Have you ever stopped to consider if you were going to eat your last meal on earth what it would be? It’s a question I love to ask people because I find it to be an absolutely mindboggling question and always get the most interesting answers.
The mere thought of Peking Duck makes my mouth water, so undoubtedly it would be one of my lasts meals, ideally my last meal would consist of multiple elaborate courses!
But what makes Peking duck so special? I believe it is the unique cooking process that sets it apart from any other dish, or method of cooking that puts it in a league of its own.
The ducks used in China are typically the Pekin breed and thus presumably where the dish derived its name. The fattened ducks (known to be force fed similarly as the foie gras ducks in France are) once slaughtered, plucked, eviscerated and rinsed out are pumped with air under the skin through the neck cavity to plump up the skin, separating it from the fat. The duck is then immersed in boiling water for a period of time and then hung up to dry. While drying the duck is glazed with maltose and the inside of the duck cleaned out with water again. The duck then hang for 24 hours after which it is then roasted in a special oven until it turns the characteristic shiny brown.
Traditionally the oven used is a closed oven (brick, fitted with metal griddles fired by preheated by burning Gaoliang wood at the base). After the fire burns out, the duck is placed in the oven immediately allowing the meat to be slowly cooked by convectional heat within the oven.
Alternatively a principle invention from the imperial kitchen of the Qing Dynasty is used – the hung oven that cooks up to 20 ducks at a time on hooks above an open fire fuelled by peach or pear wood, roasting at 270 degrees C for 30-40 minutes. Quanjude, the restaurant chain has adopted this method and continues to cook its ducks using this traditional Chinese method.
Having spent a stint living in Singapore when I was younger, enjoying luxuriant meals of Peking Duck at the Shangri-La, I have been addicted to Peking Duck for years and am constantly on the lookout for some tasty duck world over, more recently in Melbourne. A couple of months ago I learned that Melbourne’s Queen Street is home to Quanjude that serves up impeccable Chinese fare. Unashamedly I have dined at the fine establishment twice in one month since I discovered it!
When you think Quanjude, think round tables fitted with lazy susans replete with all the Oriental trimmings one has come to expect from a typical Chinese dining experience – porcelain tea cups, pots, chop stick resters, soy sauce bowls etc. Tables are situated fairly close to each other and designed to accommodate 6-8 people, thus allowing the restaurant to accommodate quite a number at any one sitting. Make no mistake the place is about serious eating, and patrons that take their food seriously.
The first time round we were a table of five hungry diners there for a midweek meal, so with a quick flick through the menu we decided to go with classics that caught our eye. We ordered the Peking Duck, of course, Salt and Pepper Prawns, Wagyu Beef with Brocollini in Oyster Sauce, Mixed Prawn and Pork Fried Rice, Pan Fried Noodles and Mixed Steamed Asian Greens with Bamboo Shoots to share. On the second occasion we ordered the same, adding the soft shell crab and prawn on sesame toast.
The food was refreshingly quick to come out and presented beautifully. First out was the duck on a special side table accompanied by an experienced chef that carved the whole crispy duck with deft precision. He sliced off thin squares of skin onto a plate which we were offered to try with soy and plum sauce. Absolutely died and went to heaven as the first morsel of duck crackling hit my tongue. The combination of sweet, salty and the richness of the fat combined with the delightful crunch was beyond amazing.
In no time larger meatier bits had skilfully been removed, a combination of meat and skin this time for us to wrap in our Chinese pancakes that were set on the table, along with finely sliced scallions and cucumber dipping or smearing on the hoi sin sauce. Every bite had you going in for more, and wanting more.
Crunchy, light battered giant salt and pepper prawns were a d ream to eat, airy and crisp. The delicate spice teased the palate, hitting the spot. The soft shell crab with a similiar texture was also fantastic and a sizeable portion.
The wagyu was sensational – melt in the mouth tender, with a perfect crust on the outer edge. The brocollini was blanched perfectly and complimented the earthiness of the shitake mushrooms.
Both the mixed pork and prawn fried rice, along with pan fried noodles were a good combination with the wagyu beef and steamed Asian greens, tying the meal together nicely.
Ambience Nothing out of the ordinary nor special for a Chinese restaurant. Perfect space for large groups and style of food designed to share lends itself to it well. However the place is home to typically Chinese clientele so expect large family tables, lots of noise and somewhat unruly behaviour where children run free unperturbed, unfortunately. (This is more so on weekends the weeknights).
Service Attentive, pleasant and helpful all round, especially where recommendations are concerned and ordering indicating portion sizes etc. Almost nonexistent wine knowledge and wine service, but the quality of food allows you to be forgiving of this.
Food Impressive quality on all accounts, and incredible value for money. Taste most importantly is faultless and the best Chinese I have eaten in Melbourne. Absolutely love Quanjude.