Phong Luu is off in search off the best regional dishes from around the world for Mighty Spice Kitchen. This week she found out where the best Peking duck in Beijing could be found.
You’ve ventured into the Forbidden City, walked the gardens of the Summer Palace and ascended the Temple of Heaven. Next stop in your best-of-Beijing tour? Somewhere to sample the city’s famous Peking duck. A recipe that’s as old as the Great Wall (OK, maybe not quite that old, but it does date back to the 14th century), it has since become China’s national dish – and for good reason: the combination of crispy skin and melt-in-the-mouth flesh is just so darn tasty.
Peking Duck is traditionally served with pancakes, spring onions, cucumbers and hoisin sauce. It’s a mainstay on practically every menu, and more often than not, it’s very, very good. Which makes narrowing it down to the top five that much harder…
WHAT? One of the best of the upmarket chains. Its trophy cupboard is full of wins for its duck.
WHY? If you like your duck less fatty, this is the jackpot – the restaurant’s draw is super lean birds, making for crispier skin. Alongside the usual cucumber and spring onions, it comes with a variety of condiments – crushed garlic, sweet wheaten sauce, red turnips and sugar (bizarrely, it works).
An attentive waitress shows you the pancake-rolling ropes, and for the truly stuck, there are instructions on the table. RMB 198 per whole duck.
WHERE? There are four branches dotted around the city. The one on Jinbao Jie has nice decor – spacious, modern and brightly lit.
DUCK DE CHINE
WHAT? Classy young(ish) upstart that’s been impressing in the capital’s crowded duck market. A hit particularly with the expat community.
WHY? Standout skin – still perfect even 30 minutes after carving. Sesame paste and steamed sesame buns are thrown into the usual condiments mix. Even more novel: the gong which sounds the arrival of your duck. Well, it is a dish worth rolling out the red carpet for. RMB 228 per whole duck
WHERE? Housed in an renovated factory called 1949 that’s designed to look like a traditional Chinese courtyard, the whole thing just looks slick. The decor is sleek – all soft blue lighting and wooden floors – and the ambience is seductive. There’s even a Bollinger champagne bar – the first in China – which says it all, really, about the kind of restaurant Duck de Chine aspires to be.
1949 The Hidden City, Courtyard 4, Gongti Bei Lu, Chaoyang; 86-10-6501-888
WHAT? Founded in 1416 during the Ming Dynasty, this claims to be the oldest Peking duck restaurant in Beijing – and one of the best.
WHY? For Peking duck with a twist – it smokes its ducks with unusual kindling, including tea, lotus and garlic.
The birds are roasted in a closed oven – they’re normally cooked hanging over an open oven – making the meat juicier. RMB 188 per whole duck.
WHERE? There are several chains in the city – the flagship is in Hademen, 18 Chongwenmen Outer Street, 4/F Glory Plaza, Chongwen.
WHAT? World famous for its tasty ducks – there are even outposts in Burma and Australia.
WHY? For some, this is the one to beat. It’s been honing its recipe since 1864, and has played host to the likes of US President Richard Nixon. As crucial a part of the tourist’s itinerary in Beijing as any historical monument. RMB 288 per whole duck
WHERE? Take your pick from eight branches in Beijing. The original is on 32 Qianmen Dajie, Qianmen.
Contributor Phong Luu is a bit of a Jill of all trades when it comes to writing: she started her career on the fashion desk of The Daily Telegraph, but loves to wax lyrical about the other two big passions, food and far-flung places. She writes Mighty Spice Kitchen’s Regional Dish Hitlist and travel features.