The Peking duck game in Beijing is, justifiably, dominated by a few old favourites. We’re hardly left wanting for places to eat the most traditional of Beijing meals, yet, still, the arrival of Sheng Yong Xing, an elegant double-storey restaurant in Dongzhimen, is a welcome addition to the scene.
There’s plenty to be pleased about here over the course of a leisurely dinner, but let’s start with the most important part: the duck. Sheng Yong Xing offers a normal kaoya for 238RMB, or a house special for an extravagant 378RMB. Gluttony is a sin, but the indulgence of the house special here is worth your while if you’re looking for something special. Ingredients like truffles, foie gras and caviar are all too often used to connote wealth rather than excellence, but the caviar-topped slivers of crispy duck skin, glistening with a thin layer of fat on a canapé-sized bite of toast, fall squarely in the excellent category (although still, of course, expensive). The gentle, unctuous caviar melds with the brittle skin to create a euphoric bite that – and we don’t use this cliché lightly – melts perfectly on the tongue. It’s definitively ducky, but subtle enough to leave you wanting more.
The more arrives in the form of an exceedingly good roast duck, carved at the table and served in generous portions. Each diner gets an individual tray of traditional condiments, including our favourite double act of sugar for dipping the skin in and a pungent helping of minced garlic. The meat is lean without being dry, and sturdy without being chewy. It’s hard to fault it as a classic rendition of a traditional dish done well.
What makes Sheng Yong Xing really stand out is the quality of the other dishes. Often when you’re eating Peking duck, everything else on the menu is a vague and ill-considered selection of generic fried vegetable dishes or anything that’s vaguely Beijing-orientated. Here, though, we start with ‘hutong radishes’ (26RMB), a crunchy appetizer of slightly pickled, peppery roots, along with a dish of shrimp, asparagus and, yes, truffle (128RMB) which this time is not a wholly necessary addition, but doesn’t feel intrusive on an otherwise simple and light affair.
Truly wonderful is the large yellow croaker, topped with a sprinkling of Osmanthus petals (158RMB), which comes whole and sort of mummified in a sticky sweet glaze, preserving the fish’s tragic final gasps for eternity, or until you eat it. The sauce is not dissimilar to that of gongbao jiding, but it’s sharper, lighter and more delicious.
For vegetarians who are missing out on the interactivity of the duck pancakes, the ‘boiled multiple mushrooms’ (48RMB) is a lucky dip of various mushrooms swimming in a vat of mala oil and dried peppers – the only unlucky outcome is the all-too-easy scenario in which your chopsticks return sans shroom from the slippery challenge.
Sheng Yong Xing is at the upper end of the price range for restaurants of a similar quality. But with a hard-to-fault menu, thoughtful service and a bumper wine selection of over 100 options from China and around the world, you won’t regret the extra kuai spent here.
By Amy Hawkins