If you come to Beijing, you obviously have to try Peking Duck (I’m calling it Peking Duck even though we call the city Beijing). But where to go ? The internet or guidebooks don't help that much as the same old recommendations always seem to pop up. Old school places like Quanjude and Li Qun or more modern places like Dadong or Duck de Chine.
My favourite place, Ya Wang (which translates as Duck King) doesn't get too many plaudits although it is in Beijing Eats and is starting to get some attention on the Chowhound boards. If that’s not testament enough, they have a 'Wall Of Fame' which bizarrely includes Bobby Charlton amongst numerous photos of Chinese film stars. There's a number of branches in Beijing but I always end up at the Jianguomennei Dajie branch.
It's not the most salubrious restaurant but what they've saved on interior design, they've spent on a traditional wood oven. I’ve also heard that the restaurant breed their own ducks that are less fatty and in the case of their Emperor duck, fed on a special diet. There’s no English signage so look out for the following sign:
To whet the appetite, loads of starters were ordered including duck webs with wasabi, duck tongue, duck hearts, duck liver (looked a bit like pate), duck gizzards and fried duck bones. I liked the duck webs and the fried duck bones but I ate only the bare minimum of the rest so as not to offend ! However there was one starter that was different class, duck egg yolk wrapped in seaweed and squid, this masterpiece tasted as good as it looked.
Then came the main event, we went for the standard Peking duck (RMB 168) although you can splash out on the Emperor duck (RMB 388). As a guide, one whole duck serves about 4 people if you order starters and sides. With this option, the whole bird is brought to the table and skilfully carved into slices of meat and crispy skin.
One thing to note is that the pancakes and accompaniments of spring onion, cucumber, crushed garlic, sugar, pea shoots and sauce are ordered separately at Ya Wang (apparently this is not unusual in Beijing). An alternative to pancakes are sesame buns (zhima shaobing).
As usual, Ya Wang didn't disappoint ! The duck was less fatty than in other restaurants and using a wood oven really did make a difference to the flavour. I loved the sesame buns and the effect was like making mini-duck burgers ! But these were very filling so towards the end, I went carb-free and dipped the remaining crispy skin in sugar.
There is an alternative Peking duck in 3 ways - here they'll carve the duck as usual but save some meat on the carcass for a stir fry with a final course of soup made with the carcass. I don't mind this option but I'm convinced that they 'steal' some of your duck to use in other dishes.
Unbelievably, some side dishes were ordered alongside the duck. These non-duck dishes were an eclectic mix of dishes from all corners of China. They were all OK but my fave was the granny fish - fish served in a tureen of soup flavoured with preserved vegetables (suan cai). This was a great palate cleanser after the numerous duck filled pancakes and sesame buns.
The meal then ended with fresh fruit but there was still one final course up for grabs. The table were quite literally fighting over bones as the duck carcasses were being divvied up into doggy-bags !
Verdict: Just in case you're in any doubt, Ya Wang is a must visit.
Other Stuff: If you don't like duck bits then seafood makes a good alternative starter. I can recommend the crystal prawns and steamed scallops.