Having established itself as one of the most popular duck restaurants in Beijing, Duck de Chine has lost some of its lustre.
The original Duck de Chine opened in a compound known as 1949 the Hidden City. As the name suggests it is hidden, because Duck de Chine is part of a quiet little compound of restaurants, bars and art galleries tucked away behind a curtain of high-rises in Sanlitun. Unless you or someone else knows how to get there, you will have a tough time finding it! Following the restaurant’s instant success, a second location has opened not far from the city’s most popular shopping street Wangfujing at the very posh Jinbaojie.
The story of this restaurant’s success is emblematic of China, and so many of its restaurants. What is successful somewhere will be reproduced as often as possible, and often the quality suffers as a result. In Duck de Chine’s case, the original location is on a downwards slope, with its service and food becoming ever more sloppy, whilst the second restaurant in Jinbaojie seems better than the original ever was.
The difference in terms of quality between the two restaurants is really rather stark. The duck is roasted accurately, with tender, juicy meat, and crispy/melting skin that make it such a special dish. Additionally, the addition of peanut sauce in the classic duck sauce here works marvellously. It gives the meat another layer of richness, without making it heavy. Contrast such a successful rendition of this most famous of all local dishes with that of the original 1949 Duck de Chine: the meat is drier, the skin not nearly as delicately crispy, almost soggy even.
The same goes for other dishes on the menu. The so-called “vegetarian goose”, a couple of layers of beancurd skin, stuffed with mushrooms, bamboo shoots, carrots, etc fares no better at the original Duck de Chine. This is a classic cold dish that is pretty much omnipresent in better Chinese restaurants. Again, the difference between the two restaurants is obvious: at Jinbaojie it comes perfectly seasoned, carefully prepared with a slightly crispy outside from the frying, whilst the one at 1949 is rather sloppy, served straight from the fridge, and devoid of seasoning.
Duck de Chine is a textbook example of a restaurant in Mainland China becoming successful, and not managing to consistently deliver good food and service before expanding. The result is one very respectable restaurant at Jinbaojie, and a rather poor one at 1949.