Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Geek Peek: Da Dong

I’ve yet to find someone who doesn’t like Peking duck. There are dishes that Honkies blow off as touristy which for some includes the suckling pig (yet another anolomy that I don’t understand. Juicy pork. Crispy skin. What is not to like?) Yet Peking duck is something that is of a universal acclaim and for the devout, Da Dong’s ‘super lean’ Peking Duck is somewhat of a holy grail (which much like that fabled object is subjected to your own individual taste.) Anyway, the point of this post is that Man Wah at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong will be hosting a team of eight chefs and two restaurant supervisors from the famed Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant in Beijing from April 14 to April 22 with a special gala dinner on April 20. The Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong kindly invited me for a tasting preview dinner last week and it was definitely yums.

Compared to the ducks I had in Beijing at the actual restaurant, it was a very faithful replica. I had thought there would be some discrepancies even though the ducks were flown in from Beijing and all the dishes and what not were also brought over but to my surprise, everything was done very nicely. We tried a wide variety of Da Dong’s signature dishes and overall, I must say my favourite was not the Peking duck which I knew was going to be good but rather the braised sea cucumber and the braised abalone and Chinese yam with rice in truffle sauce. I wasn't too keen on the Foamed Squid Egg Soup and Jelly Fish with Broad Bean, however, as the respective black pepper and white pepper flavour was quite overwhelming and ended up being all I could taste.

So in anticipation of Da Dong’s arrival, we ask him some questions. Read on to find out what food item he can’t live without and his last couple Google searches.

Warning: food porn of dishes that we had at the tasting also after the cut. Don't click if you're hungry!

Hong Kong Fashion Geek: What challenges are there in recreating the renowned quality of your duck at the Mandarin Oriental’s kitchen?
Da Dong: The biggest challenge comes to the way people in Hong Kong “define” Peking Duck. Usually there is a presumed understanding and image of Peking Duck in their minds - if our duck comes in a different presentation or taste, they will be surprised. Secondly, there are some limitations with regard to the cooking process or kitchen equipment.

HKFG: Plating has always been considered more difficult for Chinese cuisine but dishes from Da Dong are always beautifully presented. What’s your secret?
DD: Nowadays, people change the way they value food. They are not only looking to fulfill their appetite, but also looking for the spiritual enhancement that a dining experience can bring to them. We have to be in step with the times for people that are always changing their taste and perceptions; we hope to serve people with the best quality of food, and at the same time enrich their artistic cultivation.

HKFG:Everyone thinks of the duck when they hear Da Dong. What other dishes do you recommend?
DD: There are ten signature dishes in Da Dong restaurant, apart from our bespoke Da Dong “Super Lean” roast duck, we have Chef Dong’s Braised Sea Cucumber; Boston Lobster Noodle with Traditional Beijing Bean Paste; Braised Cod Fish Maw with Saffron Sauce; Double Boiled, Bird’s Nest with Rose Jelly; Lobster Soup; Cross Bridge Leopard Grouper; Sautéed Wagyu Beef with Lime and Sea Salt; Sautéed Crab Meat with Roe and Egg White; Braised Abalone and Chinese Yam with Rice in Truffle Sauce; and Steamed Alaskan King Crab with Shaoxing Wine. They all come with different styles; it is worth trying them all.

HKFG:What is the one cooking item you can’t live without?
DD: Salt.

HKFG: What is your favourite thing about Hong Kong?
DD: The inheritance of traditional Chinese culture and customs.

HKFG: What is your ultimate indulgence food OR ‘go-to food’ when you’re stressing out?
DD: I have different indulgence foods at different times, for example I opt for sweet treats like chocolate when I am stressed.

HKFG: If you could only eat one cuisine for the rest of your life, what would it be?
DD: Um….this is really a hard question to answer.

HKFG: What is the last thing you think about before going to sleep?
DD: Work tomorrow.

HKFG: What were your last Google Searches?
DD: Military news and seasonal vegetables

And onto the dishes we had that night (apologies for the reddish tint. There's only so much SnapSeed can do with white balance with the lighting is red!)
Sliced Canadian Geo Duck Clam with Sichuan Pepper

Bean Curd with Chinese Toon

Lotus Root with Osmanthus and Foie Gras

Foamed Squid Egg Soup

Chef Dong’s braised Sea Cucumber

Highlight of the evening: Da Dong “Super Lean” Roast Duck

Jelly Fish with Broad Bean

Braised Abalone and Chinese Yam with Rice in Truffle Sauce

Lotus Leaf Congee

Beijing petit fours

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