Perfect Peking Duck
You won’t find any bargain birds at these five-star eateries, but Beijing’s esteemed signature is a foodie experience worth splashing out on. BY TOM O’MALLEY
Published on Nov 16, 2010
+ MADE IN CHINA
Though it lurks in one of the city’s priciest hotels, Made in China somehow pulls off the bustle and bonhomie of a traditional Beijing eatery. Glassed-in cooking stations house chefs twirling floury noodles, wrapping pork dumplings and slinging Beijing’s finest ducks in and out of brick ovens.
Head chef Jin is “old Beijing” through and through. Eating is a strict three-stage process: skin dipped in sugar, breast meat with scallions, then finishing with pancakes crammed with leg meat, skin, cucumber and a little minced garlic. The trick according to Jin is to roll the pancakes small enough to eat them in one mouthful—essential for the complete taste profile.
Grand Hyatt Hotel, 1 East Chang'an Dajie, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China; +86 10 8518 1234 (ext: 6024); beijing.grand.hyatt.com; roast duck RMB238 (including condiments)
+ DUCK DE CHINE
Seeking that elusive union of succulence and crackle, father–son Cantonese chef duo Peter and Wilson Lam spent a year formulizing the perfect Peking duck: 43-day-old, 2kg birds, roasted for a longer than the usual 65 minutes over 30-year-old jujube wood. A gong announces the duck’s arrival to diners seated in an industrial-chic space (complete with Bollinger bar), as chefs in slate-gray robes set about carving even slices of pale meat attached to brittle skin the color of treacle.
Dipped in a zappy, Cantonese-style duck sauce, and folded into gently steamed pancakes, the results are hard to refute. Don’t tell the locals, but this Hong Kong-owned restaurant could well be beating Beijing at its own game.
1949–The Hidden City, Courtyard 4, Gongti Beilu, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China; +86 10 6501 1949; elite-concepts.com/Promotions/1949/TheHiddenCity.htm; roast duck RMB228 (including condiments)
The closest mainland China has to a bona-fide celebrity chef, the towering Dong Zhenxiang (“Da” means big) took up cooking after his father quipped “with that job, you’ll never go hungry.” He wasn’t wrong. Today, roughly 800 ducks are roasted daily at Dadong’s trio of restaurants, which legions of visitors have long declared the best in town.
Flamboyant, brightly-lit dining rooms are rarely less than heaving with locals and out-of-towners dipping amber shards of duck skin in sugar, rolling overstuffed pancakes, or braving more adventurous fare like Dadong’s signature thorny sea cucumber. Showy, molecular-style mains and dry-ice desserts have become big draws as Dadong restlessly expands his repertoire, but the nightly queues are still all about the duck.
1-2/F, Nanxincang International Plaza, 22A Dongsi Shitiao, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China; +86 10 5169 0329; roast duck RMB198 (without condiments)
+ LUNAR 8
For refined roast birds in the heart of the CBD, Beijing’s expense account set heads to Lunar 8, a pan-Asian, a la carte restaurant in the belly of the ultra-luxe Fairmont Hotel. Only the plumpest 45-day-old birds are selected to grace the open kitchen’s tall brick ovens, where they’re roasted for longer than tradition dictates.
Hungry diners might need an extra appetizer, but the finished product, leaner and les oily than at Beijing’s more venerable duckeries, is worth the wait. Its singular fragrance and flavor is due in part to the fruit wood in the ovens and the chef’s signature rub of medicinal herbs and spices. Fowl fans should also tackle the delectable chicken tikka, roasted onsite in tandoor ovens.
The Fairmont Beijing, 8 Yong'an Dongli, Jianguomen Outer Street, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China; +86 10 8507 3618; fairmont.com/beijing/GuestServices/Restaurants/Lunar8.htm; roast duck RMB 235 (including condiments)
Though less lauded that its rivals, the duck here, roasted over fragrant pinewood, is up there with Beijing’s finest. As the skin crackles and caramelizes in the oven, the meat retains its juiciness thanks to a filling of date sauce that steams the bird from the inside. Carved tableside, the chefs suggest diners first dip the crisp skin in a sweet blueberry jus, before rolling the breast meat with spring onion and plum sauce, in either standard or spinach-infused pancakes.
A glitzy, faux-Ming décor, complete with cozy window booths, makes for a sharp setting to enjoy Beijing ’s signature along with quirky accompaniments like knife-shaved noodles from neighboring Shaanxi province, served with a sticky-sweet pork and eggplant sauce.
Room 302, 3/F, IFC Mall, 1 Xinyuan Nanlu, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China; +86 10 5976 1355; xiheyayuan.com; roast duck RMB 203 (including condiments)