Peking duck is as storied as it is misunderstood. Peking? Where's that? How do you eat Peking duck? Is Beijing the best place for Peking duck?
First things first: Peking is Beijing, and Beijing duck does in fact trace its popularity to the Imperial Court of the northern capital, but it is not as home-grown as many Peking duck fans would have you believe.
Let's carve the fat and get down to business. For any budget and level of expertise, below are the places where you should be eating Peking duck.
148RMB per bird
One of the oldest duck houses in continuous operation in the capital, Bianyifang now sports modern branches spread out across the city. The original Qianmen location even lays claim to inventing the dish, although that claim is largely disputed as the name has been appropriated many times since the first shop opened in 1416. Reliable and affordable duck that won’t blow away experienced duck-eaters but suitable for a low-key introduction, Bianyifang will likely still be churning out ducks 600 years hence for the hungry masses.
468RMB per bird (plus 15 percent)
Nothing ever really tastes the same when you're nestled comfortably within the palace compound that once served as the summer respite for the Qing Dynasty Court. The Aman Summer Palace is in a word stunning, with massive halls to rival that of the Forbidden City (with authentic imperial golden floor tiles to match, the only ones outside the central city palace) and tranquil gardens winding their way through the sprawling courtyard rooms, it's hard to visit just for one meal. For location, The Chinese Restaurant can't be beaten and while the price point may soar above the competition, the supreme duck and truly royal surroundings merit such a hefty ransom.
288RMB per bird (plus 15 percent)
The rustically appointed regional Chinese restaurant at the Rosewood Beijing shakes things up with its menu of country-style dishes and forgotten delicacies of northern China. The menu is vast – and nearly everything from noodles to handmade tofu is crafted using locally sourced ingredients from high quality traditional producers. The duck is no exception, with only the choicest birds making the cut. Make sure to order the soup made from the carved bird.
286RMB per bird
For close to twenty years, one name has reigned supreme in the roast Peking duck game: Da Dong. The big man himself spends more time on the television than in the kitchen but his ducks continue to pull serious weight with locals and tourists alike. A Beijing institution that demands respect, no tour of the capital’s favoured fowl is complete without a visit to Da Dong. Side dishes venture into the absurd with delicacies like shark-fin soup and ultra-fine birds nest, but don’t be discouraged, some of the best dishes at Da Dong are duck free. Don't sleep on the gongbao prawns (118RMB).
A fixture of the Qianmen neighbourhood, where winding alleyways and narrow hutongs have been devouring tourists and spitting them out in rural Fengtai since the Ming Dynasty, Deyuan is a no-frills local favourite. Cheap, quick and open late for such an old school spot, you’re bound to run into some of the local colour – Deyuan seems to attract a particularly charismatic clientele.
238RMB per bird
An elevated take on the hutong theme, Duck de Chine combines a traditional approach to roasting its ducks with contemporary takes on classic side dishes and a tastefully updated interior. Service has been known to be less than friendly towards late arriving tables so get in early for some fancy fowl or risk having the lights turned out! Duck de Chine’s 1949 location makes it ideal for some post-Salitun duck-based revelry – not to mention its proximity to neighbouring Jing A craft brewery taproom and new tea-based cocktail lounge Long Jing.
268RMB per bird (plus 15 percent)
The Cantonese and regional Chinese fine dining outlet at the Kerry Hotel may pack the house out with its delicate and flavourful dim sum service on the weekends, but come sundown, it's all about Beijing duck. Expertly prepared and served up table-side, Horizon can always be counted on for excellent duck and solid service. Its CBD location makes it a good spot for business meetings – followed up with a few bottles of champagne at Centro, of course.
238RMB per bird (plus 15 percent)
Easily one of our favourite spots for regional Chinese specialties, from dim sum, to fiery Sichuanese and of course Beijing duck. Jing Yaa Tang's breadth of offerings is rivalled only by the skill of its kitchen, which delivers authentic renditions of signature dishes from widely dispersed parts of the Middle Kingdom. Chef Lidong leads his kitchen team like a general, commanding his loyal troops with a deft hand and powerful demeanour. The skin at Jing Yaa Tang may be oily for some but the chef will assure you it's all about getting the perfect amount of sugar to stick to each sliver. We couldn't agree more.
Li Qun might seem a bit rundown but this backstreet duck house is perennially packed. Photos of celebrities and statesmen cover the walls, a testament to the praise and attention garnered by Mr Li's superior ducks. Roasted to perfection to retain some fat, the meat is moist and the skin crispy, though more oily than some. Expect to wait for a table, alongside domestic and foreign tourists who flock to this little not-so-secret hole-in-the-wall.
328RMB per bird (plus 15 percent)
Experiencing the regional Chinese restaurant at the Grand Hyatt is like taking a stroll through all of Chinese cuisine. The long procession through the open kitchen (or rather kitchens, Made in China has several different kitchens devoted to different schools of Chinese cuisine) takes you on a journey through the many flavours and smells of the Mainland. For ours, the main reason to make the trip, if not the only, is for the lean roasted duck. The balance of sweet date wood smoke and savoury duck fat is impressive. A good stop for first timers, but veterans will likely order just the duck before finishing the meal elsewhere – no judgement.
168RMB per bird
A Central Park casual duck restaurant with a laid back attitude to duck. The pet project of a veteran chef from Beijing institution Quanjude, Peking Duck, Private Kitchen is obviously the result of a duck master getting fed up with the factory-style, multi-storey madness – a hallmark of many of the capital's popular chain duck joints. A small dining room, low profile décor and comfortable furniture are a far cry from the bejewelled private dining rooms of spots like Quanjude and Da Dong, but the duck is just as worthy.
A hallowed Beijing institution stretching back long before the likes of Da Dong was even a glimmer in its duck-roasting forefather’s eye, Quanjude was the scene of many a state banquet. The list of foreign dignitaries to have noshed on the famously lean slices of duck reads like a history of China’s developing foreign policy. Quanjude has served up over five million ducks worldwide, but the location (supposedly hand-picked by former Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai on Hepingmen Dajie), with its impressive seven stories and truly epic scale, is our favourite for some good ol’ fashion Beijing splendour. With red and gold as far as the eye can see and seating for 2,000 guests, the space may suffer from a general lack of attention to detail but the duck that was good enough for Zhou then is still good enough for Xi now.
275RMB per bird (plus 15 percent)
The fast-casual concept at the China World Summit Wing does Beijing duck done right. With a less conventional attitude than most and an eclectic menu, Red Chamber might be compared to a popular Western fast-casual spot. To its credit, Red Chamber offers well-priced side dishes and treats, like the signature shrimp cakes, which are often omitted from lesser regional Chinese eateries in a similar price range. With a glassed-in roasting area, laid-back vibe and accommodating service (ask to slice a morsel of duck yourself, worth it for the Instagram snap if not your dining companions culinary enjoyment), Red Chamber is duck at its most accessible – a reliable stop for first timers who are flying solo or at least without the helping hand of a Beijinger.
The lines that often stretch out the door and render the entranceway a huddled mass of sunflower seeds, orange stools and hungry locals should be evidence enough of Sijiminfu’s popularity. But it is the smells that issue from the many hidden ovens, a potent aroma of rendering duck fat and date wood, that actually speak of the truly exceptional duck. Don’t lose your cool; an hour wait, although uncommon anywhere else in Beijing, is a common occurrence at any of the chain's city locations – none of which take reservations for the dining room. We recommend rolling deep and booking a private room for a small service charge. Sijiminfu is best for a mixed crowd; not enough know-how can make it tough for first timers, while old hands will note their gradually rising menu prices and long wait times.
238RMB per bird; 888RMB for the gold treatment (plus 15 percent)
Yen is a complete departure from tradition. The sleek, purple, black and sliver décor looks like the scene from a lost Kubrick film set in a restaurant on Mars. But for some truly unconventional and glammed-out duck there can be no other choice. Where else can you find a roast duck that has been coated in real gold? That's right, it comes at a steep premium compared to the classic duck (spoiler: it tastes exactly the same as well) but who could say no to rolling up some hoisin sauce, melon, scallion and gold!
288RMB per bird (24-hours notice required, plus 15 percent)
Waldorf Astoria's Chinese restaurant is no less grand than the famous mansion from which it takes its name, but you sense that the decorator was reeled in before they could go truly crazy. The duck at Zijin is refined and executed with extreme attention to detail. From the fine bone china to the crystal stem ware, a duck at the mansion is a luxe indulgence. Don’t forget to sample the famous roast wagyu beef in aubergine as well, one of Beijing's Top 100 dishes.
Don't see your favourite on our list? Why not share it with you internet friends in the comments below? Venues are listed alphabetically.