Peking duck is one of the great argument-starters of the food world. In Sydney the argument usually begins and ends with Golden Century. As with pizza, burgers, Vietnamese beef noodle soup and drug dealers who deliver, everyone thinks they have the inside scoop on the top dog in town, and yet everyone's ears prick up at the mere whisper of a new contender. The restaurant's duck is a pretty far cry from the real Beijing deal, it must be said, but it's still probably the best in town. Or at least it was till Golden Moon opened a restaurant in Chinatown.
The Moon has two other branches (or phases, if you will), one in Parramatta and another in Beverly Hills, but this one, rest assured, is the full Moon. Being huge, decorated gaudily with equal parts red, gold and dragons, and playing host to a full wall of fish tanks, this new 300-seater ticks all the classic Cantonese boxes. The menu is clearly written not for the feckless round-eye community, but for serious Chinese diners. You can get your honey prawns and sweet-and-sour fish, but the bulk of the carte is taken up with the likes of the simmering soups (there's mature duck with Chinese caterpillar fungus and the medicinal-sounding pig's lung with Chinese almonds and honeysuckle, but also the less challenging spare-ribs with chestnuts) and the page of charcuterie and marinated things (the barbecue and roast-pork standards right through to thousand-year-old egg with beancurd and pickled ginger).
It's pretty clear that they're working the same market as nearby Chinatown landmark Golden Century. They even offer, in a similar vein, a lunch and late-night menu (available from 10pm to 4am daily) of congees and single-plate dishes of rice and things steamed in bamboo tubes. The congee is in the style of Teochew, which means it might be lighter and thinner than the more usual Cantonese rice porridge served in Sydney, and most of the toppings are seafood, blingy lobster and coral trout, or more earthy oyster and frog. The bamboo tubes are worth investigating, too, whether it's the beef brisket and dried bean curd, or the homey salty fish with meltingly tender eggplant and pork mince.
Naturally, for somewhere so heavy on the live-seafood, the bound menu is complemented by a laser-printed list of the day's catch - pipis, morwong, coral trout, parrot fish, silver perch and mountains upon mountains of crab, including the lesser-seen spanner crab - all waiting to meet their maker, whether with ginger and spring onion, salt and pepper, Singapore-style, blackbean, XO sauce, steamed with garlic or even, in the case of the lobster, with "cheese butter".
But it's the brick ovens, visible behind glass in the back by the kitchen, that it's all about. As far as we know, Golden Moon is the only restaurant which roasts its ducks over wood. (The menu claims fruitwood, as per the custom in Beijing, but the waiter we pegged said they also use eucalypts, depending on supply.) The oven also gives its smoky tang to full-blood wagyu beef, lamb cutlets, "aluminium foil-wrapped king prawns", baby abalone and pork chin, whatever that is, but it's really all about the duck.
The fact that the first course comes out already sliced rather than carved tableside doesn't bode well, but as soon as you pick up the pancakes, steamy and supple, things look up. The skin has been cut to give a mix of nothing but crisp skin and piece of skin with juicy meat attached - you take a pancake, smear it with a little sweet bean sauce (tit's similar to hoisin and here, too sweet, we'd say), add batons of spring onion and cucumber, then some duck and fold the lot and eat it by hand: bliss. In Beijing you'd also be offered some sugar to dip the meat in, something that doesn't seem to have caught on Down Under. The second course sees the remaining duck meat shredded, stir-fried and served in neatly trimmed iceberg lettuce cups as san choi bao. If you opt for the third course, you'd get the classic duck soup made from the bones of your bird. It's brimming with straw mushrooms, preserved egg and silken tofu, the very definition of soothing.
So is it the best duck in town? Maybe. It's still a got a way to go before it's as good as it could be - the skin could be that much crisper, the meat that much more tender - but it's an impressive showing, and reason enough alone in itself to pay the restaurant a visit. Service is fairly brusque and not really seriously geared to serve an English-speaking or wine-drinking clientele (the wine list offers a strong motivation to BYO), but there's no question that we'll be back, to see how the duck's coming along, to dig further through the menu, to try the goose liver paste, the crisp-skinned chicken and the deep-fried pigeon. Not to mention the wood-roasted pig chin. Jim Lee
|Venue name:||Golden Moon|
321-325 Sussex St
|Opening hours:||lunch, dinner and late-night supper daily|