Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Peking Duck Extravaganza

If you have read at least one of Jenni's articles on this blog, you would already know that she is obsessed with food. So it was no surprise that when we arrived in Beijing, along with seeing the Great Wall and visiting the Forbidden City, Jenni's top 3 things she wanted to do in Beijing included going to a lavish Peking duck restaurant.

We had read in the Lonely Planet guide and on many places on the internet about the best places to go, but we found that every place that we looked at, there was always mixed reviews. We eventually settled on the most famous Peking Duck restaurant chain - Quanjude. We had read a few reviews that claimed that the waiters here were really pushy in trying to get you to buy extras, always recommending the more expensive dishes on the menu and delivered extremely poor service if you didn't comply with their wishes. Our strategy was to just go with the flow and at the start of the meal and order a couple of the extras to keep them off our backs, in the hope that this would allow us to enjoy the meal. We figured that being in China, the extras for us would be relatively cheap in comparison to what we are used to paying at a standard restaurant back in Australia and we would be prepared to sacrifice an extra $20 AUD to be able to actually enjoy our meal.

We had heard that you really do need to make a booking for Quanjude, but we were not confident enough to make the phone call and make a reservation using our limited knowledge of Mandarin, so we made sure that we arrived at the restaurant quite early for dinner (about 5:45pm) to ensure that we would get a table. Upon arrival we were immediately escorted up to the 2nd level of the restaurant (the restaurant has about 5 levels to it) and given a table. This was the first good sign as we heard that they would typically escort foreigners to the top floor where it costs more money. The second good sign was the fact that when we entered the room where our table was, we noticed that we were the only foreigners in the room.

However, as soon as we sat down at the table, a very pushy, English speaking waiter placed a set menu under our noses, before even giving us the standard menu. He claimed that this was the best value menu and included all of the chef's specialities. Upon giving us the normal menu (only after we had to specifically ask him for it) he then proceeded to 'ask' us what we would like to drink. He was determined to get us to buy a beer each, so I let him have his way and get me the beer that he recommended (as it turned out, it was the most expensive one they had on offer - surprise, surprise) and Jenni managed to convince him that she didn't actually want a glass of wine (a VERY expensive glass of wine I might add) and only wanted the coconut juice.

Upon his return with his drinks, we decided that to get him (and the rest of his pushy wait staff) off our backs we would just order the recommended set menu. It was a good deal more pricey than ordering just the duck and a couple of the cheaper dishes, but we figured that if we order the set menu, they wouldn't pester us any further in terms of dishes to eat and it included what we were after anyway; the Peking Duck.

This was the best decision we made all night and it worked like a charm!

As soon as we ordered the set menu they stopped being pushy and treated us to some of the most excellent service that we have ever experienced at a restaurant. Service of course did not come with a smile; we are in China after all, but it was service none the less.

The food was being served within minutes of us ordering. Every 5 minutes a waiter would come around to top up our tea cups, top up our pot of tea and top up my beer. We were not asked once more if we wanted any more dishes or dessert and they gave us plenty of opportunities to order more drinks when we wanted them.

The meal started off with some cooled fried cabbage with shredded meat throughout, accompanied by a plate of sliced pickle. After our cold starter, a chef brought the duck to our table and carved it in front of us. The waitress showed us how to prepare the duck to eat by taking the sliced duck meat, dip it in hoi-sin sauce and wrapping it along with a thin slice of spring onion in a paper thin pancake. Following the duck, we were presented with a plate filled with fried prawns, covered in a delicious Schezuan sauce. We were also given a plate of mustard cabbage covered in oyster sauce (the same dish you get when you ask for Chinese vegetables when you go to a Dim Sum lunch). We were also given two bowls of soup, one being shark fin soup and the other one we think was duck soup. To finish the meal, we were presented with a plate of fresh fruit, accompanied by a plate each of small cakes.

All up it cost just over $100 AUD, but considering that we had just eaten in one of the most prestigious roast duck restaurants in Beijing, had been given a total of 9 dishes which included some of the most delicious things we had ever eaten and we were so full that a wide panoramic photograph probably couldn't fit the two of us in it, we think it was definitely worth it.

If you are new to Peking duck like Jenni and I and would like to go to a Peking Duck restaurant in Beijing, these would our top tips for finding one that you will enjoy:

- Don't go to the Tian'anmen branch of Quanjude, or any of the really exclusive other restaurants. Choose one from the same chain, but that is one suburb over from one of the fancy ones as every man and his dog will go to those ones first, booking them out.
- If you don't have a reservation, go there on a week night and get there nice and early (before 6pm). There was plenty of seats available at this time when we did this, but it appeared completely full by about 7pm.
- Try not to be be a penny pincher and expect to pay a reasonable amount for your dinner, it is worth it.
- If the waiter is pushy at the start of the dinner, order a couple of the extra things that they recommend, unless you are happy to put up with the pestering. This will probably keep them off your back and allow you to actually enjoy your meal with some reasonable service.

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