Peking duck is the ubiquitous dish of Beijing. Peking duck is a luxury, as this is the one meal where diners consume predominantly meat in a country where the average meal consists of mostly starch and vegetables. When in Beijing, Peking duck is strongly recommended.
Qianjude Restaurant is to Peking duck what Peking duck is to Beijing; that is, it is probably the single most famous Peking duck restaurant, having been in business since 1964. The restaurant has a number of branches, and even the Beijing markets where we went in search of snacks carried Qianjude roast duck in to-go pouches. Dignitaries from around the world had all consumed duck from this restaurant, which dispenses thousands of ducks a day. However, just because it is the most famous does not mean it is the best. We should have listened to Frommer’s. It really is overrated.
At 8pm, when we arrived, there was still a line of diners waiting to be seated. We thought that this was a good omen. Ten minutes after we arrived, we were seated. The waiter appeared quickly to take our tea order. He reappeared shortly with tea to take the order; we ordered half a duck, which also comes with a soup, along with condiments and a braised vegetable dish. As service was efficient, we thought that we were finally, after a long day, able to settle back for a good and relaxing meal.
Imagine our surprise when the duck appeared just a mere four minutes later. A chef came out with half a duck on his cart and proceeded to expertly carve it out in front of our table. But, I thought, it could not be; I know that, for a restaurant this big to specialize in Peking duck, they must be mass-producing these things, but I am not ordering fast food. Maybe this was for the next table. No such luck. As the chef was carving the duck, another attendant appeared with all of the fixings for Peking duck. Then the duck was set on our table, and we were invited to dig in. I was disappointed. The skin was very crunchy; however, there was too much fat and not much flavor. This was definitely not the best, not even one of the five best, Peking ducks I have had. It was a disappointment. To compound the matter, when the duck soup arrived, it was gamey.
But we were both very happy with our braised vegetable dish. It was Chinese cabbage and gingko nuts, braised in duck broth. While the duck soup that came with our order of ½ duck was gamey, the duck broth that came with the cabbage was delicate but extremely flavorful. So we drank the broth instead of the soup. Yum. If I ever come back to this restaurant, it would be to try their other offerings, instead of the one dish for which they are famous.