I seem to be going on lots of quests recently. I guess I get bored unless there is something driving me forward. As a child, I was always enamoured by the legend of King Arthur and his knights of the round table, always honourable and totally committed to the cause. Well, that's what I am, a knight of the dinner table and totally committed to the cause, eating my way round London so you don't have to.
My current search for the best roast pork and duck rice in Chinatown is going well. Five destinations down and we have some good entries whereas others have fared less favourably. After a recent discussion with Carla from Can be bribed with food, the focus veered away from pork (sacrilege!) and focused on duck. Where can we get the best Peking duck in London? Aromatic duck is a firm favourite of mine and I always gravitate towards Mandarin Kitchen for my fix, but Peking duck has never really been on my radar. I was lucky enough to sample the Peking duck at China Club in Hong Kong and that exemplary version has become my benchmark.
So, I was tasked with finding "the best" and after a few tweet related calls for help, I settled on a reservation at Min Jiang. As restaurants go, Min Jiang has everything going for it. The interior is stunning, heavily influenced by wood, ceramics and the colour red (lucky in Chinese folklore) with some of the friendliest staff I have had the pleasure to be served by. Located on the 10th floor of the Royal Garden Hotel, it has a quite amazing view to boot, it's vista taking in most of London, including the London Eye and the BT Tower. On the edge of Kensington Palace gardens, I already want to come back for lunch, just so I can see the view during daylight hours. So far, so very good. Onto the main event.
Peking (or Beijing) duck is a specially prepared roast duck (wiki is your friend, check here for more details) which is traditionally prepared in three stages. Firstly, slices of skin from the neck of the duck are carved and served with some sugar. An odd combination, but I was informed that the sugar is meant to balance out the taste of the fat. I know, an even odder explanation. Either way, eating cooked skin is rarely going to be an unpleasant experience and although this was lacking flavour, it was definitely a pleasurable experience.
The second duck "course" are thin slices of the duck breast served with pancakes and an assortment of fillings. Firstly, we were presented the pancakes in a "traditional" style, with thinly sliced spring onions, some cucumbers and some hoisin, fillings that I am used to with aromatic duck. Slightly boring, and unfortunately exposed the fairly one dimensional flavour of the duck. We were then served the pancakes Min Jiang style, filled with garlic paste, radish and tientsin cabbage. Whilst the previous pancakes seemed devoid of flavour, this variation really brought out the flavours of the duck and the more "traditional fillings" were relatively ignored for the rest of the meal.
The third and final part to this long drawn out affair involves using up the rest of the duck in a dish of your choice. We opted for some fried noodles and although most of the rest of the duck seems to have waddled elsewhere, the noodles were still delicious and peppery. A fine end to an enjoyable meal.
Alongside the duck, we ordered a few other miscellaneous items. Some tasty and well made Xiao Long bau (if a little on the small side), a rather large vat of Ma Po Tofu and some excellent deep fried squid (light and grease free).
I was really impressed with Min Jiang. The surroundings and service were spot on, and the food was good without necessarily sparking off fireworks. Mind you, with the view, fireworks were not required. I know there is a popular adage that any restaurant with a view is often making up for inadequacies in the kitchen, but with a certain Pierre Koffman embarking on a project up the BT tower and Galvin at Windows (located on the 28th floor of the Hilton) having just earned its first Michelin star, I think it is places like this that are making this adage redundant. Great view, great food, I can't wait to come back and visit during the day when I can peer out the window in daylight.
Min Jiang - 10th Floor Royal Garden Hotel, 2-24 Kensington High Street, London W8 4PT