More Beijing duck please

It’s rare to find real Peking duck in London. This is not surprising, partly because the London Chinese restaurant business has traditionally been in the hands of the Cantonese, who have, after all, their own delicious take on roast duck – dark and glossy, soft-skinned, bathed in a rich spiced gravy. And making real Peking duck is a bit of a palaver – you need to wind-dry it, and then roast it to order, preferably in a wood-burning oven. It’s much easier to do as most British Chinese restaurants do and serve crispy duck with the Peking duck trimmings of thin pancakes, white spring onion or leek, cucumber and sweet fermented paste. Crispy duck can be marinated and steamed in advance, and simply deep-fried it to order.

But real Peking duck is something else. My favourite place to eat it is Da Dong in Beijing (here’s an article I wrote about Peking Duck for the Financial Times, which mentions Da Dong).

Luckily, however, one London restaurant has now started offering its own rather excellent version of Peking duck, or Beijing duck as they more tactfully call it. It’s Min Jiang, in the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington. The views over Hyde Park from this restaurant are so spectacular that it would be worth going there to eat cornflakes, but instead they have a thoughtful menu of Chinese dishes that includes the pièce de résistance, a wood-fired duck served with pancakes they make themselves and the other traditional accompaniments. The duck is carved at your tableside – slices of skin first, with a dip of white sugar; then ‘half-moon’ slices of skin and flesh. The latter are rolled up with white spring onion and cucumber, or their own house trimmings of pickled Chinese cabbage and radish with crushed garlic. Later, you are offered the remains of your duck cooked in a variety of ways – the spicy minced duck with lettuce wrap and the fried noodles with duck are both very good.

So how do they score in comparison with Da Dong? Well, the sliced skin is perhaps marginally less crisp than it might be, and the cutting less accomplished, but in all other respects it is magnificent. The bird itself is fragrant and succulent, the skin rich and glossy. The own-made pancakes are a real treat. And the duck rolls with pickles, a slight variation on the Da Dong theme, are possibly even better than the traditional version. In fact, as I write this I am fantasising about my next visit…

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