Experience the gold class standard for Peking duck
When I lived in Hong Kong a few years ago, I chanced upon the famed Quanjude restaurant while on a mini-break. The Beijing restaurant has a long heritage serving roast Peking duck in the style used to serve the Emperor of China.
The original branch was established in 1864 during the Qing Dynasty. The owner hired Master Sun from Jinhua Palace, who brought with him the secret duck recipe and from that moment, roast duck was elevated to Imperial heights.
The quality of the duck was outstanding. It even came with its own unique number and certificate. Apparently, the chain serves over 3 million ducks a year.
The chain arrived in Australia in Melbourne in 2008. When I read that Sydney now has its own branch, I made an immediate reservation. I still remember the succulent duck pancakes I ate all those years ago in Beijing.
A colossal Peking Opera mask greets guests as they enter. Photo credit: Nicole James
I had trouble finding the entrance, as the address is listed as 'ground floor'. Turns out the front door is on the 'upper ground'. Simply head up the escalator situated at the corner of George and Goulburn Streets (there is a Lorna Jane on the corner) and at the top is a set of ornate Chinese wooden doors and grey bricks reminiscent of a Hutong village.
Spread out over three floors, the decor in the Sydney branch is posher than the original Beijing one, with a mix of high-backed Imperial gold satin cloth booths and low wooden tables and chairs with ornate carving.
We came for lunch, but I found out afterwards there is a face-changing theatrical performance during the dinner session.
Quanjude Sydney dining area. There is ample space between the tables. Photo credit: Nicole James
As the duck is the show stopper the key decision was six pieces of peking duck pancakes, half duck or a whole duck. We opted for half to save stomach space for other dishes.
The duck is served three ways; skin served with sugar on the side, duck and spring onion pancakes and bones in salt and pepper, or bones in soup (add $15). We opted for bones seasoned with salt and pepper. We were wondering how the bones would be presented and how we would eat them. They turned out to be absolutely delicious with small nuggets of meat on them. They were the avian equivalent of beef spare ribs.
Chef slicing the Peking duck. Photo credit: Nicole James
The duck skin tasted overwhelmingly fatty to me. Luckily there wasn't much of it and we were a party of four, so the portion was pretty much one piece each. Apparently duck skin is a real delicacy, so it must be casting pearls before swine in my case.
The prized duck skin is served sizzling and the idea is to dip it in the sugar so it melts and coats the skin. Photo credit: Nicole James
The pièce de résistance was the duck pancakes. The skin was crisp and the meat perfectly cooked and moist, with just a thin layer of fat between the two. The pancakes were soft and pliable. I was impressed each person received an individual plate of hoisin sauce, spring onions and cucumber. The individual serve felt luxurious.
Top photo: The duck bones with salt and pepper were finger-licking good! Bottom photo: The duck slices were all the same size and came with a thin layer of fat but didn't taste greasy. They were heavenly! Photo credit: Nicole James
Overall, service was fast and efficient and my Mum even got talking to the waiter as he spoke Cantonese. We lingered afterwards at our table drinking tea and chatting. We were there past 3 o'clock and were not asked to leave at any time. The cleaner smiled as she mopped the floor around our table. If I had one criticism, it would be that all the food arrived at once which meant half of it got cold by the time we got around to eating it.
Dessert was walnut mochi $8.80 and pea cake $8.80. Photo credit: Nicole James
Sitting at my desk overlooking Sydney Harbour Bridge, I can still remember the soft pancakes enveloping the succulent duck meat, a good few days after the event. I will definitely be back, especially as on the way out I saw the restaurant advertising an introductory offer of, 'all yum cha dishes $6.80'.
The restaurant is currently running an introductory offer of all yum cha dishes for $6.80. Dim sum is served 7 days a week 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Photo credit: Nicole James
Yum Cha Desserts at Quanjude are all $6.80 per dish. Clockwise from bottom left: Red bean roll, Pea cakes, Baked red bean duckling pastry, Steamed rice cake with sesame, Sweet bean paste rolled in glutinous rice flour. Photo credit: Quanjude website.