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

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Jiang Nan Chun...old favourite

Hotel cuisine can be extremely good, or rather passe. This is an example of one which is very good. Suffice it to say that all dishes were very good, and a few outstanding.This was a banquet, recently organized by The Hour Glass and Moser (a very unique watch manufacturer based in Schaffhausen, Switzerland).

The starter is a two piece combination of a prawn in a mango sauce and a pancake of roasted duck.

The prawn was fresh, of course...crunchy, and the rich mango sauce complemented it very well. The duck pancake reminded me of Peking Duck, but the within there was a crispy bean curd, and instead of a piece of crisp duck with skin, the duck was roasted nicely, with a great aroma, but I did not detect the crisp skin. Nice nonetheless.

The soup was a di regeur of a shark's fin soup with conpoy and shreded chicken.

This dish was not exceptional, but was deftly prepared by the chef, and tasted good.

We next had the fish, which I declared a total winner

This is a baked cod in a miso sauce. The fish was superbly fresh, cooked just right...and the sauce, as we already know from other samplings elsewhere, goes very well and plays accompaniment to the fish...allowing the fish to shine, but complementing always.

The braised pork ribs were next:

This was again quite normal. I found the pork to be a bit too fat. And the lean parts of the meat not as tender as I would have liked. The mantou was excellent...good flavour, soft and moist within with a nice crisp crust.

The rice was next

Quite nicely fried. No oily texture. The rice was beautifully fragrant. Bits of prawn and scallop liberally found within. The addition of chilli padi lifted the dish for me.

And finally the dessert...a bit avant garde...

Chilled mango sago with lemongrass jelly...nicely finishing the meal.

Definitely worth revisits, with some outstanding dishes, and some good, but not spectacular ones.

Jiang Nan Chun
Four Seasons Hotel

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Simple meals: unagi in Nikko

Sometimes, the simplest foods are the best...after a morning of hiking to photograph the sights in Nikko, I was rather just dropped into the nearest restaurant.

And the unagi caught my eye...normally I wouldn't have ordered unagi in a non-specialist restaurant in Japan...but I was tired, and the picture looked good...There is actually a famous unagi restaurant on the same road (Route 190), but I couldn't find it, and with my 12kg camera back begining to take its toll...I decided to eat at this restaurant.

But first, a refreshing beer...Kirin is superb.


And the unagi?

Superb. The meat was light, ultra tender...and creamy on the palate. The skin was almost crisp, but just shy...beautiful.

Somewhere in Nikko..just opposite Shinkyo. The restaurant is on the second floor.

p.s. Some readers will know that as this post goes on line, I am in Beijing...I am not sure, but many people tell me that I will not be able to access blogspot and facebook while there...but anyway, I am putting this post online on Friday evening before I leave to be published on Tue.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Outstanding Cze Chars: Hui Wei

Discovering new Cze Char places is an interesting pasttime...not only often the food is superb and satisfying, but also the cost is managable and often inexpensive.

Hui Wei was one such discovery. I first came across it while googling cze chars...and I came across the SG on Foot site. So off with my former IATA colleagues we went...

Indescript, and I was told, just opened...they have a full English and Chinese no less...and the chap who came to take our order spoke English. Impressive.

We ordered away, as is typical of this group...

First, the amazingly good steamed Signature fish head:

Superb! Truly magnificent. The fish head was truly fresh, so no fishy odours...was cooked I like it. Just shy of fully cooked through...if we adapt the terminology used for steaks, I would call it medium rare...just a tinge of pink at the core, by the bone. And the green Thai sauce...superb. Truly superb. Did I say magnificent? Brings back memories of many of the meals I had with Acharn Thanet in Bangkok where the steamed fish is served with a green spicy, piquant, sour, sweet, salty sauce. Marvellous. This dish is enough to bring me back many times.

But there is more! The Thai Style Chicken is also very, very good...

Looks are certainly deceiving. The dish looked pedestrian. But taste wise, it was outstanding. Tender chunks of chicken, each coated with a beautiful sweet, sour and spicy sauce. Lovely.

Another outstanding dish is their mixed vegetables with lotus roots

The lotus roots are deep fried till it is like a cracker, then stir fried with the vegetables in a gravy like sauce. Excellent.

And the Thai Chilli Prawns

Another winner. The sauce was a bit like the one we typically eat with our chilli crab. With an egg stirred in during the last moments of preparation to make what the Cantonese call "wat tan". The fragrance is beautiful...the prawns, fresh, succulent and tasty.

Best of all, none of us suffered from MSG-ism after the lunch...since we were in the area, we headed for some coffee at Loysel's Toy.

I spied on their menu that they have KL Yuang Yang and KL Hor Fun...will definitely want to try that next time...Will be back soon...

Hui Wei Chinese-Thai Cuisine
Blk 802 French Road #01-69

Daily: 1045am - 215pm (Lunch)
430pm - 1030pm (Dinner)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tsukiji market and the best sushi ever!

Tsukiji Market is a real revelation. Always. I have been to the market, perhaps 3 or 4 times, and each time, it is a wonderful experience. The arrangements for tourists to view the auction has always been changing...and currently, they take about 120 pax who must all be present at 5am, and will be allocated into 2 batch at 5:15am and another at 5:45am.

I missed the auction this I got to Tsujiki with Unicorn at about 5:10am, and we missed the registration. Feeling a bit down, we looked around elsewhere in the market, looking at shop upon shop of bonito sellers...we then found the fish wholesale place. Where the fish comes out after the auction. And actually met a fish monger who is practicing his craft of carving entire tunas into restaurant sized chunks.

And surprises! He welcomed us to look and photograph, and he spoke English!

Two red tunas were about 40kg, and the other 80kg

It is a two man job wrestling the tuna onto the cutting table.

Then after some cleaning of the fish, and knives. I forget to ask him what he was using to clean the fish, but I think its an the alcohol swab you get before the doctor plunges his needle for your injection.

The process seemed almost ritualistic...zen like. He seemed totally focussed...almost like in a trance.

After a few deftly executed cuts...the head's off

And he began with a large knife, making incisions along the back, filleting the large fish. Alternating from a large, sword like knife and a smaller one which looks like a cook's knife.

Ah, a smile lit up his face as he opened the fillet..."very good!", he exclaimed in English...looking at us,"this is a very good day. I am very happy".

We talked for a bit, and went across the small lane, avoiding the little motorized vehicles which were towing trolleys laden with tuna, and came across one of the few sushiyas which did not feature a long queue. And had sushi for breakfast.

Look at the slice of otoro...

Unicorn with the Maguro Sushi set Y3500

A closer look at the set

The otoro sushi...yum...

The taste was unbelievable. Unicorn pronounced it the best sushi he has eaten. The fats just dissolve in your mouth almost on contact and the slightest tongue pressure. Almost like caviar.

We just had to then share another order of maguro sashimi

Look at the shimofuri (snow flake, a term also used to describe the similar look on a piece of wagyu)...and the beautiful, marbling...amazing!

And I totally concur with sushi I ever had.

Not sure of the address...the row of shops just outside Tsukiji Fish Market wholesale area.
Tsukiji, Tokyo, Japan

Apologies for inconsistent colour temperature...instead of using the AWB in my GH-2, I mistakenly set it for tungsten.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Search for Ramen 11: Keisuke at Orchid Hotel

My makan buddy Larry called up excited after reading a few blogs on this ramen place. He even took a recce drive by Tras Street and studied the queue pattern of the little restaurant in the newly opened Orchid Hotel. He concluded that to eat early, and well, we needed to be there by 11:20am.

Queue at 11:58am when we had finished our lunch

The restaurant opens at 11:30am...when we arrived at 20 minutes past the eleventh hour, there was already one lady in front of us in the queue...and within a minute after we arrived, a group of perhaps 3 office workers arrived, and queued behind us...and a few minutes later, more of their friends joined, making the group to be about 16 pax just at opening time.

The restaurant is very tiny. A counter, and perhaps 4 small tables. And max capacity is probably no more than 18. The doors swung open at precisely 11:30, "irashimase!!!"....the entire staff seemed to be young Japanese chaps. The wall was decorated with classical Japanese movie posters...the place really reminded me of Tokyo. Incidentally, at publishing time, I am in Tokyo, having arrived the night before to do a series of interviews and talks to promote my book. I will be eating at San Pau, a 3 star Michelin restaurant in Spain, which has a branch in Tokyo...which I understand is also Michelin starred. And will report on that. And of course, more street food in Tokyo. I will also be travelling to Nikko to photograph the fall colours, so watch out for that in my photo blog.

Anyway, back to ramen...

To minimise confusion, oen places one's order by ticking a small piece of menu, like tim sum...type of broth - spicy, regular or black sesame. Strength of broth - strong, medium, light. Amount of fat - a lot, regular, little. And hardness of noodles - soft, medium, hard. They indicated that medium was the style they serve in Japan.

While you wait, you can feast on the free help yourself pickeled taugeh and hard boiled eggs on the table.

Larry pronounced the taugeh to be super shiok. Spicy, crunchy. Sweet.

So Alan ordered a regular tonkotsu broth in regular strength, with medium fat, medium done-ness.

We all had a taste of each other's broth. Alan's broth was good...thick, savoury. Rich.

Larry had the spicy:

The same stock base, but now spiced up with the chilli. Very nice. Note the large piece of dried seaweed sticking out on the side of the bowl. Shiok.

And sesame with strong broth, and hard noodles...

Superb. The black sesame brought out the full flavour of the pork bone broth. If you shy away from strong porky flavour, this might not be the soup for you. But I love the robust, thick, almost creamy, rich tasting broth. Very good. The chasu was beautifully done, thinly sliced, and oh so melt in your mouth. We all ordered medium fats...and noticed pieces of uncooked lard floating in the broth. Not bad, but I think next time, I will ask for less fats.

My noodles were "al dente" use an Italian term to describe Japanese noodles. Very good. The egg was also superb...almost semi-liquid within, tasty.

Overall, one of the better ramen places. The scene is hotting up since I began to chronicle the ramen places in Singapore with my Quest for Ramen series. Now we have a stable stock of ramenyas to choose from. Tampopo, Santouka, Menya Shinchan, Ippudo, and now Keisuke. Ganbettei!

Keisuke Tonkotsu King (Orchid Hotel)
1 Tras Link, #01-19 Orchid Hotel, Singapore
Tel:6636 0855

Daily: 11.30am–3pm, 6pm–10.30pm