If you’re celebrating your 50th birthday, you may as well go big, right?! Following on from their anniversary afternoon tea in the Clipper Lounge and the 1963 Menu at The Krug Room, it’s time for The Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong’s Chinese restaurant, Man Wah, to join in the fun with the arrival of Beijing’s Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant, their team of expert chefs (including Mr Da Dong himself!) and a special menu filled with their award-winning signature dishes. And yes, before you ask, a Roast Duck is most definitely involved in proceedings!
Available for one week only from 24-31 October 2013, I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek of the dishes on offer – and if you’re planning any grand Chinese banquets for friends, family or colleagues that need to be impressed, look no further!
Our meal kicked off with an appetiser plate including braised goose liver, smoked bamboo shoots and a tomato stuffed with salad dressing. Having expected a grandiose, old, traditional style of Chinese cuisine, I was immediately surprised by how modern and innovative Da Dong’s dishes were – both in terms of presentation and flavour! These were tastes and textures I’d rarely come across in Chinese cooking; the bamboo shoots had an intriguing woody earthiness to them, whilst the candied nuts sprinkled around the plate brought a playful, sweet crunch to proceedings.
Things got even more interesting with a cuttlefish soup – scarily inky-black in colour, with hand-cut angel-hair vermicelli strands of tofu swimming in its depths. Based on appearances, I was expecting an intense, pungent broth but it was actually surprisingly light and pleasant.
Next was a dish that the Western side of the table had been slightly (ok… very!) fearful of – Chef Dong’s speciality, braised sea cucumber. This dish is so complex that 16 Chinese characters are required to describe it and it requires at least 4-5 stages of preparation to create! Arriving on the table looking like something out of Ursula’s cavern in The Little Mermaid, we closed our eyes and expected the worst… and it actually turned out to not be that bad at all! The cucumber has a spongy, almost fungus-like texture, meaning it basically soaks up whatever flavours you put on it – and in Chef Dong’s case, this was a strong, thick but rather moreish leek, spring onion and soy sauce. An acquired taste but definitely one for you adventurous foodies out there!
Then it was onto the dish we had all been waiting for – the piece de resistance! Da Dong’s “SuperLean” Roast Duck contains about half the fat of a usual Peking Duck… and I’ll be honest, I did miss that guiltily indulgent lip-smacking factor that the fatty skin, in particular, usually has. Although the duck skin here (which you’re advised to dip in sugar – weird, but it works!) was perfectly crispy and boasted a satisfying crunch, I found it lacked any much flavour of its own.
Alongside the usual pancake option, Da Dong’s duck is served up with crispy toasted sesame buns, which I loved. My advice? Shove in as much meat, cucumbers and spring onions as you can, then slather the whole thing in a combination of plum sauce, and hot and spicy mashed garlic. Messy? Yes. But delicious? Absolutely! Just don’t expect to be kissing too many people after your garlic overload!
Having been a little disappointed by the duck, the next two dishes actually turned out to be my favourites of the whole meal. It’s very rare I get excited about vegetable dishes but the plate of gorgon fruit (no relation to Medusa!) and tender green peas looked beautiful, modern and vibrant. Often, veggie dishes at Chinese meals tend to be a little boring – steamed, with garlic and not much else – but this was surprisingly stunning. Lovely, light and almost buttery, this was a summery medley of unusual vegetables, making finishing my greens a very easy task indeed! (P.S. I know you’re wondering – the gorgon fruit had a starchy but light, almost nutty flavour!)
Similarly, your usual humble bowl of steamed rice was totally blown out of the water by Da Dong’s version! Featuring a lotus flower-shaped gift-wrapped parcel of rice (no… seriously) with a message of good fortune on the side, this rice featured a braised abalone with Chinese yams and truffle sauce. Almost like a Chinese version of risotto, this dish was just amazing… rich, delicious, moreish and comforting, I only wished I’d left more room to finish the lot! The Hunan yams used here were so different to most of the other yams I’d tried; softer and more mellow in flavour, they’re supposed to be great for digestion – good news for me, as I couldn’t get enough of them!
We ended the meal with a light refreshing dessert of glazed frozen persimmon. Somewhere between a sorbet and a slushie, the Da Dong team actually hoard persimmon in their restaurant in order to create this dish, as the fruit only grows in summer… making me feel rather guilty about not being able to finish it! If you love persimmon, you’ll definitely love this.
Overall, I was really surprised with my Da Dong experience. The general feel of the meal had been far more modern and contemporary than I had been expecting, and I admired the way the chefs had created unusual takes on Chinese flavours and ingredients, to create dishes that were quite unique (if potentially more suited to an Asian palate). If you want to try something different than your usual Chinese restaurant fare, I’d recommend checking out the Da Dong team while they’re in town… otherwise, it’s off to Beijing you go!
Da Dong dishes are available at Man Wah from 24-31 October 2013; prices start from $698 per person for the six-course lunch set menu
Chef Da Dong himself will also host a special eight-course gala dinner with wine pairings on 1 November 2013, which costs $2,888 per person; for more information, call 2825 4821
Man Wah 25/F, Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, 5 Connaught Road Central, Central
2825 4003 www.mandarinoriental.com/hongkong/dining/restaurants/man_wah/
Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant, 1-2/F, Nanxincang International Plaza, 22A Dongsishitiao, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China, +86 10 5169 0329