Susur Lee opens Luckee in SoHo Met

Susur Lee

Susur Lee

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By Kristen Smith

TORONTO—Chef
Susur Lee opened his newest concept Luckee Restaurant and Bar in early
April at 328 Wellington St. West on the ground floor of Toronto’s SoHo
Metropolitan Hotel.

Lee told CLN he has known Metropolitan
Hotels president and restaurateur Henry Wu for about 20 years. A year
and a half ago, when Wu asked if Lee wanted to move into the former
Senses restaurant space, he rounded up the team—a.k.a. his wife and
sons—and got moving.

Having had quite a bit of practice
opening restaurants together, Lee and his family created Luckee rather
quickly while ensuring everything was ready and in place from the food
to the light bulbs. “I’m very particular about those small details,” Lee
said.   

Designed by his wife Brenda Bent and her partner
Karen Gable, the 2,000-square-foot dining area and the 600-square-foot
bar features the colour red with large panels and art. The space has
tiled floors, wood slat banquet seats and a large windowed kitchen.   

Lee
said he wants Luckee’s chefs to feel proud and show off what they do.
The kitchen team includes chef John Kwan, former executive chef of
Toronto’s Lai Toh Heen, chef Vincent Leung, former executive chef of
Senses, and chef Raymond Fung, who has more than 30 years experience
making dim sum.

With 120 seats and a private dining area
for 18, the menu features what Lee calls “nouvelle Chinoise” fare, which
Lee began creating about 15 years ago at his Club Chinois in Singapore.

The
main menu features seafood, meat and vegetarian dishes and dim sum can
be ordered by menu card. The bar area has its own menu, featuring items
such as salt and pepper crispy squid and curry shrimp rolls.

Luckee’s entrée menu, inspired by Lee’s travels in Asia, transforms traditional Chinese food with a modern touch. 

Luckee bar.

Luckee bar.

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“I’ve
always loved the culture of where I am, who I am, where I’ve come
from,” said Lee. He said he wants Luckee to “speak the international
language” while raising the bar for Chinese food.

“Chinese food is not just cheap and cheerful and not greasy and unhealthy,” said Lee, noting it can be creative and complex.  

“We have a great history,” he said, adding he aimed to merge that foundation with modern innovation.

“Of course, the food is still very based in traditional tastes of Chinese, but has a little bit of a twist,” he said.

He
said Chinese patrons will feel the food is in line with traditional
cuisine, but the menu “adds a little bit of creativity”—it’s not the
same har gow, siu mai (open-faced dumplings) and cha siu boa.

“I
want to raise it to another bar—I want to raise the identity of Chinese
cooking in North America or even in the world,” said Lee, who wants to
lift the stigma surrounding Chinese food, ensure the menu is easy to
understand and serve good wine, cocktails and tea.   

Lee said
he wants to make it easy for people to tell others about their
experience at Luckee. “It’s hard to describe a cuisine when its culture
is so old,” he added.  

“Traditionally, har gow is a very
simple mix of shrimp and also bamboo shoots, white pepper and some corn
starch to make it juicy,” said Lee, noting he adds grated, fresh ginger
to heighten the refreshing quality of a steamed shrimp dumpling.

Instead of pork-filled steamed buns (cha siu boa), Lee created a braised back pepper beef bao.

The
menu’s focus is on flavour, texture, freshness and a bit of invention,
said Lee, while maintaining the integrity of Chinese food.   

On
the individual dish menu are items such as Cantonese style spicy black
bean lobster, wok-seared chicken and shrimp and Shanghai ham—ham and a
confit of pork belly in an osmanthus honey sauce—served with steamed
whole wheat buns, mustard, lettuce, cucumber and crispy tofu skin to
build sandwiches at the table.

Lee’s son Kai designed the
beverage menu, which includes an eclectic and extensive wine list,
nearly 30 scotches and about a dozen tequila and whisky choices. Kai Lee
brought over the popular Ricky Rosé Sangria from Lee and Bent, which he
operates with his brother Levi. Available during patio season, the
drink uses a French rose and fresh fruit, including mango, strawberries
and pineapple.

“We’re excited about pairing wine with Asian food,” Kai said.

Ontario-native
Adam Ashukian is the general manager, bringing with him experience from
Vancouver’s C Restaurant, and Four Seasons’ restaurants in Palo Alto,
Calif., and in Vancouver at YEW seafood + bar.  

328 Wellington St. West, Toronto, 416-935-0400, www.luckeerestaurant.com, @LuckeeTO.