197B Middleborough Road
Box Hill South VIC 3128
+61 3 9898 5944
Autumn in Melbourne means no cricket and no Ricky Ponting ducks. But Autumn in Melbourne means a higher yearning for comfort food and lots of it. And although Peking duck is not what most people would consider a conventional comfort dish, I say that it’s comfort food for me. I don’t know why, but there’s something about eating lots and lots of Peking duck that makes my heart sing (and heart rate go up, but anyway), especially in winter. The BAB ladies (okay, not so much the BAB ladies anymore but that’s a story for another time) and Bill also decided that the last weekend of May, a very cold weekend if my memory serves me correctly, would be ideal to go duck-hunting in Melbourne. I might be bemoaning over the lack of ducks in cricket (or just the lack of cricket in general), but an evening of delicious Peking duck and friends? Well, that can certainly tide me over until cricket season! And so off to Simon’s Peiking Duck we went.
Most people who pay attention to all things Melbourne food-related will know the story: Simon Lay, Peking Duck extraordinaire, and the the former nut job ‘Duck Nazi’ of Smith Street’s Old Kingdom restaurant has opened up a new restaurant in the ‘burbs. Although it’s a Chinese restaurant that has an extensive menu offering your favourite suburban Anglo-Chinese dishes, its speciality is obviously Peking duck. If you’re going here to order anything BUT duck, you will most likely be scorned at by your fellow diners or Simon, himself. When making the booking, Linda was told that there were two dinner sittings, one at 6pm and one at 8pm. After requesting the 6pm session, she then pre-booked two ducks for the table – as a rule of thumb, each duck would feed 2-3 people so order your ducks accordingly.
Come 6pm on that very Saturday evening and all the seats in the restaurant are filled, except for the remaining three on my table – bahhh, city traffic, bahhh! When all my fellow-diners finally arrived, it was down to business. We needed to only look at the two duck banquet menus; both of them allowed each diner to have Peking duck and a duck soup. The $55 banquet had a third course, a duck and bean shoot stir-fry whereas the $63 one substituted the stir-fry for a duck and noodle dish, as well as three extra pieces of Peking duck. Because we all love noodles, we decided to cough up the extra money for the $63 banquet.
And so the show began! Simon, who once served me and my extended family at Old Kingdom and proclaimed that he was, “THE KING OF CUTTING DUCK!”, brought out two plates of beautifully crispy-skinned duck. Carving each piece expertly right in front of our eyes, he explained the process of wrapping up your duck.
He literally tossed a soft tissue paper-thing pancake onto each of our plates, instructed us to chuck a piece of chopped spring onion and cucumber at exactly 3:15pm (as shown above). He also added that if you fail to aline your greens like that, then “you’re an idiot” and that you may as well just shoot yourself. Okay, maybe not the last bit but he did say something almost as harsh and to that effect. Gingerly, we did what was asked, though spring onion-hating Linda omitted her spring onion when it was safe for her to do so.
Next, we were told to grab a piece of duck, and smother it with hoisin sauce. We were then told to wrap it, “from three o’clock, then nine o’clock, then six o’clock” and then eat it.
The end result was quite simply, awesome. The thick piece of moist, succulent and awesomely tasty duck meat was covered by a crispy layer of skin, the result of air being pumped into the duck’s body before being smothered with boiling water and then roasted. There was a generous, but not overwhelming, layer of fat with each piece which made each bite taste so exquisite. Meanwhile, the lovely plum sauce was so rich and so sweet, with a perfect amount of tang, while the steamed pancakes were soft with just the right amount of gentle crisp injected into them. Each peking duck piece may not have been as technically perfect as the ones dished out to us at places such as Flower Drum (the fact that we had to fold our own ones probably had something to do with it!) but I would put the Peking duck served at Simon’s as one of the best ones I’ve had. As my darling Marty would say, the Peking duck here was ‘perfectly flawed.’
Once we had consumed our seven or so (!!) pieces of Peking duck (remember, each duck yielded fifteen pieces and we ordered two ducks), our plates were cleared and out came the duck bone soup. Similar to the Malaysian bak kut teh, the broth was smooth and clear but heavily tainted by the rich flavours of the duck bones (from the same ducks that was used for the peking duck) with bits of meat still intact and the numerous kinds of herbs and spices that went into it. Preserved cabbages and cubes of tofu bulked up the ingredient count and also added a bit of acidity and into the otherwise mellow concoction (well, only the cabbage did; the tofu did fck all). It was a nice enough soup, if you’re into the whole aromatic, herby, gentle kind of thing.
Our final course was the duck stir-fried noodles. From a list of about four different types of noodles, we chose the hand-made noodles which resembled Shanghai noodles. It was a simple dish comprising of slippery wheat noodles, shredded duck meat (again, from the remnants of the peking duck), bamboo shoots and mushrooms. On paper, it would have been THE dish to set my loins on fire. I mean, I LOVE noodles, I love bamboo shoots and I love mushrooms. In reality? Well, the noodles were fine but could have done with a bit more taste – the sauce was verging on bland. Oh well.
The food was great and the waiters did try their best to cater to a full dining room on a Saturday evening. What didn’t really impress us, however, was the fact that we were kept waiting for our change for fifteen or so minutes. Granted, it wasn’t a lot of change and yeah, any normal person would have just shrugged and left but c’mon, it was the principle of it. I would definitely return for another round of peking duck, especially given how close this place is to my house. Like I said, it’s not THE best peking duck I’ve ever had but it’s certainly up there. Taking into consideration the quality for the price we paid, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this place to any idiot who doesn’t mind a good piece of duck.