World Square Shopping Centre
10/41/680 George St
Sydney, NSW 2000
I’m a total commitment-phobe when it comes to food. I absolutely loathe to order large dishes unless I absolutely can’t avoid it, because I’m always worried that it means I’ll be missing out on something else delicious as a result, even if I know that I love what I’m ordering. With that said, it really comes as no surprise that I haven’t had Peking Duck for a very long while, given that you’re often obliged to order the whole bird. But one thing I do love is a good bargain, so when I saw the Scoopon voucher that offered $100 of food at Quanjude for a mere $49, I was all over that.
So what’s so special about Quanjude? Oh it’s no biggie, it just happens to be known as one of the oldest and best Peking Duck restaurants in the world, established all the way back in 1864 in Beijing in the Qing Dynasty. In the intervening 150+ years, they’ve expanded all across China, selling over 2 million ducks a year, before making the jump overseas to Australia in 2017. Their ducks take over 3 days to make, using a recipe that was originally reserved for the imperial palace. Not bad, hey?
The Sydney branch of Quanjude opened soon after Melbourne’s, and I have to admit I was rather impressed by it. The restaurant is spacious and elegant, decked out in a lush palate of red and gold, and furnished with traditional Chinese-styled wooden furniture and art pieces. The exception to this is the expansive hotel-styled bar, which whilst incongruous, did add to the ambience of luxury.
Although the special here is duck, the menu is exhaustive, and to be honest a little exhausting. Spread over a 60-page, full-colour tome, the offerings run the gamut from appetisers to every kind of meat imaginable, before being rounded out with a selection of vegetable dishes, rice, and noodles. But of course, when in Rome, and I ended up deciding on half of a Signature Peking Duck ($68.8, half) to share between two, and a couple of lighter dishes to accompany it.
The ducks are sliced up and plated table-side with considerable flair, and it’s always a treat to see the deft knifework of the chefs at play. Plus, nothing gets the appetite going quite like the smell of roast duck.
But before we get to the pancakes, the chef deftly carves off a piece of the duck skin, and we were instructed to dip it into a small dish of caster sugar. The shattering crunch of the skin is remarkable, and combined with the sweetness makes for an unusual but indulgent treat.
We move onto the main event with a meticulously sliced plate of duck, a steamer basket of 6 translucent pancakes, and small dishes of cucumber, scallion, and sweet bean sauce.
I had expected this to blow my mind, supposedly being the best Peking duck in the world and all, but this was just ok. Aside from the crispy skin, there was really nothing very remarkable about this at all. Not only was the duck quite bland, it was also dry in places, and there was nowhere near enough condiments to remedy that.
The remains of our half-bird was taken away, and returned to us deep fried with salt and pepper. Unlike the duck itself, this was beyond flavoursome, the salt and spice really very addictive, even if it’s fiddly to eat.
To pad out the meal, I ordered a bowl of Traditional Beijing Flavour Noodle ($9.8), a simple but classic dish of noodles tossed with a savoury pork-based bean paste. The texture of these noodles were fantastic, boasting a bounce tell-tale of being freshly handmade.
Surprisingly, it was the Crispy Bean Curd Robes with Assorted Mushrooms and Snowpea ($24.8) that was the winner for the night. The tumble of plump, slippery mushrooms were cooked in a savoury, umami-laden sauce that soaked into the crispy bean curd skin, turning them soft and silky. With some snowpeas added for crunch, this was a flavoursome, comforting dish that proves that sometimes simple is all you need.
So many years ago when we ate at Simon’s Peiking Duck in Melbourne, Dad mentioned that he thought the duck there was better than what he had in China at Quanjude. And I can’t help but agree entirely with him. Despite its reputation, the duck at Quanjude was only average. Although I can’t fault the technique, the flavour just wasn’t there. Props to the ambience and friendly service, but if I hadn’t had a 50% off voucher, I would be very annoyed indeed.
Rating: 11.5/20 – overrated.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.