I’m stunned by the decor the moment I step out of the lift. It looks like a nightclub meets Chinese restaurant meets high end mall meets I’m not sure what.
“Is this Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant?” I ask the two ladies standing on both sides of the elevator. They remind me of the two lions that are on both sides of every door in Beijing – except they’re both Mama Lions. And just where is Papa lion?
“Yes,” they both replied in unison. “One person?”
I nod and am escorted through the restaurant to a table for two.
I’m no stranger to eating meals alone, but I rarely go to a high end place by myself. AND – I’m not dressed for the occasion. My snow boots are dirty from all the walking I’ve done the past few days, I’m wearing a casual green sweater and jeans. If I had known this place was going to fancy, I would have worn my nice dress.
By the way – check out the duckie chopstick holder. Cute, eh?
The next thing I know, there are two tattered and worn out large menus in front of me. I open it – a bit confused by the amount of choice, and not sure what I’m going to order given that I’m dining alone. I’m also still feeling stunned by the decor. I call the waiter and ask him to suggest something. He recommends the small duck set with condiments 310 yuan (US$50).
I’m no stranger to Peking Duck, but it’s been years since I’ve eaten it – and I definitely didn’t have a whole duck to myself – even if it is a small one. It takes around 30 minutes for my order to arrive. During which time my slightly bossy waiter has neatly aligned my coat, taken my bag and placed it in the chair on the other side of table. The service is thoughtful, but it has that straightforward ‘quickly-get-the-job-done’ abruptness that I’m just not accustomed to.
When my duck finally arrives, I sit by and watch as the chef carves it in front of me. I’m not sure I care much to watch this, as I’ve seen a replay of the exact same scene at just about every table at the restaurant. The Chinese really know how to whet a hungry girl’s appetite.
Some fifteen minutes later, the carving is complete. When the duck finally arrives at my table, I’m not sure what to do. I try and remember what the serving staff would do back home, but my mind is a complete blank. So I pretend it’s an a fajita and get started.
Hey – a wrap is a wrap.
I sink my teeth into the first wrap. The flavours are far stronger than what I’m used to. The duck is electrifyingly crispy and fatty, the sauce is tangy and sweet and the condiments are confusing. Midway through my first Peking Duck burrito, my waiter magically shows up with a plastic glove and a pair of chopsticks. He looks both mildly concerned and thoroughly amused.
“Lady, let me serve you,” he says.
In Japan – where I’ve lived for the past three years – most servers in high end restaurants are women – not men. They also tend to offer better service towards male diners than female diners. I realise that no man has served me in a long time. I’m also taken back by how empathetic, yet genuine his service is.
He expertly takes a piece of duck skin, dips it in sugar and hands it to me. I’m still not sure what to do. So I take a small nibble from his chopsticks. The amused expression on his face deepens. Oh crap. Was I supposed to take it with my own chopsticks? He raises his eyebrow as he waits for me to finish it.
AHHH…. TOO DAMN SWEET. I DON’T LIKE IT…!
“With sugar is one style,” he says.
Well – it’s not my style.
And then he takes a wrap and starts preparing a Peking Duck Fajita for me. He dips the duck skin in the sauce, puts some leek on top of it and then dips another piece of duck in the sauce before wrapping it neatly with his gloved hand. This time I have enough sense to use my chopsticks to try and grab it from him.
“You can use your hands,” he says.
Stunned yet again, I grab it with my fingers. I’m feeling so out of place it’s ridiculous. With each moment that passes, I feel more and more like Dory from Finding Nemo.
And lastly, my waiter prepares one with a sesame bun. That’s new – even for me. He puts radish and garlic in it and the flavours are so overwhelming that a part of me feels like it’s going to get a heart attack.
AHHH…. TOO MUCH…
I settle for the traditional way of doing things. I get better at wrapping my own Peking Duck burrito. My waiter’s watchful gaze never leaves my table. He still looks thoroughly amused every time he looks at me.
After I finish my first round of Peking Duck fajitas, I run out of wraps.
“Lady,” the waiter says. “One more round?”
I nod. No good Chinese restaurant ever lets you leave on an empty stomach. And so I have another round of Peking Duck Fajitas. By the time I finish my second round of fajitas, I’m so full it’s not even funny. It’s a rich and heavy meal – and definitely not something anyone should attempt eating on their own.
To finish, I attack the little bits of face, leg and done that are on a separate plate. I can’t help but eye it suspiciously. What is it? How do I eat it?
And just as I’m figuring it out, my waiter returns with that amused expression on his face.
Oh dear Lord – I am never going to live this down.
Beijingers truly are a friendly and funny bunch.
To finish, I eat some Mandarin oranges that look like a mini tree; and some hot sesame seed paste souplike thingy.
And then I pay my bill by card and leave.
One of the funny lion ladies from the beginning escorts me back to the elevator.
It was a beautiful meal. Fit for the Gods. Was it the best Peking Duck I’ve ever had? Nah…
But I’ll never forget the service.