Thanks to everyone who supported more food posts on this blog! To start off, I am introducing you to Da Dong restaurant in Beijing. This is probably the fanciest food post I will ever have on this blog. Be forewarned: the following picture-heavy post may make you very very hungry.
Beijing’s roast duck is perhaps the most internationally acclaimed Chinese dish ever created. And so when we went to Beijing, aside from cravings for my favorite childhood dishes from my grandma, we only had one food request: to eat Peking duck.
My aunties, also know as my mom’s best friends, heard our plea and so one day, we joined them and my mom at Da Dong Roast Duck for lunch.
When we arrived at the fabulously elegant restaurant, my first thought was: whoa, this place is a lot nicer than I expected. But of course at that time, we had no idea of its reputation. We had no idea that it is consistently rated as the best restaurant in Beijing, or of the high price tag to match, or of the acclaim of the chef (considered the best chef in China).
We had arrived a bit late and were ushered into our own private room for our little gathering. The room was too large for just the six of us, not intimate enough for a reunion; but I had yet to know just how much food would fill the table. My aunties had already ordered for us. It was just as well because I later learned that the menu contains over 200 different dishes!
Roast duck is Da Dong’s specialty, but their menu is comprehensive and extensive. It focuses on mainly Chinese dishes from all different regions of China, but with a modern twist. I feel that the influence is heavily French, which I guess is no surprise as a photo of Chef Dong with world-renowned French “Chef of the Century,” Joël Robuchon, hangs on the wall by the entrance.
Before long, a procession of dishes were brought out to our table, each one masterfully presented, each a mini work of art. There is no way I can do justice in describing what each one is or how it tasted, but just trust me that they are all as delicious as they look!
First up: duck liver
Sweet lotus with sticky rice – one of my favorite newly-discovered Chinese dishes!
Boiled Hainainse chicken
Potato and taro balls
Sliced roast pork
I’m not sure what this was. I think some sort of flower petals and pine nuts. It was very good.
The prettiest dish of the day – deep fried bean curd with cream and topped with different fruits. Almost too pretty to eat!
Lettuce wraps shaped into birds nests
Even the soup was beautiful: bittermellon shaped into a rose
Here’s a spread of all the dishes
As if all that wasn’t enough already, then came a fish, deep fried with a slightly sweet glaze.
And then, because someone mentioned something about noodles (ahem, D), the aunties ordered up two kinds of noodles for everyone. The black sauce in the white bowl is zha jiang mian sauce: a sweet fermented black bean sauce. Zha jiang mian noodles are perhaps the most traditional Beijing noodle (kind of like bolognese in Italy) and one of my absolute favorite dishes in the world. I don’t quite remember what the yellow sauce was (oops).
And with the bowls of sauce, we each got two little clumps of hand-pulled noodles.
Da Dong’s zha jiang mian was decent, but I’ve had better. Though I am biased as I prefer my grandma’s version above all, but that is another post for another time. :)
Finally, after we have sufficiently whetted our appetites, out came the star of the restaurant. The chef brought out a whole roast duck to be carved tableside. Da Dong’s duck is famous for being roasted in a way that is leaner and less fatty than traditional methods. It’s billed as the modern, healthy way to eat roast duck.
Peking duck is special in the careful carving of the bird. First, some of the crispy skin is lifted off, while leaving the meat under it undisturbed. Then the chef expertly cuts the meat into thin slices. All the pieces – the skin and the meat – are elegantly layered on a plate.
Everyone knows that the most important part of a good Peking duck is the skin! I have never tasted skin this good or perfect in texture. The outermost layer was so crispy yet light, and once bit, melts in your mouth along with the thin layer of juicy fat. So perfectly succulent. My mouth is watering just thinking about the skin. The meat on the other hand, I felt, was a bit on the dry side, but good nonetheless.
Peking duck is eaten with various condiments and wraps. At Da Dong, you get a small platter containing (from top clockwise) minced garlic, granulated sugar, tianmianjiang (a sweet fermented bean sauce), spring onions, 2 kind of pickled veggies, cucumber, and honeydew strips.
There are a few ways to eat Peking duck. The skin is typically dipped in sugar (sounds odd but goes wonderfully together!) and the meat is dipped in the black bean sauce. Or you can make a burrito using the meat and whatever condiments you prefer. The traditional wrapper is a soft flour wrapper, so paper-thin that it’s almost translucent.
But Da Dong also offers a warm puffy hollow sesame biscuit!
My favorite way to eat Peking duck, however, is still with the traditional wrapper. Yum!
Traditionally after the carving, the carcass of the duck will be taken back into the kitchen and be used to stew a soup. We didn’t get this as we were all too stuffed by this point.
But there’s always some room for dessert right? We polished off the meal with some traditional Beijing snacks – a kind of veggie cake and mung bean cake – and then all topped off with honeydew slices.
I am in awe that each and every dish was so good. Usually, when a menu is that large, only the few signature dishes are consistently good, while the rest of the dishes suffer. But not so at Da Dong. Great attention to detail is paid to every single dish.
Dining here does not come cheap. The bill came out to be over 2000RMB, or roughly US $350 for the six of us. One of my aunties generously picked up the bill and we all left very full and happy customers.
So is it worth it if I’m footing my own bill? I hear that the whole duck by itself is 268RMB or US$43. It’s certainly not cheap, but I think this is a very decent price for roast duck in Beijing, especially at such an acclaimed restaurant. The duck is expertly done and it is probably one of the most refined versions you’ll ever find. Certainly, you can only get the roast duck and condiments (which is what a lot of tourists do) and have a reasonably priced meal. One whole duck can feed two people easily.
D and I are on the stingier side when it comes to dining and I probably would have been just as satisfied with a cheaper, more rustic version (since I wouldn’t know what I’d be missing anyway!), but I am extremely happy that I got to try this. This meal now holds the title as the fanciest meal I’ve ever had in my life!
So, the conclusion of this experience is as follows: 1. Da Dong is worth a visit if you have the budget for a splurge meal, and 2. Chinese aunties are the best. ;)
Location: There a few locations around Beijing, the one on Nanxincang being the most famous, original one housed in a restored Ming dynasty palace (1-2 Nanxincang Shangye Daxia, 22A Dongsishitiao, Dongcheng district).
We went to the one next to the Worker’s Stadium (Workers’ Stadium East Gate, Gongti Bei Lu, Chaoyang district) and I thought the green garden setting was lovely.
Reservations are recommended as the restaurant is usually packed.
Have you ever had Beijing roast duck? What’s the fanciest meal you’ve ever had?