When I was doing my pre-trip research into the best Beijing duck in Beijing, the names of a few places appeared again and again. One of them was Da Dong, a restaurant specialising in both Beijing duck and modern Chinese cuisine, and with the recommendations of a few bloggers (Mr Noodles, Going with My Gut, and Gastronomy Domine), we headed there one evening too. It wasn’t just any evening though – it was Blai’s last dinner in Beijing (he left before I did) and I’d given my presentation at my conference that afternoon – it was time for a big, swanky meal.
As we hadn’t made a booking (which is definitely recommended), we ended up having to wait for a table and that wait turned out to be about 45 minutes. We didn’t have to wait empty handed though – we were directly to a little counter that held free drinks: bottles of soft drinks and boxes of wine. Surprisingly, while we opted for the soft drinks, most of the Chinese had a glass of the boxed wine! It’s quite fun killing time by making out all the celebrity names that had dined at the restaurant; the walls at reception were papered with signed testimonials from them as well as the numerous awards the restaurant had received. But finally we could sit at a table and peruse the exceptionally long menu (with photos, of course). We ordered what we could afford – there were some temptations but some of the price tags were just above our budget! (A few cubes of beef, delicious looking beef, for over £30? Seafood for over £100?) There were a lot of affordable dishes though and while most dishes came in S, M and L sizes, others were priced on a per person basis. We selected a few things and waited eagerly, famished.
What came out first was unexpected. Though I always associate sweet mooncakes with snacks or desserts, a portion of their homemade nut mooncake was presented to us at the beginning of the meal. This little gesture was due to the upcoming mid-autumn festival and the restaurant was selling boxes of their own mooncakes. I didn’t buy any and immediately regretted it when I got home – these were delicious!
Our meal proper started with a cold appetiser of Chinese Yam with Preserved Plum (28 RMB). This came out much sweeter than anticipated with the yam being more like sweet potato, luckily offset by the salty plum, and each quenelle was topped with shreds of candied orange peel. It was quite heavy too but it wasn’t too bad.
We couldn’t make out which green vegetable was which on the menu and so pointed at the photo we liked. Out came one of my favourites – sauteed pea shoots. Strangely, it’s listed as Sauteed Bean Sprouts (48 RMB) on the menu, an entirely different vegetable over here! I hadn’t had a dud vegetable in Beijing yet and this one was not going to let us down; it was beautifully stir fried with garlic.
I’m not sure why we ordered the Sauteed Bamboo Shoots with Potherb Mustard (58 RMB) other than it looked interesting (the illustrated menu is extremely long, at least 100 pages, and I guess the cost of each dish must have also been a factor). Luckily, it was amazing – extremely fresh bamboo shoots sauteed with a green that I cannot identify; the menu says potherb mustard – were they mustard greens? The presentation was gorgeous too with the sauteed shoots nestled within a larger bamboo container and amongst bamboo leaves.
The Steamed Oxtail with Longan and Honey (32 RMB per person) came out next and was first presented to us in a clay pot. That was whisked away to be individually plated and then, quite amusingly, the now empty pot was presented to us again! Was this to ensure us that we weren’t getting ripped off? Well, I’m glad we got every last morsel in the pot as this oxtail was sumptuous in its rich, sweet glaze. There was no longan to be seen; instead, the morsels to the oxtail’s side were tender, stewed chestnuts.
And lo, our duck arrived! This was their famous Da Dong SuperLean Roast Duck (198 RMB for a whole one) which is cooked in such a way that all the fat is rendered out and you’re left with lean meat and crispy skin. The duck is brought out and carved tableside (well, almost tableside – it’s not in your face but you can look over now and again to see how the carver is progressing).
And this is the result of the carving. The photo below only shows half of the duck; we got two of these platters.
So, the best Beijing duck in Beijiing? I don’t know but I can confirm that it’s some pretty spectacular duck and much better than the duck at Quanjude (the most famous place for duck in Beijing – and yes, we tried it).
Along with the usual pancakes (so much thinner than I’ve ever had), we each got a sesame puff too (shaobing) to fill with duck slices. I quite liked this for its textural difference to the pancake and wished we could have had two each!
Priced separately from the duck was the condiments – sweet sauce, spring onions, cucumber, radish, two pickled vegetables, crushed garlic, and sugar (8 RMB per person). As suggested, with the pancakes, the duck was dipped in the sweet sauce and then wrapped with spring onions and cucumber. The radish and garlic (this was hot!) could also be tasted to one’s taste (and very much suggested for eating with the shaobing). The pickled vegetables were to be eaten on their own to cut the richness of the duck. The sugar was for dipping the skin into – this was surprisingly delicious, my favourite way of eating the skin!
A side thought: I’m not sure why I thought this but before I went to Beijing, I just assumed that a restaurant that specialised in Beijing duck would served nothing but. I now know otherwise. All the Beijing duck places serve many other dishes alongside and it’s not uncommon to find Beijing duck in a lot of restaurants in Beijing, not just those that advertise it. Of course, some places do it better than at others.
The final dish in our order was Chef Dong’s Braised Eggplant (58 RMB). We certainly have a knack for ordering rich dishes; this was thick slices of aubergine braised to tender silkiness. It was certainly very good but we had had better aubergine dishes previously.
We weren’t finished yet! I was about to ask for the menu again for sweets but then we were each presented with a champagne glass full of sorbet. I’m still not entirely clear what this sorbet was – it tasted like a cross between a sweet bean and chestnut.
This was swiftly followed by a pile of large grapes presented on dry ice. I’m not sure what variety these grapes were but they tasted just like grape juice! It was lovely that they presented these as standard with the meal. Can’t have a Chinese meal without ending with fruit! These extras were a nice touch.
I’m very glad I was able to try some modern Chinese cuisine during my trip and Da Dong is a fine place to try it. This really was one of the best meals of our trip and while it’s quite expensive for Beijing standards, it’s excellent value for compared to similar meals in London!
Beijing Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant
Bdg 3, Tuanjiehu Beikou
Dong San Huan