Among the experiences we’d promised ourselves in Beijing was a duck dinner. Since our guidebook suggested Quanjude Roast Duck as the place for this delicacy, we took ourselves off to the restaurant one evening. Quanjude has several outlets in Beijing, but the one closest to where we were was the Hepingmen branch.
We arrived at the massive restaurant just around 6pm, arriving at the Hepingmen subway station (exit C from the station is labeled `Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant). The restaurant’s right behind the station, a sprawling edifice that spreads over four stories and seats 2,000. They say the location of the Hepingmen Quanjude was picked by Zhou Enlai; the list of patrons runs the gamut from Zhou Enlai himself to Henry Kissinger. Quanjude, by the way, has been around since 1864: long enough to know what they’re about.
The ground floor waiting area was crammed with waiting guests when we arrived, and four hostesses were trying to maintain some semblance of order. We were told we’d need to wait about fifteen minutes, and at the end of that time were directed to the fourth floor, where a table had just got free. We were escorted past a show kitchen with crispy golden-brown ducks on display, and into a large dining area crowded with tables. The hall was clean, but with the somewhat tacky decor one associates with budget banquet halls in countries like India: plaster scrolls along the windows, an abundance of red and yellow upholstery, not much aesthetic sense used. But we were here for Beijing kaoya – Peking duck – so the decor was really rather incidental.
We were swiftly seated and handed our menus (fortunately bilingual). A soft-spoken and sweet waitress, who understood basic English, soon came over to take our order. Duck, of course (though the menu offers much more); jasmine tea; a refreshing and cool kiwifruit juice for me, and a light Yanjing beer for Tarun.
About fifteen minutes later, our duck was wheeled in on a trolley, and the chef expertly carved it up even as our waitress placed a bamboo steamer full of pancakes on our table, along with bowls of spring onions and plum sauce. When the duck, neatly sliced, was served, she showed me how to 'do’ a pancake: pick up a piece of duck, dip it in the sauce and use it to liberally brush sauce across a pancake. Pile pieces of duck and spring onion onto the pancake, roll it up, and – heaven! It was very basic and delicious. The duck was crisp, gloriously juicy (though obviously oozing with calories!), and was perfectly complemented by the sweet-sour flavour of the sauce and the crisp pungency of the spring onions. The pieces of skin, thick and crisp, were pure melt-in-the-mouth. The only disappointment was the soup: it was a weak, insipid broth that we left after a couple of sips.
Overall, though, it is very enjoyable despite the fact that it’s pretty touristy. The 302 RMB bill was well worth it, in our opinion.