Peking duck is the quintessential dish of the capital of China, Beijing. Essentially, it is roast duck; However, unlike cantonese style roast duck, Peking duck has one primary requirement: wafer-like crispy skin that you wrap with a Chinese crepe, smouldered with hoisin sauce and leeks.
Ask a bunch of locals where the best duck is, you will get quite a few different answers. Chances are, 2 names will pop up the most: Quan Ju De (QJD) and Da Dong (DD). QJD is said to be one of, if not the oldest restaurant serving Peking Duck, whereas DD is much newer. Unfortunately, reviews of QJD in recent years have concurred synonymously that the once golden standard had dropped, and the duck is overly greasy. This is where DD comes in.
Da Dong’s Peking duck is reputed to be a much leaner duck, with minimal fat beneath the crisp skin.
I was pleased to sample Da Dong restaurant during my short vacation in Beijing in November 2013. DD is quite an upscale modern restaurant. We waited close to an hour before getting our seat. During our wait in the lobby, complimentary hot and cold drinks and wines were on free flow. A nice touch.
The other lovely thing was the open roasting kitchen, where you could see all the ducks being prepared and roasted in the 6-8 wood-fired ovens.
The four of us ordered an assortment of dishes to sample in addition to the duck.
First up was the stir-fried broccoli.
Simple and nice. Crisp but cooked.
Next up was the sweet and sour pork.
This was quite fancy as it was served on a huge slab of stone. As it was being served, a little presentation was done by sprinkling icing sugar slowly over the top to simulate snow while the server recited a poem. The resultant dish looked like this.
All that said, it tasted mediocre, mainly because we did not enjoy the soft-bone in every piece of the meat. I would very much have preferred a cantonese style sweet & sour pork, where pork shoulder/belly is used, with a little bit of fat in every piece of meat.
Next up was the lobster noodle zha jiang mian , where the noodles were supposedly made together with lobster meat, served with a single claw from a lobster. We were hesitant on ordering this because of the high price tag, (¥238) but decided YOLO and tried it anyway.
The minute portion was tossed in the beijing style noodle sauce. This was another dish where it looked better than it tasted. To give it credit, the noodles did contained some lobster flavours, the claw was neatly de-shelled and presented. However, as a dish, it did not really work because once mixed with the traditional sauce, all other flavours were lost and overpowered by it. Quite a pity. If it was served in a lobster broth/sauce, it would have probably been a bigger success.
Next up was an eggplant dish. Didn’t look good, but tasted quite good. It went well with rice.
You must be wondering at this point, “I didn’t click on this to read about a bunch of sub-standard dishes! Show me the duck!”. Here it is, pre-carved.
Beautiful. Alluring. Almost seductive. The duck may look really plump, but it actually isn’t. It is simply bloated with air, giving it the ballooned look. The way Peking duck is cooked to achieve that wafer thin crisp skin, is by blowing skilfully by mouth at the butt of the duck, separating skin from flesh, creating a pocket of air. What this does is separate the skin from the fat as the fat renders, so the skin will not get soaked in fat. The duck is then sealed, and roasted over high heat, turned every now and then to prevent it from burning, and to cook it consistently. I believe the duck was blanched/par-cooked in marinate and dried prior to the blowing process.
Once the roasting is completed, the ducks are brought out and turned, at which point you can see a stream of duck fat pouring out of the carcass. It is then allowed to rest.
Finally, our duck is carved and served between 2 plates, the remaining carcass was offered to be done into a soup or to take home, we opted for the former, of which I believe they already had a giant pot brewing in the kitchen.
The verdict? Crisp and indulgent skin that breaks apart as you bite into the moist and lean meat. There are 4 larger whole pieces of skin that were carved from the breast. They were, I believe meant to be eaten on their own. The umami burst is quite mind-blowing, and then you come back to reality by getting a taste of hoisin sauce and the leeks strips. Not pictured here is actually a platter of condiments for the duck, thoughtfully provided for every diner. This alone, a whole duck at ¥238 was well worth the trip. 10/10
We finished the meal with some obligatory dumplings, since we’re in northern China.
After which, we were delighted to find out that beautiful complimentary fruit platters were served for each of us, along with traditional candied hawthorne, whose origins go back centuries. A lovely surprise and beautiful presentations.
While it wasn’t a cheap meal, we really enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. The ambience and service is that of a michelin star restaurant, but more affordable. One would not eat here every month, but I can see coming here a joy for the special occasions or guest.
Da Dong has several branches across Beijing, and just opened an outlet in Shanghai.
I recommend you try it out at least once if you haven’t already, but go easy on the side dishes, the piece de resistance is the duck.