We’re seated next to a metal sculpture of Buddha, getting stared down by his serene gaze, and still the only thing we can keep our eyes on at Taste of Da Dong is the food. A veritable king’s banquet of gorgeous Chinese cooking lies before us, designed by one of Beijing’s most eminent chefs. And yet it arrives so quickly we have to ask the waiters to deliver dishes slower to make room on the table. ‘But sir,’ they implore, ‘we’re a fast food restaurant!’
Yes, it’s true: duck master Dong Zhenxiang has turned his attention towards cheap (ish) eats. At his new place, the restaurant titan has rejigged the high-falutin’ approach of his Da Dong Peking duck chain towards simpler, casual cuisine. He’s also cut the prices to match. If you’re curious and on a budget, you can now try his signature ‘super lean’ roast duck for less than half the price of Da Dong (118RMB; 10RMB for pancakes and topping). The portion is smaller but the crispy, golden-brown bird is just as rich and delightful.
Nearly everything here is regular Chinese fare done par excellence. Even everyday dishes like steamed buns (24RMB) are fantastic, stuffed to the brim with bok choy and egg. The appetiser platter (10RMB) takes influence from traditional Beijing cuisine, with the ma doufu and mashed potatoes some of the best we’ve ever had. The ‘chef’s special’ aubergine (28RMB) is luscious, lightly tinged with soy and aniseed. And when Dong spoons hoisin sauce over creamy, baked avocado (15RMB), it’s one lip-smacking treat.
Desserts also meld East and West, but not always with a tasty result. Grainy soy milk ice cream plopped over a mildly nutty traditional Beijing pancake (18RMB) might not suit everyone’s fancy, but the chocolate-covered hawthorn berries served as garnish will. Can we get a whole bowl of those, please? Adding black truffle to a velvety tiramisu (32RMB) also results in two pieces that don’t quite fit right.
The restaurant has six set menus (from 118RMB) that put together the greatest hits for you to try in one outstanding meal. This is particularly helpful as our servers were completely clueless – they could barely figure out how to pour a glass of water, let alone guide us through the menu of culinary wonders. But the food is so good here the bad service barely takes the sheen off the experience. One of the city’s best chefs has done it again. When he puts his mind to it, is their anything Dong Zhenxiang can’t do?
By Sean Silbert