Hongkongers have always had a soft spot for Peking duck. Over the last couple of months, the arrival of Xihe Ya Yuan, Zither Garden and now Forbidden Duck – ‘Demon Chef’ Alvin Leung’s new concept, a Cantonese restaurant specialising in Peking duck – have taken things to the next level.
This time, unlike his ventures Bo Innovation and MIC Kitchen, Leung is giving fine dining and avant-garde cuisine a miss and sticking with relatively straightforward Chinese cuisine. When we phone to make our reservation, we’re asked if we would like to have the slow roasted whole duck ($498), which is limited to 10 servings per day. As one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, it’s an offer we can’t refuse.
A giant duck with a broad grin welcomes diners to the establishment on the 10th floor of Causeway Bay’s Times Square. Disappointingly, two weeks into opening, only one appetiser was available, the deep-fried Bombay duck with salt and pepper ($88). Still, it’s a good ‘un. The boneless fish is crispy on the outside, succulent on the inside. The salt and pepper sprinkled on top isn’t overpowering and perfectly preps the palate for the mains to come.
However, after a great start, the pan fried shrimps with first extract soy sauce ($218) are a disappointment. This pricey dish features just three prawns on a dauntingly vast plate. We anticipate farm-to-table freshness, tangy taste and supple texture, but get the exact opposite. A chat with the manager reveals the shrimp are frozen and flown in from Australia. If that weren’t bad enough, one of the most basic requirements of a restaurant of this kind, deveining the shrimps, is not met.
Next comes the supposed showstopper – slow roasted whole duck cut into 26 pieces. The ratio of meat to skin is 2:1, the opposite of diagonally cut Peking duck. We’re informed that the ducks are first dry aged, then roasted at low temperatures for three hours before the temperature is turned up high for 15 to 20 minutes to crispen the skin. The skin is indeed crispy, but it’s also a little oily. The thick-cut meat underneath is a deep pink colour. It’s tender and pleasant, though some tendons spoil the overall texture. Our waterfowl comes accompanied by tangerine-flavoured pancakes and a seafood sauce. Thankfully, the zesty pancakes coupled with the usual condiments – cucumber, fresh onion, radish and melon – helps reduce the greasiness of the meat.
We finish things off with the Blue Mountain Coffee Jelly ($35), an uninspiring dessert that’s a tad too sweet and lacking in terms of coffee aroma.
It’s still early days for Forbidden Duck and the varying standard of the food definitely leaves room for improvement. One thing we can applaud is the service – our phone batteries are charged by waiters on our request. Although the signature slow-cooked roast duck is tender, juicy and extremely flavourful, the skin is simply too greasy. For now, we’ll stick with traditional Peking duck. Ann Chiu