Monday, October 31, 2011

Appetite for China: Da Dong Beijing Roast Duck

When in Beijing, one must at least sample the world famous Peking Duck...or what the locals call Bei Jing Kao Ya...Beijing roast duck.

Much has been written about these ducks...the species, I am told is special, particularly succulent, just the right size. And there are roughly two methods of roasting is the traditional way of pumping the duck up with air, and left to dry overnight, and then roasted in an oven, and another is to coat the skin with maltose and hanged in a hot wood fired oven. Quang Ju De is one of the former, and I tried the roast duck at their huge restaurant in Wang Fu Jin. But I was unimpressed. The duck was very fat, the skin crispy, but not spectacularly so. The restaurant, which is quite large...I suspect can easily seat 1000 diners at one go, was quite traditional, a way rather plain. I did not take photographs, as I had just returned from the Temple of Heaven and only had the Hasselblad in my camera bag.

I had, the day before sampled the more avant garde Da Dong. Covered in his interesting documentary "In Search of Perfection", by 3 star Michelin chef Heston Blumenthal, Da Dong's approach is different. And the restaurant in the fashionable Jin Bao Place is also equally fashionable. It looked more like a Michelin starred restaurant...with the duck ovens, all 4 of them, each capable of roasting 10 ducks at a time taking center stage. Quite a fanfare in delivering the ducks that are carved at your table (at Quang Ju De, you pay more for this privillage). The decor is modern. And the place impeccable.

Ducks roasting in the wood fired oven.

Interestingly, the prices are very similar. RMB240 approx for a whole duck.

We started with the Doumiao...which is rather difficult to find good, fresh, large leaved ones in Singapore...this was very nice...even the presentation was given a good thought, rather unusual for a China restaurant, in my experience

Excellent. Loved it.

During the first visit, we also ordered some noodles and a foie gras fried rice

The lobster noodle was ok. The soup was mildly tasty of lobster, with two lobster meat chunks within. The noodles were typical Beijing la mien...cooked a bit too soft for my liking. But was still rather tasty.

The liver rice was fragrant. The bits of duck liver was fairly liberally over the rice, which was long grained fragrant rice.

On our second visit, we had the fried millet with eel, which I found to be rather spectacular, if a bit greasy.

The eel was nicely fried with the millet, and the dish was very delicious.

But we came for the how was it? Quite spectacular I must say.

We ordered half a duck, which was roasted in the demonstration kitchen right in the middle of the restaurant, in full view of the patrons. I counted each roasting was 10 ducks, each hanging within the ovens till it was roasted to perfection.

There were perhaps 5 chefs attending to the fires of the wood oven, and carefully removing the ducks when they were done. It was brought to the center, where the serving chefs...who ceremoniously carry the beautifully roasted duck to be carved at your table are awaiting. The liquid within the duck is released, the beak broken off with a quick snap, and the duck is paraded through the restaurant till your table.

A slice of skin is first carved from the belly. This is then carefully squared, and suggested to be eaten with a sprinkling of plain cane sugar.

The rest of the duck is deftly carved into a neat pile of meat and skin...the head is halved, so the brain is presented, and the leg is presented whole. This was for an order of half a duck.

One needs to order the garnishing separately:

From top left clockwise, red radish, grated garlic, cane sugar, sweet black sauce, white spring onions, grated radish, beans and julianned cucumber.

The rest of the duck is presented to be eaten in two ways. First, with the garnishes in a crisp skin bun, which is empty within.

This was an interesting way to eat Beijing Duck. The sesame on the bun's crisp, light skin goes well with the rich duck, sauced and garnished.

The traditional way of eating it within a steamed pancake was also offered

The pancake here is a bit springy, nice texture. Smooth, and a light wheaty taste. Goes well with the duck. The meat of the duck itself was a succulent, while not fat at all. The skin was wonderfully crispy.

Coming back to the skin, the belly skin, which was carefully prepared in the first step of the carving is to be eaten dipped in the cane sugar...

This was perfect fat, only a bit of crisp, maltosed skin. And not surprisingly, goes well with just sugar...

Here, the flavours meet...the skin was so superbly light and crisp...the sugar bringing up the caramalised maltose. Perfect!

A duck bone soup was also served with the duck...I found this to be a bit heavy on the duck flavour...but grew to like it quite a bit as a savoury, rich soup

We were offered a free sesame dessert the first time we visited, but the second visit, they did not offer this to us...

But both times, a fruit platter was offered gratis:

The melon was very sweet, the watermelon was reasonably sweet...and the fresh hawthorn an unusual treat for us who live in South East Asia.

Overall, a superior Beijing Duck meal. And though considered an expensive meal in Beijing, by Singapore standards are very reasonable. I much prefer the taste of the duck and other dishes of Da Dong when compared to Quang Ju De. Ambience and service...for me hands down much better at Da Dong. Though I must mention the variable service in the two visits I made to Da Dong...the first time, we were offered a sesame dessert, the second time round no hot dessert. The first time round, the waitress offered to show us how to eat the duck in the various methods...the second time, we were left to our devices...perhaps we looked like we were experienced diners by then.

But highly recommended for Beijing Duck when in Beijing.

Da Dong
5/F, Jinbao Dasha, Jinbao Jie, Dongcheng District
Daily 11am-10pm
8522 1234


Paul said...

Hi Peter,

Great to see another blogger hitting Dadong and put up such a thorough review! As you mentioned the same duck at Jinbaohui is priced higher ... well I imagine RMB230 is nothing to people who are rich enough to shop at Jinbaohui. Great thing about Beijing is that as of 2011 I can still afford to visit some of the higher end restaurants. Five years later I'm not so sure.

I'll be looking forward to the rest of your review of Beijing restaurants!


Anonymous said...

$38 US Dollars (if my conversion is correct) for a whole, masterfully prepared duck sounds like a great deal. You don't have to be rich to indulge here.

Peter, you have traveled enough in US to know how expensive American restaurants can be, particularly French or steakhouses.

Good stuff from you, as always.


Camemberu said...

Yummy. I hope one day I can go and try too! :)

Jeremy from idelish said...

Just saw your post on this. We went to Da Dong on our recent trip to Beijing and we love it! It was so good, I forgot to take most of the pictures I should had taken. Love how you took a close up on the sugar crystalizing on the duck skin :)
Here's our recent post on it