299 Queen Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9670 0091
A long, long time ago (okay, November 2010 – we’re not talking bygones here), seven hungry ducklings congregated at Quanjude, an upmarket Beijing restaurant that proudly specialises in peking duck. Shirley and I had been looking forward to this dinner for quite some time (Shirley, for the steamed barramundi out of all things – WTF?!) and me finishing uni exams was the perfect excuse to have a somewhat extravagant dinner.
Located on the corner of Queen and La Trobe Streets in the city, it shares a block with Republic Tower, the smaller and much more humble little sister to Eureka. Yeah, Republic Tower WHAT?! But seriously, if you spend as much time in the city as I do and have not noticed the sometimes shocking murals that appear on the tower’s front (‘Haye’s Last Meal’ being the last one I can recall), then I shall put you on the same boat as holders of a full Victorian driver’s licence who cannot complete a hook-turn. Sadly, no gory murals were adorned for my amusement when we approached Quanjude. Just a simple ad for Tassie’s (then) new museum, MONA, and one Dave waiting patiently, heeh.
The restaurant, which is actually a peking duck franchise from Beijing, itself can only be described as Flower Drum v.2. While silence, rather than Richard Clayderman, is background noise here, the whole red and gold to the key of dynastic opulence verging on garishness is the modus operandi here. Things here were either adorned with gold or decorated in some dragon motif and was a bit too much for me.
Shirley and I had already decided that we were going to go for the $68 seven-course banquet. The others lingered on the a la carte menu but in the end, everyone on the table decided that this banquet was the way to go. I don’t know whether it was because all the spelling errors on the menu were doing their heads in (for example, ‘sea peach’ instead of ‘sea perch’ and on the wine list, a glass of ‘saur blanc’ was on offer) or whether they realised that Shirls and I are the trendsetters of the group. I’d like to think the latter.
First up, the seafood san choi bao. It’s not a dish I’d normally order, whether it’d be in pork form or otherwise, but I’m glad that this was included in the banquet for it was pretty good. The seafood component comprises of fresh prawns, squid and scallops, while chopped water chestnuts and pine nuts provided the textural component.
The second seafood component came in the form of a steamed Shanghai crab meat dumpling, which was essentially a xiaolongbao filled with shredded crab meat instead of pork. To be honest, I’m someone who doesn’t particularly like random variations on the traditional xiaolongbao because I just don’t think they work as well. And even though Quanjude’s crab meat xiaolongbao was tasty enough, I wasn’t terribly blown away. There wasn’t much soup in it, for starters, and Shirley even found a piece of crab shell in one of her dumplings. But uh, the skins weren’t gluggly so yay, I guess?
The stir-fried King prawn with goose liver pate was a dish that, on paper, was enough to make my mouth water. But when a plate with these things came out, I was somewhat gobsmacked. It seemed to me that they were deep-fried, rather than stir-fried, and where was the goose liver pate? It was mixed in with the batter. While I do enjoy goose liver pate, I just didn’t like it like this so the whole thing just left a bad taste in my mouth (literally).
Next came the steamed wild barramundi fillet with ginger and shallots. I give props to the presentation – a fillet is much, more approachable than a whole fish, plus you get more meat :). Taste-wise, it was alright – nothing that any Chinese restaurant in Melbourne can’t do.
Then came the Peking duck. The chef wheeled his trolley right next to our table… and proceeded to carve the bird up with his back turned to us, dammit.
This is the dish that makes Quanjude famous. It has won many local foodie awards and has supposedly blown away the jocks off many bloggers and diners. What did I think? It was a very good peking duck, and certainly up there with the likes of Flower Drum and Old Kingdom. Was it the best? No. Okay so the crepes were beautifully soft and paper-thin, and the slices of cucumber and spring onion were as delicate as a young lotus flower while the hoisin sauce had a hint of sesame that made it one of the tastiest I’ve had. But the duck? It was dry and didn’t have enough fat on it which, I guess, is good for those watching their waistlines (though if you were on a diet, then WTF are you doing eating duck?!?!) but just made the meat err on the dry side and ruined what would have been probably the best Peking duck I had ever had. Oooh, so close.
Our final main was the wok-fried eye fillet with Kung Po sauce, with was served with a side of special fried rice. The vegetables may have been undercooked and hard, while the steak overcooked and hard. But the sauce? It was lovely. I loved the way the numbing Sichuan peppercorns and chillies combined with the deliciously tangy malt vinegar to create a sauce that almost knocked me out for a six. Shame the steak was cooked so badly.
Ah, fried rice. Nothing we haven’t seen before. Moving along now…
For dessert, we had fried ice cream with strawberry sauce. This was a strange one, and I’m not entirely sure if I liked it or not. I don’t like strawberry-flavoured anything in general, so I eyed my ball of impending doom with much reluctance. I was, however, surprised to find that I did like the sauce – it wasn’t too sweet and it had the right balance of tartness and tang. The problem, though, was that it didn’t match the rest of the dish. The strawberry sauce with something else (I dunno, crepes?) would have been pleasant and the ice cream by itself would have made me happy. But the two of them together? It was like forcing Dan and Blair from Gossip Girl to become a couple. Yeah, that bad.
I don’t think any of us thought the banquet was particularly mind-blowing; I sure didn’t get any foodgasms. There were some elements that were good, but others just didn’t do it for me. In addition, there were some dishes that had the potential to be stars but were let down by one or two elements – the Peking duck would have been awesome but for the meat, and the steak delicious if it was actually cooked properly. If I were to come back again, I’d avoid the banquet and give the duck another go along with the san choi bao and pick several other dishes from the a la carte menu.