Friday 15 February 2013

Old Kingdom

197, Smith Street, Collingwood, VIC 3066

Old Kingdom on Urbanspoon

I am just going to put it out there - this is quite possibly the best Peking Duck in Australia and better than even some of the places in Asia. However, scoring a more than respectable 89% on Urbanspoon, the issue is that, this place is a bit of a one hit wonder. If you are not having duck - you might as well go to any suburban Chinese restaurant of the 70s in Aus. I think all my friends would agree with this broad assessment. Shout out to the Lamberts for introducing me to this gastronomical delight.

If you are going to have the duck (why won't you), you need to call in advance to book. The genral formula I follow is 1 duck for 2 - 3 persons, 2 ducks for 4 - 6, and 3 ducks for up to 9 people. There are 2 seatings at Old Kingdom, 6pm or 8pm.

By the way - it is really annoying to go to restaurants that purport to serve Peking Duck, but all it is is Cantonese Roast duck in a pancake - that is NOT Peking duck. You want real Peking Duck - come to Old Kingdom.

The Place
The restaurant probably hasn't  been refurbished since it was first opened. One does not go for the ambience or tasteful deco. The kindest thing some might say is that it's nostalgic and quirky. Although there are two floors, they will still squeeze as many people in as possible. So, it can get pretty noisy.

Things to do nearby: It's situated at the busy end of Smith Street and just round the corner (okay - 7 minutes walk) from Gertrude Street, and 12 - 14 minutes from Brunswick Street. However, in the evenings - lots of things are closed.

The Food
Like I said earlier - I have had other dishes here and they are sub-par. The duck on the other hand, is World standard quality. So, I am just going to talk about the duck. It's 3 courses.

Course 1 - The Peking Duck is brought out and carved with prodigous speed in front of you, the audience. The crepes, spring onions and cucumbers, and hoisin sauce are brought out too. If this is your first time, they'll instruct you on what to do. Basically, you have the best parts of the duck wrapped with cucumber, spring onion/scallion, and hoisin sauce in the crepe. It's most delicious. One piece of advice for first timers - don't be greedy with the sauce - a teaspoon will be adequate - try it first and if you really want more, then, go for it.

They will then leave the scrawny duck legs and wings for excited punters to pick on. This is not the place for people who believe in elegant eating, and only with utensils.

Course 2 - Peking duck meat (without skin because you've had all of that), is sauteed with garlic, spring onions, soy sauce and bean shoots. It's good to have this course with steamed rice and it's really quite delicious. Recently, they have introduced the option of having the dish with fried noodles. I have yet to try this.

Course 3 - is the least glamourous but also my favourite course because I like soups. This is more a duck broth, with bean curd, duck bones, and preserved Chinese vegetables, and black pepper. Palate cleansing and really quite refreshing.

Alright - if you are still hungry, maybe order a fried ice-cream. I have only had to do that once in the many many many times I have been there with many different groups of friends.

The Service
The service used to be really friendly and entertaining. Now, it's friendly and more matter of fact as they never seem to have enough servers. This is not surprising because, carving the duck is a skill that one does not acquire over night. Please do not expect a fine dining experience :), and you won't be disappointed.

I continue to be impressed and will continue to visit. It's really nice to know that one of the world's best Peking Duck restaurants is in my backyard and at a very affordable price. I have been to Quanjude in Beijing which is a household name associated with Peking Duck, and while the experience there is amazing - the duck here can stand proud in comparison.

Cultural Moment
Peking Ducks originated from Peking (Beijing) and is now popular across China. It's not your average run of the mill roasted or broasted duck. It's considered to be an imperial dish and is highly valued. The preparation is also substantially different to that of roast ducks. In particular, there is a step that involved pumping air between the skin and the fat and meat of the uncooked plucked washed duck (which is crucial for the crispy skin). Traditionally, the duck is carved in front of the diners and is served with steamed pancakes. The ones at Old Kingdom are served with very delicate crepes - it still does wonders.

This is a must try dish when one visits Beijing - but be prepared - ducks in China have a lot more fat than the ones in Melbourne.

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