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Retro Pop-Up Inspired by Chinese Cuisine Plants First Permanent Restaurant in Clapton

Lucky & Joy will open on Lower Clapton Road next month, bringing a kitsch aesthetic and some questions

Ellen Parr and Pete Kelly of Lucky & Joy — which is opening in Clapton next month
Ellen Parr and Pete Kelly
Lucky and Joy [Official Photo]

A pop-up restaurant brand inspired by Chinese regional cuisine has announced it will open its first permanent restaurant in Hackney: Lucky and Joy will open on Lower Clapton Road in November.

The 44-cover restaurant and bar by owners chef Ellen Parr and drinks expert Pete Kelly promise a “collection of innovative, broadly Chinese-inspired dishes and eclectic cocktails, for which the pair have become renowned via a series of successful London pop-ups.” It will open — next door to Clapton Craft and five doors down from P. Franco — on the former site of Mavish Mangal at 95 Lower Clapton Road.

Lucky and Joy borrows an aesthetic style that recalls 80s fluorescence, Saved by the Bell, a seminal piece of London satire, and the game-changing modern American brand Mission Chinese.

In their own words: “the same kitsch edge as its contemporary pop-ups.”

“The imaginative concept is a celebration of the diverse cuisines and dining experiences that best friends Ellen and Pete discovered on their travels across China, South East Asia, and restaurants in New York’s Chinatown,” they added.

It will seek to draw on the likes of Chongqing hotpot, a dish served across the Sichuan Province, Uyghur stews, hand-pulled noodles in Xinjiang, dim sum and barbecue meats in Hong Kong, and Macanese cuisine: a cuisine which, because of the colonial legacy, fuses Chinese and Portuguese culinary traditions.

Parr’s new menu will rotate daily and feature dishes such as “Xi’an lamb burger” — served in a freshly baked English muffin-style bun with pickles and chilli; “crispy chilli squid”; and “Sesame noodles” in a chilli dressing.

The menu at the new site is described as “refreshingly veg-forward,” — Parr says she is committed to ensuring that at least 50 percent of the dishes are vegetarian or vegan. Such items will include “Sichuan-inspired wontons,” “shiitake turnip cake,” and “Yunnan cucumber salad.”

Kelly’s drinks will take cues from Asian fruits and spices and feature “Chinese-inspired cocktails,” including a riff on the mojito called “Yunnan Flavour” — a drink made with coconut-washed vodka, ginger, lemongrass and coriander. “Lucky’s G&T” will use Sichuan peppercorn-infused gin, clear pomelo, and tonic water.

“Vibrant mood lighting [and] a collection of travel trinkets” are promised. It is, Parr and Kelly say, influenced by various New York and Hong Kong eateries.

In opening a restaurant with “Lucky” in the name, Parr and Kelly necessarily enter into a discourse around Chinese (or East Asian) cuisine marked by three more restaurants which have co-opted that term: Gordon Ramsay’s Lucky Cat, Andrew Zimmern’s Lucky Cricket, and Arielle Haspel’s Lucky Lee’s in New York. All three of those restaurants have been criticised for varying levels of clumsiness and or ignorance; all three have been architects of their own misfortune.

In an essay about the symbolism and appropriation of the term, the writer Cathy Erway summarised why when Western business owners employ it, it can be problematic:

The word “lucky” holds deep meaning and significance in traditional Chinese belief systems. The Chinese character 福, or “fu” in Mandarin, can be translated as “luck,” “prosperity,” or “fortune”; anyone who might want to bless their restaurant with success might use the word luck, or something symbolic of it.

Words can be transliterated, but culture, through the complex process of translation, always runs the risk of being misappropriated.

But by crediting the cities and regions that have inspired them — and not making claims to their own “authenticity”, as Ramsay initially did — Parr and Kelly appear to start from a place of respect for the culture and cuisine that they have the privilege to borrow from.