First Look: Jackpot Chicken Rice continues Craig Wong’s chicken connection
A representative sampling of the short, focused menu at Jackpot Chicken Rice
Image: Yvonne Tsui
It seems Wong has a love affair with all things chicken. Patois (his first restaurant that is closed for repairs after a fire this summer) was known for its juicy jerk chicken and his newest restaurant, Jackpot Chicken Rice, is an homage to the iconic Hainanese chicken; a dish that was imported to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore by Chinese immigrants.
There’s a tropical connection too as Hainan is an island province located in the southernmost point and is known for its beach resorts and tropical climate. While Patois was being rebuilt, Wong turned to “comfort food” to lift his spirits and Hainanese chicken rice was there to answer the call.
Chef Craig Wong in his new restaurant (IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)
You will notice that while the boneless, poultry-laden dishes are inspired by Hainanese chicken rice, Wong doesn’t actually call it that on his menu because this is his vision of the dish. Those who have sought out the dish at Asian eateries across the city have had that bittersweet experience where either they really nail the flavor of the chicken but fall short on the rice or vice versa. Wong’s version, which he has dubbed Jackpot Chicken Rice ($13.75), is “well-balanced” and ensures that both components are equally delicious.
Jackpot Chicken Rice (IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)
But why Jackpot? The restaurant is housed at the former Lucky Red location and when Wong got in to see the space he felt like he “hit the jackpot” because very minor renovations were needed to make it the future home of his next project. A fresh Maoist propaganda mural featuring a jolly baby cradling a watermelon and a coat of white spray paint on the wood tiles on the wall plus a few personal touches such as Chrysanthemum-laced table tops and colander light fixtures and the new spot was ready for business. The restaurant design was a collaborative effort between Wong and his wife Ivy Lam, a make-up artist by trade.
The road to making this comfort dish is filled with a long and careful process which includes an overnight brine for the chicken before it is cooked in master stock. While the iconic dish has traditionally had soft chicken skin, for those who are squeamish or unsure about the texture, there’s the Roast Chicken Rice ($14.50) option.
Tofu Mushroom Rice (IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)
A third option, for vegetarians, is their Tofu & Mushroom Rice ($13.25) which comes with fried bean curd sheets and a special vegan XO sauce that is made in-house. One might even call it their secret sauce since Wong is keeping the recipe hush-hush. The traditional recipe is made with dried seafood (dried scallops, shrimp), chilies and oil. It’s a popular condiment in Asian cuisine and packs in a ton of flavor.
All three rice options also come in a snack size format ranging from $8.50 to $9.75) and all rice dishes come with a bowl of melon broth and the traditional garnishes of ginger-scallion oil and chili sauce. For that extra crunch you can add extra crispy chicken skins for $2.
Those who are looking to indulge can add foie gras to any dish for $12 or tack on some sides, like the Baby Fish Fry ($6), or Soy Sauce Egg ($3).
Singapore Sling (IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)
For drinks, the Chrysanthemum Iced Tea ($5) is a refreshing non-alcoholic option made with rock sugar and goji berries for those who want to get their dose of beta-carotene. Cocktail options include classics such as the Singapore Sling ($11.95) and Blackcurrant Calamansi Lemonade ($8.95).
There’s a good option of local and imported beers, Tsing Tao being the most iconic Chinese beer ($5.95) and local options like Collective Arts Gose ($7.95) and Steamwhistle ($5.25).
Jackpot Chicken Rice is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Jackpot Chicken Rice, 318 Spadina Ave., 416-792-8628 (no reservations)
Roast Chicken Rice (IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)
View from Spadina (IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)
Chrysanthemum Iced Tea (IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)