dining experience here) first made their debut at Craft Singapore in March. Pitting themselves against food giants such as Vatos Urban Tacos and Park Bench Deli in a bid to satiate the alcoholic munchies of the beer crowd. I recall vividly being drawn immediately to its hipster-ish graphical menu boards, the bold use of color and the boisterous voices rising out from behind the booths, egging you on to sink your teeth into the Braised Pork Belly bao. And so I did. In fact, I had those 2 days in a row.

Fast forward 2 months later and the physical unit of the contemporary Cantonese joint has now taken shape in the heart of Holland Village, erected in the stilled site where Wendy's used to be. The menu maintains a tight focus on Cantonese cuisine, albeit with a more progressive and contemporary approach - shredding its pish-posh image and dishing out sharing plates and baos amidst other Asian inspired cocktails and craft beers. Then again, knowing that poets work better under the 'inspiration' of alcohol, perhaps this is Li Bai's Jekyll and Hyde moment?

Whenever I walk through the door, I immediately crave baos. I swear this longing must be based on a subliminal smell of steamed buns that greet you at the threshold, perhaps the sight of dimply smiles and table full of orders on the fly which activate a section of my brain that screams irrationally and repeatedly for Baos, Baos, Baos!

The Braised Pork Belly (2 for $9.80) feeds the illusion. It is excellent, the caramelized belts of fat on the pork belly strips making my lips slippery. You first plow through the protein piled high with pickled lotus root, fried shallots, peanuts and coriander before coming to realization that the beauty is in those sweet fluffy pillows. So good that you'll be saving that little hunk, wishing you had the company of some salted butter. The Kung Pao Fried Chicken Bao does loop twists and turns on the palate too, spicy fried chicken meets lettuce, dried chilli and crushed peanuts for a winsome combination. Vegetarians aren't shortchanged too, the Panko-crusted Portobello Bao mimicking meaty bites in between sweet buns, boosted by the likes of a ring of caramelized pineapple and teriyaki mayo sauce. Despite it's relative close resemblance to a outlandish Hawaiian pizza, it all comes together in a way so unexpected and right that I had to shake my head. (p.s. I hate Hawaiian pizzas)

Want to score a second date? You're in luck as all you have to do is follow my lead and she'll be well impressed with your ordering prowess. First up, the Stir Fried Radish Cake with X.O. Sauce ($6.80), lap cheong and beautifully sauteed beansprouts to match the tender yet beautifully crusted cubes of Li Bai's famous steamed radish cake. All the expected bits of the formula are there and the portion is substantial enough to fill 2 ravenous diners. 

If you're indulging in a bit of late afternoon tipple, a brilliant idea would be to order off the Light Bites section - the Golden Sand Corn with Salted Egg yolk ($4.80) particularly alluring. Before you exclaim "salted egg yolk again?!" you might want to hold your horses as this snack is so darn good. With a gently sand like coating adhering to corn kernels with the same intimacy as caramelized sugar would, the snap and crackle from these little nodules are absolutely irresistible. The Chilli Glazed Friend fermented bean paste chicken wings ($8) is a no-brainer and it will have you re-thinking your diet plans.

The sharing plates edges more into familiar grounds that is Li Bai's territory. The Crispy Aromatic Duck ($35 for half/ $70 for whole) proves that beyond the on-trend decor lies a nice old-fashioned restaurant serving some hearty Cantonese food. Crisped till the realms of a duck confit, the suitably moist shreds of duck meat compliment the paper thin Chinese pancakes to the T. Home in on the wings where you'll get a healthy mix of crackling, moist innards and brilliant flashed of rendered fats. 

Also palate piquing are the Braised Spinach Beancurd ($16) and Spicy Stuffed Yong Tau Fu ($16) -  the kitchen achieving transcendence with the latter. assorted vegetables and tofu are stuffed with a homemade minced pork mix and doused in spiced whole fermented bean paste. It might not be the prettiest dish, but it sure takes the cake for flavor.

Relatively weighty on the palate is the Moonlight Truffle Beef Hor Fun ($20). The rice noodles stir fried with a thick black garlic truffle pepper glaze makes for a deliciously velvety mouthful. Though I much prefer KEK's charred version, this one is ramped up a notch with slices of US prime boneless short rib, tender and imbued with smoke.

Mediocrity plagues the next two dishes to follow. One, the Hakka Crispy Kurobuta Pork Belly ($18), marinated in fermented bean curd, Chinese wine and signature fragrant spices. It's lack of taste and toughness will leave you with mixed feelings. 

Second, the Hokey Pokey Ice Cream ($6) dessert which serves more as an ellipse rather than an exclamation to the successful meal. Here, their signature bao is fried and stuffed with mounds of honeycomb ice cream before being rolled in chocolate chips. The toasted marshmallows above the wickedly sweet stacks, an unnecessary accompaniment. My advice would be to stick with the traditional desserts, the Sweetened Cream of Mango and Pomelo with Sago ($6) particularly attractive in view of the heavy feast.

Full of Luck club opens up in a more classical vein in the lower level with an open kitchen to catch the chefs live in action whilst the upper floor houses more comfortable seating in a modern and casual setting with an enclosed bar at the corner for events that require that much more privacy.

So there you have it. A contemporary Cantonese joint with all the fireworks and gimmicks thrown in (read, complimentary fortune cookie at the end of the meal. Mine read "You'll soon have an out of money experience" *groanz*); but at the end of the day, the food speaks volumes and you're left to review the earnest attempts of Full of Luck Club at selling familiar comfort food updated with a modern flair. Worth the visit? I daresay I will be back very soon.

Full of Luck Club
243 Holland Ave, S(278977)
t: 6208 6845
w: http://www.fullofluck.club

Operating Hours: 
Daily: 11am - 11pm

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