For Christmas, I wanted to treat 3 of my friends to something special. I say that every year but much as I try to stick with a theme for everyone (then fail miserably), I felt that this was an ideal time to push the boat out a bit. Given how they’re all into good food and are always willing to try new places, I opted to give them a choice of either steak at Hawksmoor or Beijing Duck at Min Jiang. I thought they would go for steak, but (much to my delight) they opted for Beijing Duck. The logic was that whilst they could get steak here in Birmingham (although nowhere near the quality perhaps of Hawksmoor), you can’t get Beijing Duck anywhere – Let alone one which has been wood-fire roasted as at Min Jiang. So, bright and early on a Saturday morning, off to Londinium we went..
Firstly, the setting and view; I knew that the views would be good but even on a blustery, overcast day like it was when we went, the views were gorgeous. It would be even better on a (clear) summer’s day, but we all took a brief moment admiring what we saw:
Time to order. We already had a whole Beijing Duck pre-ordered (half a duck between 4 people wasn’t an option) and rather than order something from the a la carte menu, I thought it would be a good opportunity to order from the Dim Sum menu, especially as Becky in particular is constantly going on about how she wants xiao long bao . I order a mix of items: Some personal favourites like cheung fun and deep fried yam croquettes just so I can compare them to our usual haunt here in Birmingham (where both items are exceptional). I also take the opportunity to introduce different items to them like the soft shell crab and glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaf.
The dim sum was first to arrive and in true Chinese restaurant fashion, everything started to arrive in quick succession. The table soon filled up with dishes and privately, I thought how I think I ordered the right amount of food – Especially as we still had the duck to come. My first impression of the food was how the portions are smaller than I’m used to in Birmingham, and that they used smaller baskets for some items so it gave the impression they were bigger (Personally, I thought it made them look cramped into a smaller basket). That said, the flavours were very clean and certainly very tasty, but the yam croquettes (which went down a storm with everyone) were TINY! For that reason alone, I think I get better ones here in Birmingham. Oh, and the cheung fun was equally as good as what I get here, the only difference was that the prawns at Min Jiang were of a better quality.
The other 3 *loved* the dim sum: This was Rich’s first dim sum experience and he loved all the different items he could try. He was having a great time trying things with the (very nice) chilli oil. Dan, who isn’t a very adventurous eater, also enjoyed himself. He joked that it took him forever to eat with chopsticks (which I soon corrected with an impromptu lesson), but he enjoyed the food. Becky was having a great time with the xiao long bao (which also went down a treat with everyone).
But I think my personal highlight during the dim sum (other than Dan actually eating most of the food) was the soft shell crab; Rich had said that he would be willing to give it a try and Becky had never eaten anything like it (Dan just looked at me sceptically when I suggested it). When it arrived, I gave Rich a piece to try – Which he loved, especially the brown meat. Becky, on the other hand actually enjoyed it too, the legs that is as the brown meat was a bit too rich for her. I got her a claw piece and she wanted photographic evidence that she actually ate it:
I’m so proud of her!
Time for the main event – The Beijing Duck. It was wheeled out without the fanfare that I was half expecting in my head by the chef to our table side. Without a word, he immediately started to carefully carve the skin from the neck area of the duck whilst the serving staff brought out the accompaniments. The chef carved with impressive speed and skill and with the table being set too, you didn’t know where to look or who to pay attention to! Once the neck skin was carved, it was presented to the table and again, without any fanfare, the chef started carving the duck (meat and skin) for the pancakes with the same skill, speed and precision as he did with the skin. I was (again, privately) worried that they wouldn’t carve enough meat and given how the remainder was supposed to be used for the second serving, I didn’t want to feel short-changed. However, I need not have worried – There was hardly any meat left on the carcass and there was a plate full of meat for the pancakes. The whole duck was carved in less than 5 minutes and before we could thank or acknowledge the chef’s carving skills, he left without any fanfare the same way he arrived.
And so, all the dishes were presented to the table:
Firstly, the duck skin was supposed to be lightly dipped in some caster sugar before eaten. This meant that people didn’t get the right ratio of skin to sugar so ended up eating a load of sugar and lost the taste and texture of the skin. Personally, I liked the skin without the sugar.
There were 2 types of accompaniments to the duck:
- Traditional style: with shredded cucumber and leek
- Min Jiang style: with garlic paste, pickled cabbage and sweet chili carrots
Of the two, I preferred the Min Jiang style. Perhaps it’s because I’m so used to the traditional method that something new was more exciting. But I found the combination of the pickled cabbage and sweet chilli carrots worked better with the duck. The duck itself was fantastic – Skin crisp and flavoursome, meat juicy and succulent. Oh, and I have to mention the pancakes which were (I believe) handmade. They were light and didn’t dry out at all which bought in ones certainly do. For a while, the whole table was quiet as we all busily gorged ourselves on Beijing Duck.
Feeling quite full, the others looked at me with shock when I reminded them there was still a second serving to come. We’d opted for the shredded duck with noodles as it seemed the lightest of all the options. I asked for them to give us a few minutes before serving us our noodles so we could digest a little. The noodles were the perfect choice – Nothing too heavy after the dim sum and pancake-fest that preceded it, they weren’t too greasy and had plenty of wok hei.
And that was it: Delicious food, a good time had by all with hopes of returning. I should also mention the tea; This was the first time the other 3 had drunk Po Er tea and the boys absolutely loved it. They had both tried green tea before and Rich quite likes Jasmine tea but I wondered how they would feel about Po Er which is what I usually drink when I go yum cha. I was both surprised and happy to find them both loving it so much, another success methinks!
For afters, I took them to Gelupo which is always good, as testified by Rich who pretty much inhaled his hazelnut gelato
Little did I know that as brilliant as the day had been thus far, the best was still to come. And that my friends, is worthy of a post all by itself. 🙂