Sunday, August 29, 2010

You will have Peking Duck only - or how I learnt to trust the waiter at the American Restaurant

With its wood panelling, octagon mirrors, tiled floor and Chinese landscape print on the wall, the American Restaurant could be a restaurant on Little Bourke Street in Melbourne the decor is so familiar. But it's not, it's in Wan Chai in Hong Kong.

Lonely Planet's Hong Kong & Macau City Guide (2010) tells me that the American Restaurant was so named to attract American soldiers in Wan Chai on R&R during the Vietnam War. It attracts the rich and famous, like Robbie Coltrane who was spied by a work colleague getting impatient with the slow service offered by the elderly wait staff, the expatriate community, the local Hong Kong Chinese community and people like us - tourists.

The American Restaurant specialises in Northern Chinese cuisine, and according to my trusty Lonely Planet book offers a Northern speciality rarely seen - pigs throat stir fried with parsley. Now I think I was at that point of our trip where I would have been prepared to be a bit adventurous and try a dish like this. It was dinner on day two of our trip and while our meals had been delicious they had been familiar and tame. However, I was not going to have this opportunity, oh no.

The first dish I chose from the menu was the half serve of Peking Duck. Now, expecting this to be served to us as a couple of pancakes, duck slices, cucumber and spring onion for garnish I went to point to another dish on the menu.

"No half Peking Duck. You will have whole Peking Duck only" I was told, 'that is enough. Forty-five minutes, ok?"

Now, I was a little bit shocked at being told this. What was going on? Whole Peking Duck? I'm not used to being told what to do. I'm the eldest child in the family, I tell people what to do, not vice versa. And I was paying for this too.

"Oh" was my crestfallen response. "But what does it come with?" I asked anxiously. I couldn't have only meat for dinner.

"Cucumbers and spring onion".

"That's it?"

"Yes. Plenty for you both".

Who was I too argue. With a collective waiting experience of at least 500 hundred years between the ten elderly, male waiting staff working that night, what did I know? Nothing. They knew better than me how much and what I needed to eat.

I was a bit peckish though and wasn't sure I could wait 45 minutes without becoming a bit tetchy. So we ordered some fried spring rolls.

We should have given these a miss. They tasted like they were filled with the kai see ming of my childhood - minced beef and cabbage. We drank some Tsing Tao beer, ate a couple and wondered why we bothered - the duck arrived in 30 minutes. And what a spectacular dish it was.

The whole duck was brought out and cut before our eyes, then presented to us on a platter that bulged with juicy, tender, slices of roast duck.

The Peking Duck was served with a mountain of lovely, light, thin pancakes, rich hoisin sauce, juicy sliced cucumber and spring onions (which to my mind were a bit chewy). We think we had at least a dozen pancakes each, probably more. It was a feast, and our waiter was right - the whole Peking Duck was enough for us.

We had to compose the pancake our selves, which was a bit of a disappointment to me. None of the flourish experienced at BBQ King in Sydney where they do it for you. Oh well, a small disappointment.

American Restaurant is an institution in Hong Kong and has been around for over 40 years. Apparently it can get very busy on the weekends. It was quiet the night we were there, which was Thursday, but soon filled to about half its capacity. Despite what other reviews say, we found the service to be attentive and prompt, perhaps because it was only half full.

As we left and walked out into the still humid Hong Kong evening, we felt very satisfied after eating our whole Peking Duck. It wasn't the best we've eaten but it was still tasty. It's probably the most Peking Duck we've ever consumed (and are ever likely to consume again) in one sitting.

The atmosphere was enjoyable and we had fun. We would definitely go back to try some of their other dishes.

American Restaurant
Ground Floor, Golden Star Building
20 Lockhart Road
Wan Chai
Hong Kong

1 comment:

  1. This was the point where I discovered where my exact limit of Peking Duck lies (about 1/2 a duck and 12 pancakes).