Da Dong

6 Jun

Our quest to find delicious Peking duck continued to Da Dong, where we took visitors Chris and Vanessa, and chef Pete van Es. Da Dong has consistently been rated as one of, if not the, top restaurant for duck in Beijing. Many guidebooks recommend a meal in either Da Dong or Quanjude for traditional Beijing kao ya (Peking duck). The awards and plaques on the walls are there on show, including one from Juan Antonio Samaranch before the Olympics declaring Da Dong deserving of a gold medal. They don’t take bookings for dinner after 6.30pm, so we just arrived and sat in the foyer, drinking free cask wine and watching (and salivating) over the ducks that were being pulled from the wood fired ovens in the open kitchen. At Da Dong, service is top notch – waiters looked after our every need, from laying the napkin across our laps, to helpful Chinese language tips.

Between five of us we ordered one and a half ducks, chicken with mixed nuts, a whole fried fish, bamboo shoots and Chinese greens. The regular dishes came out first, and while the servings were smaller than your average Chinese restaurant, the flavour was less salty, with more texture and subtle flavours. The fish looked spectacular, arched up on the plate with scattered mango salsa around it. It looked like a work of art, and almost too good to eat. I said almost though – it tasted incredible, with the crispy skin reminding me of pork crackle.

Our individual side dishes for the duck arrived before the duck. Portions of regular cucumber, shallot and plum sauce sat alongside sugar (to dip the duck skin into), finely diced garlic, chopped radish and pickles. Baskets of wrappers were placed on the table, as were some crispy buns.

It was a tantalising wait before two expert carvers lined up next to our table, each one deftly carving our ducks, and piling up the tasty looking flesh and glistening skin. Dipped into the sugar, the skin melted in our mouths. There were oohs and aahs as we tried this, and the boys also loved getting stuck into the duck legs.

The meat, although, was considered a little dry by Dan. Duck pancakes made with thin wrappers, a dollop of sauce, a few slithers of cucumber, shallots and radish, topped with a little garlic and pickles, finally with a few slices of duck flesh and skin, were morsels of tastiness though. Sweet, savoury, crispy, fresh, salty all combined in a few mouthfuls. We were all fans. Unfortunately though, we didn’t enjoy the duck soup as much – it was light on flavour and had a funny taste. Not on par with the soup we love to get at Jing Zun, which has chunks of duck meat, cabbage, tofu and a heady flavour of white pepper. To clear the palate, we ate sorbet in champagne glasses, which none of us could figure out the flavour of. The closest we could think of was a suggestion of longan by Vanessa. We’d heard rave recommendations about Da Dong, as well as scathing reviews. Service not up to scratch or too much ego towards foreigners, duck not amazing.

We were happy to say, despite the long wait to get a table, and the heat of the restaurant, we were mostly impressed with the food, and the service. Da Dong is a more formal dining than I’ve experienced in China, and for that, and the name, you end up paying more for the experience. When you can get a huge delicious meal for a quarter of the price elsewhere, you wonder if it’s worth it. But of course, Da Dong is definitely somewhere to be tried and experienced.

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2 Responses to “Da Dong”

  1. Wayne June 6, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    We guessed that the sorbet was made from custard apples. Is that like longan?
    Interestingly, Peking Duck was on Masterchef masterclass last week at China Doll restaurant in Sydney. Looking at how they prepared the little extras, it didn’t seem as detailed as DaDong.

    • thehungrytravellers August 2, 2011 at 9:46 am #

      Custard apples are a bit different to longans – longans are more like lychees…Did you like the sorbet, whatever it was!?
      Da Dong was definitely the most detailed duck place we’ve been to…but we stick to our old favourite, Jing Zun, now.

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