Restaurant Review: Everyone Is A Winner At New Ponsonby Restaurant Lucky 8
Every dish costs $8 at this busy, buzzy Asian tapas spot, from salmon steamed in banana leaves to crispy mushroom fries
Cuisine: Asian tapas
Address: 161 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby
Reservations: For groups of 6+ only
Drinks: Fully licensed
From the menu: Sweet and sour pork; golden shrimp; mushroom fries; beef dumplings; cucumber salad; chicken thigh skewers; teriyaki salmon skewers; pāua with soy; beef cheeks; banana leaf salmon; Hao’s chilli chicken (all $8).
I had a great meal at Mr Hao in August last year but then the world collapsed, again, so I never got to tell you about it. It’s a Dominion Rd restaurant full of personality, offering food which is as tasty and indulgent as food gets.
The only downside is that, as at Gganbu last week, every dish arrives heaped with the sort of food quantities more familiar to people who’ve spent time in army barracks. A table of six would be the ideal set-up — preferably six alligators.
Mr Hao’s new sister restaurant, Lucky 8, solves that problem immediately by serving “Asian tapas”. The idea is that every dish costs $8, which, while you suspect the state of inflation means they’ll be called Lucky 13 by November, seems to be doing the trick of attracting the younger, less liquid crowd.
Cramming 50 post-adolescents into a well-lit Ponsonby dining room can’t help but create a vibe, and this might be the best party restaurant on the strip right now.
Noisy, busy and buzzy, it’s a lovely scene to arrive in once you’ve walked up the staircase off the street, and the fact there were 10 diners going up and another 10 going down really made it feel as though you’d stumbled on something special.
The staff are blimmin’ great. From the guy at the top of those stairs patiently writing down names and numbers for the waitlist, to the kids on the floor happily delivering beers and clearing plates, you’re left wondering how they managed to find this many good people in this particular labour market.
Ferrying hot plates of food to rowdy teenagers while wearing a surgical mask isn’t the job any 5-year-old dreams of, and with employers I’ve spoken to across other sectors willing to hire “anybody with a pulse”, I’m continually thankful that so many lovely people with options continue to choose hospitality.
Back on Dominion Rd, Mr Hao has a system where you write down your orders on your menu with a marker pen but I’m not sure how well it works. (I distinctly remember leaving my table at the end of the night with a sad “1” written next to one of the tap beers that never arrived — maybe I was doing it wrong.)
At Lucky 8 this system has been considerably upgraded, with a QR code on the table taking you to a full food and drinks menu. You place your order directly to the kitchen and, upon pressing go, receive a reassuring notification that your food is about four minutes away.
It seems to work brilliantly — you still get a bit of chat and banter from the waiters through the night, but no longer have to stress about calling out, “Excuse me … EXCUSE me,” just to get another glass of riesling.
The food is all wonderful. Cold cucumber strips, rolled up and served with a big vinegary dressing and loads of spice; Mr Hao’s famous fried chicken, tossed with big chilli segments and some other fried oddities — lotus or some other root, I think — each little piece perfectly cooked without being oily; huge plump prawns, coated in the crunchiest shell you can imagine — like panko-plus — drizzled in something pleasingly sweet and served with Kewpie mayo (this dish intentionally arrives at room temp, which gives you a bit of a fright at first, but it works).
All this stuff is easy to share around but there’s a separate list of items that work better when hogged by one person. Of these, the black pepper beef cheek is so incredibly delicious and tender you wonder how they manage it in this fast-turnaround business model.
I had a beautiful little fillet of salmon steamed in a banana leaf served with a ramekin of coriander-based dressing (remember, this stuff is only $8 a plate).
Back on the sharing menu there was more of that coriander dressing with the “mushroom fries”, thin slices of meaty wild mushrooms battered and fried until crunchy — the sort of uniquely wonderful dish that can make a restaurant famous.
You should build a bit of waiting time in if you’re planning a visit here (or find five friends and make a reservation) but that’ll give you a chance to visit Clipper, a few metres down the road. A wonderful cocktail bar with a light “golden age of air travel” theme, it has room to sit down; friendly, fast staff; and drinks which arrive perfectly cold yet undiluted — the rhubarb negroni in particular is recommended.
You’ve got to guess that new restaurants like Lucky 8 had already committed to opening before the Covid black hole opened up and swallowed everybody else’s plans.
Bad timing for sure, but I’m hoping the ball might bounce their way now — the dozens of happy paying customers on the night I visited suggests that the future looks good, as far as we can see it.
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