Some restaurants have a history stretching over a hundred years. One of these is Quanjude, arguably the most prestigious Beijing duck restaurant of all. Its various locations differ slightly, with one of the most convincing being in the city’s Haidian district.
Located inside the Tsinghua Science Park, this branch is almost the complete opposite to older ones such as the one on Tiananmen Square. Whilst the latter is staunchly traditional (e.g. closing at 8pm), and does not offer anything of interest apart from the duck, the branch at Haidian has a lot more on offer.
Whilst the duck is exactly the same, there is a Southern Chinese inflection to the cuisine served here. Hong Shao Rou (braised pork belly) is glazed in a richly flavoured, sweet/savoury sauce, revealing squid, and meltingly tender meat. Fresher are grilled duck hearts with coriander and onions. The duck hearts are to be eaten with thinly sliced onions, and fresh coriander, giving them aromatic lift, and making the flavour a lot more subtle than it would otherwise be.
The raison d’être for any Quanjude restaurant, however, has to remain the Peking Duck. Every duck here is numbered, and you are presented with a card that has your number, and the restaurant’s history on it. Additionally, the wait staff will happily explain the history, and cooking process of the dish. What characterises duck here is a slightly less rendered skin. Whilst Da Dong is at the very lean end of the scale, the version served here is a lot richer, and not quite as delicate. The quality of the cooking, and consistency are exemplary, however, and there is not a lot to criticise. Additionally, the serving here is a lot more generous than at other restaurants such as Duck de Chine or Da Dong.
Quanjude’s various branches are a mixed bag in terms of quality, style, and service. One of the best, however, has to be the one in Haidian. Not only is the duck very good, but the remainder of the menu is no less enjoyable. For traditional Peking Duck this continues to be one of the benchmarks.