If you are a food lover, then one thing you will surely want to do while planning your trip to Beijing is to find the best restaurant to savor the most popular local dish – Peking Duck. For the uninitiated, Peking duck was something that only those in the imperial palace enjoyed. It was not until the late 1800’s during the Qing Dynasty that Yang Renquan brought Peking duck to the masses by opening the first Quanjude (now a popular chain in China).
Needless to say there are as many restaurants serving the famous bird, as there are bicycles riding its streets, but a thorough research showed that finding your ultimate Peking Duck is not as easy as it may sound. One of the most frequently mentioned names is Da Dong, which unfortunately we didn’t go to (my poor judgement). Apparently, the restaurant boasts with its crispy and lean duck. The quality of its duck (as well as other dishes) is attested by the numerous accolades and positive reviews on TripAdvisor.
Our hunt for Beijing’s best Peking Duck lead us to two restaurants: Made in China and Duck de Chine.
Made in China is housed within the opulent Grand Hyatt Beijing. It has a sleek décor with red accents, although I distinctly remember being put off by the smell of oil upon entrance, perhaps attributed to multiple open kitchens. They are surrounded by glass and it’s nice to watch the chefs prepare handmade buns, dumplings, hot wok dishes, and the duck. You can see the wood fired oven in which it is roasted for 75 minutes and, as we later found out, gets infused by the smoke of a date wood.
Sadly, the service here was utterly disappointing. We were seated at the back of the restaurant at a tiny table near the greasy kitchen window (mind you there were better tables open and I made a reservation a month in advance!) and left without any proper attention. It was a struggle to get attention of any waiter who walked past our table, but somehow didn’t happen to notice our summons.
We opted to have their signature 8-course tasting menu which included Peking Duck. Everything was served (more like thrown onto the table) together within 10 minutes of us ordering. No one cared to explain what was put in front of us. Carved tableside (within 20 seconds!), the duck was served with pancakes and classic condiments. I enjoyed the variety of the menu as it allowed us to try multiple dishes showcasing the local cuisine. Overall, though, the dinner here was lackluster. Tasty, yet nothing to write home about. I don’t think the duck here should be referred to as one of the best in town either. The skin was crispy, but a bit too fatty and the meat lacked that scrumptious flavor of the duck that lingers on your palate after you take a bite. In my opinion, you can have similar meal experience in any mediocre China Town restaurant around the world. The restaurant came highly recommended, so perhaps it might be just another dinner out if you live in Beijing and need some variety. However, if you are in the market for the capital’s best restaurants, it’s not a smart choice.
After the mediocre experience on our first night, the pressure was seriously on on our next (and last) choice – Duck de Chine located in the uber-trendy and cool 1949-The Hidden City dining and nightlife complex. Once you go via a central entrance – a contemporary art gallery – you’ll find yourself in a perfectly manicured courtyard with multiple low-rise red-brick buildings, each housing a restaurant or a bar. It makes for a perfect space to hand out, especially in summer.
Duck de Chine has an extensive menu that includes multitude of enticing options – their dim sum options alone will make your mouth water, let alone more sophisticated dishes like spicy stews, etc.. We didn’t go overboard and ordered one dish each, with a full Peking duck. Justin’s choice of crab dish was sent back immediately, it was basically a deep-fried crab still in its shell which honestly was impossible a big mess to eat. Justin reordered scallops with asparagus, which he said was tasty. I thought my tofu in Sichuan sauce was a fantastic choice – flavorful with a nice spicy kick.
Although, the main draw here is undoubtedly the duck. Again, it was expertly sliced next to our table within a blink of an eye. The sequence is religiously the same: first, they cut off slices of the crispy skin, which you’re supposed to eat on its own dipped in sugar (odd, but works surprisingly well); then, you get slices that have both meat and skin (typically the leg meat); and finally, you get leaner meat without skin, which is usually the breast meat. I found it a bit obnoxious that they charged us extra for the classic accompaniments (sliced veggies and sauces), but I guess that’s how it works there. I loved every bit of my duck: perfectly crispy skin, sublime flavor, succulent meat, not too oily, all perfectly sliced and beautifully presented. We were both very happy that our final dinner in Beijing didn’t disappoint, and if I ever go back I’d definitely revisit Duck de Chine.
When it comes to overall dining experience, however, I think you can have much better Peking Duck dinner in Hong Kong. I missed the slow sophisticated and refined duck carving process that we enjoyed at Lung King Heen, not to mention the top-notch service.
Do you have favorite Peking Duck restaurant in Beijing? Please share in the comments.
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