Restaurant reviews

Glutton's guide to Peking duck, part 2 by Thomas O'Malley

Beautifully bronzed duck, a steamer of papery pancakes, julienned veggies and sticky soybean sauce. Yep, it’s Beijing’s signature quacker. Tens of thousands of ducks are roasted, carved and gobbled up daily in the city’s kaoya dian. But where to eat ducks fit for an emperor?  Where to find the best Peking duck in Beijing? Read part 2 of this guide and find out. (Missed part 1? read it here.)

Dadong, Beijing's Duck Maestro

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Nanxincang International Plaza, 22A Dongsishitiao, Dongcheng District, Beijing. +86 10 5169 0329. 11am-20pm.

The closest northern China has to a bona-fide celebrity chef, Dong Zhenxiang, (aka Dadong) has taken the art of duck roasting to dizzying new heights. ‘Big Dong’ (he’s exceedingly tall) first started developing his idea for ‘superlean’ roast duck whilst working as a chef in a rival duck restaurant. Roasted for longer than tradition dictates in specially conceived spherical ovens that focus the heat, about twice the usual amount of fat is rendered off each Dadong duck (238 RMB) resulting in a crisp, lacquered skin and a less oily bite (many prefer this lighter method; purists have complained it is too dry – whatever the case, it means you can eat more before getting full, which is surely a good thing).

An estimated 800 ducks are roasted daily at Dadong’s trio of restaurants, but this branch is the most interesting, overlooking the restored Ming dynasty imperial granary, called Nanxincang. The brightly lit dining room is rarely less than heaving with locals and tourists rolling overstuffed duck pancakes or choosing from any of the 200 creative dishes that comprise Dadong’s tome-like menu. Whatever you choose, the nightly queues are still all about the duck, so be sure to book ahead.

Suggested dish: Thorny Sea Cucumber, 238 RMB

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Forget about roast duck (for a moment, if you can) - sea cucumber (haishen) is the dish that has won Dadong most recent acclaim amongst Chinese foodies. In his restless pursuit of killer recipes, Dadong studied under a Beijing chef called Wang Yijun, whose signature was a dish of stewed sea cucumber with scallion. Dadong’s take on the dish is suitably bling: the finest thorny sea cucumber from Kato in Japan is rehydrated for several days then stewed and served with braised spring onion and a zingy lemon sorbet. Looks scary but tastes sensational (honest), with a curiously spongy texture and lingering richness.

Insider Tip: Getting to Grips with Dadong’s Menu

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Dadong’s ‘Artistic Conception of Chinese Cuisine’ is an astonishing piece of food literature – certainly the biggest menu this eater has ever thumbed through. Over 200 dishes fill the tome, each supposedly photographed (very elegantly) by Dadong himself. Most dishes have a little background story or historical nugget attached - a reflection of Dadong’s preoccupation with time and place in his pursuit of a contemporary Chinese cooking style.

With such a fusion of ingredients, flavors and techniques on display, bewilderment is a common reaction. What on earth to order? Dadong clearly has a great love for restaurant theatre, so I’d suggest trying some of his showy “house innovations” (marked on the menu) like ‘noodles’ made from lobster meat with a Beijing zhajiang sauce, geoduck clam sashimi (it’s served inside a giant ice globe) or the fillet of kobe beef (blowtorched from raw at your table, naturally.) Go quackers.

Duck de Chine, Cantonese Flair

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1949 – The Hidden City, Courtyard 4, Gongti Beilu, Chaoyang District. +86 10 6501 1949. 11am-2.30pm, 6-11pm.

Obsession. The word doesn’t begin to describe the lengths father-son chef team Peter and Wilson Lam have gone to in their pursuit of the perfect Peking duck. “We ate nothing else for nine months,” Wilson told me. The Cantonese chef duo reckons they’ve cracked the formula: 2kg ducks, culled at between 43-45 days old, roasted for exactly 65 minutes over 30 year old date tree wood (imported from neighboring Shanxi), and then left to rest and drain for 10 minutes. Got all that?

Each roasted bird (RMB 238) arrives into the dining room to the chime of a gong, as chefs in slate-grey robes set about carving it into about 120 perfectly proportioned slices of divinely rich skin and lusciously moist meat. Simply put, the skin here (and it’s all about the skin) is more aromatically sweet and perfumed than any other. Don’t tell the locals, but these southerners are beating Beijing at its own game.

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The restaurant itself is the centerpiece of ‘1949 – The Hidden City’, a neo-industrial lifestyle complex built out of a former factory. A rarity in Beijing, it’s both beautifully conceived and modest in scale. Quite possibly the finest Peking duck restaurant, well, anywhere. And to this eater at least, the best Peking duck in Beijing.

Suggested dish: Duck liver terrine on toast, 168 RMB

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One of the world’s premier delicacies, foie gras (fatty goose or duck liver), is a divisive food stuff. Some claim that gavage (force-feeding to engorge the liver) is cruel; others say that the birds, with no gag reflex in their throat, don’t mind at all, thank you very much.

Well, you might be surprised (dismayed?) to learn that Peking ducks are also force-fed. It’s not to fatten the liver; rather to give that all-important layer of fat beneath the skin, and bring the duck to slaughter weight as quickly as possible. I’ve witnessed tianya (literally ‘fill the duck’) at a farm outside Beijing – the process is over in seconds and doesn’t seem particularly cruel.

So you might think of this terrine as foie gras ‘light’ - velvety, creamy and delicate, but with a milder, more balanced richness. A tip – when it’s served, wait five minutes before eating it just to ensure the dish is up to room temperature.

Insider Tip: Designer Duck Accessory

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Peking duck is nothing without its sauce. The signature condiment here owes more to Cantonese cooking than Beijing’s traditional sweet wheaten paste, and it’s made with over 30 herbs and spices, many medicinal. A bit of theatre enhances it further as the waiter drizzles on sesame and peanut paste, whirls it together into a spiral pattern and sprinkles over some crispy fried garlic. “It’s not as strong or salty as the local duck sauce, and it has more layers of flavor,” reckons its creator, Chef Lam. Well, he would say that, but I’m not arguing. And the best part is you can buy a jar to take home.

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Speaking of another kind of sauce, Duck de Chine has the dubious honor of housing China’s first Bollinger champagne bar within its trendy, loft-like innards. It’s the perfect pairing apparently, the crisp bubbles cutting straight through the rich meat. It’s not cheap mind you, at around 1000 RMB a bottle. But I’ve found the more modestly-priced Prosecco (closer to 250 RMB) does the job admirably.

Made in China, a Five Star Duck Experience 

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Grand Hyatt Hotel, 1 East Chang'an Avenue, Dongcheng District, Beijing. +86 10 8518 1234. 11.30am-2.30pm, 5.30-10.30pm.

In the belly of the Grand Hyatt nestles this glam temple to duck-roasting, one of the finest purveyors of Peking duck in the capital. Executive Chef Jin, from a proud line of gruff, tough Beijingers, is from the old school, and his birds, meticulously sourced, prepped, roasted and carved, conform strictly to the Quanjude tradition.

Presentation is impeccable; Made in China serves a separate dish of skinless breast meat, which you’re supposed to eat wrapped in a pancake with scallions as a prelude to one with ‘the works’. The ducks here (RMB 238) really do display a perfectly balanced yin and yang of crisp, lacquered skin and yielding, ivory hued-meat, and the homemade pancakes are non-sticky with a delicious elasticity.

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Grab a table close to the open kitchen to watch Jin’s team at work – some of these black belt roasters have been slinging ducks for over twenty years. It’s quite a dance, and the aromas that fill the dining room are intoxicating.

Made in China go through about fifty ducks a day, and they’re so fastidious about the final product that they even eviscerate and dress the birds themselves. So as you kick back in contemporary dining splendor, spare a thought for the luckless lackey in the service kitchen working his way through a trolley load of plucked Peking plumpers.

Suggested dish:  Signature Kungpao Chicken, 98 RMB

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This guide takes it for granted that you’ll order the duck, but more is the fool who doesn’t get extra fowl, as the saying probably should go. This much-loved Sichuan dish (gongbao jiding) is a staple on menus around Beijing, and probably the single dish most recommended to foreigners by the Chinese, on account of its lack of bones, surfeit of peanuts and sticky-sweet sauce.

At Made in China, a new dimension of texture and taste is achieved with the addition of macadamia nuts and deep-fried, mildly fragrant chilli peppers. Best of all, the sauce is lip-smackingly flavorful without being too cloying.

Insider Tips: How to Eat Peking Duck

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“Three stages and they’re all important!” Head Chef Jin assured me when I asked him to school me on the technique and etiquette of eating Peking duck. You should always begin by taking an amber shard of duck skin and dipping it in sugar. Brittle and oily, it gets the palate sparking. Tender breast meat next (no skin), folded into a pancake together with scallions and a little sauce. Oh mama. And here’s a tip: you’re supposed to use the veggies as a sort of paintbrush to apply the sauce on to the pancake.

Thirdly, the works: pancakes crammed with moist leg meat attached to treacle-hued skin, cucumber, tangy sauce and just a little minced garlic. “The trick is to roll them small enough to eat in one mouthful”, says Jin, “to get the full taste profile.”  Decedent, delicious, and ever so calorific. Does a tastier mouthful of food even exist? Doubtful.

Click here for part 1 f the guide and discover the history of Beijing's signature quacker.

Glutton's guide to Peking duck, part 1 by Thomas O'Malley

Beautifully bronzed duck, a steamer of papery pancakes, julienned veggies and sticky soybean sauce. Yep, it’s Beijing’s signature quacker. Tens of thousands of ducks are roasted, carved and gobbled up daily in the city’s kaoya dian. But where to eat ducks fit for an emperor?  Where to find the best Peking duck in Beijing? Read this guide and find out.

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Peking duck is no flash in the pan. The first recorded mention of roast fowl in China dates back to the Northern and Southern Dynasties around 500 AD. In the 14th century it was an Imperial dish, reserved for royalty. Like many such delicacies, it’s likely the recipe was later smuggled out of the Forbidden City by cooks or servants, finding its way into well-heeled residences and restaurants.

The history of Peking duck restaurants in the capital goes hand-in-hand with the city’s laozihao, which means something like ‘time-honored brands’. Quanjude and Bianyifang are the two most famous brands in duck roasting, both of which you’ll learn more about later on.

The ducks that grace the tables of China’s capital derive from the white-downed ‘Pekin’ breed. Bred and raised on small-scale farms in Beijing’s northern suburbs, they are blessed with an instinctive gluttony, and reach slaughter weight – usually 2.5kg – after just 40 days. In the late 1800s, nine of these were exported from China to Long Island, New York. Today 95% of ducks consumed in the US are direct descendents.

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A bit different from the ‘crispy duck’ eaten in Cantonese-style restaurants around the globe, proper Peking duck should have skin that’s both brittle and yielding. Getting there is a meticulous and time-consuming process, which you’ll learn more about on the tour. And when it comes to eating, aesthetics are paramount. As a rule, ducks are carved tableside in view of diners. It’s an expected piece of food theatre, part of the rhyme and ritual of eating a dish dating back to the Ming Dynasty.

So grab your chopsticks and get set to gobble your way through the history and evolution of China’s best-loved dish, from the earliest laozihao that are still going strong to today’s maverick chefs, who are reimagining Beijing’s signature dish for increasingly cosmopolitan diners.

Know Before You Eat: Some restaurants (like Quanjude) allow you to order ducks by half, but generally you’ll get the whole bird, which will feed at least two people. All restaurants listed in this guide have menus with dish photographs and English translations, so language won’t be a problem.

Bianyifang, Beijing's "Oldest" Eatery

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77 Xianyukou, Qianmen East Street, Chongwen District, Beijing. +86 10 6713 2536. 11am -9pm. 

The city’s oldest surviving restaurant chain, Bianyifang Kaoyadian was established way back in 1416 during the reign of Ming emperor Yongle. Bianyifang, which means ‘convenient to all’, is said to have started life as a takeaway outlet on Mishi Hutong (Rice Market Alley) about a mile east of this location.

A branch of Bianyifang has stood here on Xianyukou (Fresh Fish Crossroads) since 1855 … until the bulldozers arrived for the 2008 Olympics and razed what was one of the most vibrant – albeit rundown - commercial districts in the city. In typical Chinese fashion, the original maze of alleys and eateries has since been rebuilt from the ground-up, re-opening in spring 2011 as a tourist food street complete with piped music and Disney-style facades. Bianyifang is back on its old perch (pun intended) – bigger and shinier than ever.

It’s truly a beast of a place, a mock Qing frontage leading to 7000 square meters of restaurant supposedly able to serve 1000 covers at a time. Inside, old and new collide. In the grand lobby a gold plaque reads simply ‘1416’, whilst off to the side a flashy holographic display recounts the history of Bianyifang and roast duck.

Suggested dish: 1416 Peking Roast Duck, 140 RMB 

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Bianyifang developed what’s called the ‘closed-oven’ technique for roasting duck, whereas almost all other restaurants now roast over an open flame, pioneered by Quanjude (the next eatery in the guide). In practice, Bianyifang’s archaic method seems to result in the duck skin being a little softer and the meat juicier and ever so slightly pink. You also get a higher ratio of meat to skin – good for carnivores.

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Bianyifang also predates the pancake rolling method of eating Peking duck. Traditionalists stuff the juicy duck meat inside a small sesame wheat bun called a shaobing. A few slices of succulent duck sandwiched in the doughy bread is a delicious little mouthful, though rather filling and admittedly less popular than the pancake method, so the menu does give the option of both types of accompaniments.

Insider Tip: Glutton for mutton

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A large Muslim Chinese minority (the Huimin) has lived in the Qianmen area of Beijing for 500 years, and their halal habits have fueled the rise of lamb or mutton as just about Beijing’s best loved meat. To give your table an authentic mutton touch, order this dish of premium lamb breast from the great plains of Inner Mongolia, slow-roasted and served in strips topped with crispy skin.

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The serving method is particularly novel: the cooked lamb breast is heaped to one side of a tray used for tea ceremonies, surrounded by petite steamed breads (called mantou) and a spicy, savory dipping sauce. On the other side are little cups and a teapot filled with tart berry juice, which you should drink after eating to cut through the oil-rich lamb.

Quanjude, Good Enough for Nixon

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14 Qianmen West Avenue, Chongwen District, Beijing. +86 10 6302 3062. 11am-2pm, 4.30-8.30pm.

What we think of as Peking duck today can mostly be traced back to Quanjude. Founded back in 1864 by a poultry dealer named Yang Quanren, the restaurant pioneered the idea of cooking ducks by hanging them in open ovens over the wood of fruit trees to impart a perfume into the skin, and eating the flesh wrapped in thin wheat pancakes (called heye bing).

The ducks here do tend to be slightly more clumsily presented than the very finest in town, which irks when you’re already paying a tourist premium (198-239 RMB). Mind you, I’ve never had a bad one, and over the years Quanjude’s distinguished birds have been eaten by everyone from Fidel Castro to Richard Nixon.

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These days, coach-loads of domestic and foreign tourists flock to what has been named one of the 500 best brands in China. Inside, you can count on a bright, brash ambience and brisk service - but worth it if only for the numbered certificate of authenticity you receive with each duck. As a kitsch souvenir, it’s up there with an “I climbed the Great Wall” T-shirt.

The giant branch at Hepingmen, opened in 1979, is the undisputed flagship – seven floors, 41 dining rooms and endless acres of Quanjude’s trademark communist-chic red and gold décor. They don’t often do small (or subtle) in China. Best of all, its walking distance from Tiananmen Square, so you might like to take in the flag lowering ceremony in the square at sunset than take a stroll southwest to the restaurant for dinner.

Suggested dish: Duck heart dumplings, 36 RMB

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Quanjude lays claim to the idea of using every part of the bird to create a multi-course, ritualized feast. This ‘duck banquet’, mostly served in private rooms to VIP guests, is possibly a little extreme for the uninitiated, comprising duck feet with mustard, spicy gizzards, intestines done myriad ways and even the drained fat emulsified into a soup broth.

But if you order the duck heart dumplings (jiaozi) off the regular menu, you won’t be disappointed, much less grossed-out. Ground duck hearts are mixed with garlic, soy and spices, wrapped by hand into little doughy crescents and boiled in a large cauldron of water for about ten minutes. Served with dipping vinegar, the mild, meaty filling and pillowy skins are the food equivalent of a nice warm hug.

Insider Tip: How to Make Peking Duck

Want to learn the secrets of one of the world’s greatest (and most fussy) dishes? OK, here goes. First … the slaughterhouse. Ducks should be EXACTLY uniform in size and weight when they arrive, and after being carefully plucked and eviscerated, a bamboo rod is inserted into the ribcage to keep its shape.

In the kitchen, compressed air is pumped into the duck between the skin and the fat layer, inflating it like a medieval football. This will help keep the skin crisp in the oven, and enable the fat to render more efficiently.

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The ballooned ducks are then doused in boiling water, the skin visibly tightening, followed by a basting of mai ya tang - molasses syrup that will help impart the characteristic bronze luster to the skin.

After two days of drying (again, for the crispy skin), hot, date-infused liquid is poured into the duck cavity, which is bunged up. This is the really clever part. Full of fruity juice, the meat will steam gently from the inside as the flames in the oven lick and crackle the skin.

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40 to 55 minutes later (after a bit of basting in the fire) the ducks are removed from the oven using a long pole called a yachang. De-bunged and drained, they’re ready for carving. Bon apetit!

Read part 2 for more restaurants, dishes and tips!

What are the best restaurants in Beijing? by Thomas O'Malley

What are the best restaurants in Beijing? Or - what's your favourite restaurant in Beijing? Two questions I dreaded during my stretch as Dining Editor on city expat magazine the Beijinger. In 2012 and then again in 2013 I was asked to compile a Top 20 Beijing Restaurants Round-Up for CNN. Gulp. You can see what I came up with here.

The problem with these lists is that they need to be tourist-friendly (hole-in-the-walls with Chinese menus only can't qualify) and they have to cover off various price brackets. Places should be relatively easy to get to and find for the non Chinese speaker, be not too far out of centre, and let customers order in English. Also restaurants ought largely to be Chinese in either cuisine or style / influence, and big enough / established enough that they won't close a month after the article goes live.

Sadly, since the list was compiled, Maison Boulud is no more. Didn't see that one coming. Also, Aria isn't quite what it was, although their light could shine brightly again with the right chefs. But hit up any of the other places on the list and you should be guaranteed a great feed.

One Dumpling to Rule Them All by Thomas O'Malley

An ode to shengjian bao (生煎包), the greatest, soupiest dumpling of them all. A Shanghai morning staple, they can be had all over the city courtesy of the excellent restaurant chain Yang's Fry (pictured), who's success is a classic rags-to-riches tale for another time. This article was written in enthusiastic tribute at the time a very good little shengjian bao eatery had opened in Beijing, on Gulou West Street. Sadly it didn't last a year. Clearly, northerners prefer jiaozi.

A dozen of Beijing's best Peking ducks by Thomas O'Malley

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This calorific study of crispy skinned fowl for the Beijinger magazine was a labour of love. A couple of years on and Duck de Chine remains Beijing's best Peking duck (and therefore possibly the world's). The other eleven are worth your time too.

Duck de Chine

Ranking: 1, price: RMB 238+10%

“We ate nothing but duck for nine months.” Father-son chef team Peter and Wilson Lam didn’t let coronary heart failure stand in the way of their mission to crack the quacker. But what did the Cantonese duo learn? “2kg ducks, culled at between 43-45 days old, roasted for exactly 65 minutes over 30 year old date tree wood (imported from Shanxi).” Got all that? Simply put, the skin here (and it’s all about the skin) is more aromatically sweet and perfumed than any other. And the multi-layered, house-made hoisin , topped theatrically with sesame, peanut paste and crisp fried garlic, puts this duck out of sight.

Made in China

Ranking: 2, price: RMB 238+15%

Yes it’s in a five star hotel, but this kaoya dian is strictly old-school. Executive Chef Jin, a gruff, tough Beijinger, presides over a small team of black belt roasters, several of whom have been slinging ducks for over two decades. Presentation is impeccable; Made in China serves a separate dish of skinless breast meat, which you’re supposed to eat wrapped in a pancake with scallions after skin dipped in sugar and as a prelude to ‘the works’:  leg meat, skin, cucumber, duck sauce and a little minced garlic. “Roll them small enough to eat in one mouthful,” advises Jin. Oops, too late.

Chynna

Ranking: 3, price: RMB 239+15%

Chynna gives Beijing's specialist duck restaurants a stiff lesson in fowl-roasting. Thick, remarkably non-greasy skin has a shatteringly crisp yet yield texture - you can actually hear the knife bite through it when the chef starts carving. The lean meat is succulent and rich; you’ll be stuffed after three or four pancakes. And because they only roast a few birds each service, you feel like your dish has had the care and attention such noble fowl deserves.

Dadong

Ranking: 4, price: RMB 238

Dadong’s ‘Artistic Conception of Chinese Cuisine’ is one of the few menus you could use to fight off an armed assailant. The weighty tome contains an astonishing 200 dishes (photographed by the man himself), some looking more like abstract sculptures than edibles. But most customers never make it past page one – his “superlean” roast duck. Da Dong's now much imitated slower roast apparently renders off twice the fat of birds cooked the Quanjude way, resulting in a typically crisp, lacquered skin and a drier, firmer lean meat. Worth lining up for? Yes, but try the sea cucumber too.

International Food Warehouse

Ranking: 5, price: RMB 188

Flanked on all sides by blazing woks and enticing aromas, IFW, in the belly of the Yintai Center, feels more like an upscale food court than a hotel restaurant. Chef Yang's kaoya, arranged like flower petals on a single large plate, manages to be rich and succulent yet light on the stomach. Roasted in electric ovens due to fire regulations, the secret, according to Yang, is temperature control. "Adjusting the oven temperature several times during cooking allows us to control the oiliness."

Bianyifang

Ranking: 5, price: RMB 148-198

Beijing’s newest oldest duck restaurant has been recently restored to its perch on 'Fresh Fish Crossroads' (pun intended) - better known as Xianyukou Hutong, an ersatz street food alleyway that meanders east from Qianmen Avenue. Back in the 1400s, Bianyifang developed the ‘closed-oven’ technique for roasting duck. The restaurant still uses this technique today, whereas almost all its competitors now use the Quanjude-pioneered method of roasting over an open flame. In practice, Bianyifang’s method results in the duck skin being softer and paler, the meat juicier and ever so slightly pink, with a higher ratio of meat to skin. If you take your lean meat seriously, this is a royal feast.

Xiheyayuan

Ranking: 7, price: RMB 223

Xiheyayuan’s beautifully presented birds have tender flesh and crisp, full skin, but fall short of the very best on aromatic quality. Full marks, however, for their exceedingly clever, custom-made circular condiment containers. A steamer of spinach-flavored and plain pancakes rests over a candle in the middle keeping them warm and non-sticky (brilliant!). It's surrounded by little clock-face compartments with all the usual fillers plus raspberry sauce (in which to dip the skin) and minced garlic. They also do a duck meat pizza, which is just silly.

Jiuhuashan Roast Duck

Ranking: 8, price: RMB 168

This little-known duck restaurant in west Beijing fills out on weekends with a mostly local crowd. George W. Bush ate there, which counts for something – though he probably just got lost on his way to the zoo. It’s unashamedly untrendy and low-key, but the duck, in the Quanjude tradition, earns plaudits from some of Beijing’s most notable homegrown foodies. Worth a trip if you live towards the west side of the city, and more authentically ‘Beijing’ (and less touristy) than most on this list.

Jingzun

Ranking: 9, price: RMB 98

With a bit of DIY tinkering, the duck here is a delicious bargain. Here’s what you do - tell your fuwuyuan that you want it cooked for an extra ten minutes. This both crisps the skin and firms up the flesh, with big gains in flavor. It’s like getting a Dadong duck at less than half the price. Well, maybe that’s pushing it, but still the best duck in Beijing under 100 RMB.

Lunar 8

Ranking: 10, price: RMB 248+15%

Only the plumpest 45-day-old birds are selected for Lunar 8’s basement show kitchen. Black-robed chefs man the tall, red-brick ovens, roasting the ducks longer for a leaner bite. A signature rub of medicinal herbs and spices helps crisp up and flavor the skin, giving it a perfumed, aromatic quality.

Quanjude

Ranking: 11, price: RMB 239

What we think of as Peking duck - pancakes, hung ovens, fruit wood – is all down to Quanjude. One of China’s 500 “most valuable brands”, the quality across the dozen or so branches is nevertheless inconsistent, and the birds tend to be somewhat clumsily presented, which irks when you're paying a tourist premium. Mind you, I’ve never had a bad one, and you do get a numbered certificate of authenticity with each bird, at least at the Hepingmen branch. And the duck heart dumplings are super.

Xiangman Lou

Ranking: 12, price: RMB 168

This long-running standby still delivers dependably tasty duck at its trio of restaurants. They are a notch cheaper than the headline-grabbers, although prices have gone up considerably. Dependable jiachang cai (homestyle dishes) makes this place popular with local families, so you may have to queue - they only take reservations before 6.30pm.