COCONUTS CRITIC’S TABLE – Feel like Peking Duck but can’t gather enough friends for one big table? Now you don’t need them. Restaurants are starting to offer the Beijing dish by the half order. Empire City Roasted Duck in the K11 mall has been quietly drawing full houses with this strategy, and now the Maxim’s Group is getting in on the act with M&C Duck in Harbour City.
The advantage is, of course, a small group or even one hungry couple can now indulge in what was traditionally a large banquet dish. Based on the clientele at both Tsim Sha Tsui establishments, the concept seems particularly popular with twenty-somethings. Don’t be surprised if Peking Duck date night becomes a new trend in the rest of Hong Kong shortly.
Empire City, part of the Super Star Restaurant Group, has been around a couple of years now and remains phenomenally successful. Their booking policy requires choosing between a 6pm or 8pm slot. And the place does fill up. Naturally, almost everyone orders Peking duck. A whole bird is HKD380, while a half order is HKD220, which is reasonable even for its modest setting.
The menu is full of Northern China fare. A two person set for HKD548 seems quite representative of the offering, so that’s what we decided on. It started with two cold appetisers, Marinated Turnip and Marinated Shrimp with Peony. The turnip didn’t look very impressive but it has a freshness and was crunchy to the bite. In contrast, the shrimps were beautifully arranged, but it was obvious the dish had been sitting in a fridge all day. A slightly salty double-boiled soup with Yunnan ham, cabbage and fish maw arrived before the headline duck.
The duck skin had the right lacquer tone and there was more than enough for two people. Traditionalists may frown, but most of the fat has been sliced away from the skin, which my cardiologist and I appreciated. There was more than enough flavour still on the skin, however. The steamed crepe-like wraps were very thin, so thin if you leave the steam basket top open for any length of time they start to stick together.
Empire City also has different accompaniments. Beyond the traditional tray of julienned scallions and cucumbers, there were strips of melon and pickled radish. It’s a nice change from the standard Peking duck and hoi sin sauce, especially when you’re planning to eat about five or six pieces. Empire City’s ducks are apparently roasted with lychee wood, although the smokiness wasn’t very apparent.
With such high demand, rote production inevitably takes a toll on some successful restaurants. The Peking Duck was still very good, but just not as memorable as previous visits. With each bite, the decadent mix of duck skin, oily meat absorbed into the wrap with a clean piece of contrast – I especially liked the melon and cucumber together – and the tangy hoi sin sauce was bliss.
Braised Duck with Special Sauce
The rest of the dishes were fine. The Braised Duck with Special Sauce is essentially Three-Cup Chicken with the chicken replaced. The Sautéed Chinese Cabbage was changed this evening to Stirred-fried Four Season Beans. A Steamed Pork Dumpling in Soup was excessive after the double-boiled fish maw soup. Instead, we added Lotus Leaf Wrapped Rice with Duck Meat (HKD88) which was okay if a bit dry. Perhaps using more duck fat in cooking the rice would’ve pumped its appeal up.
Deep Fried Custard Pastry
The set didn’t include dessert, so we added a Deep Fried Custard Pastry (three for HKD40), which was quite nice and not too sweet.
Empire City’s popularity didn’t escape Maxim Group’s notice. They’re not one of the city’s largest hospitality groups for no reason. Their smart and diverse businesses include offerings from cake shops to dimsum halls to trendy cafes like Simplylife. Peking Duck is the primary draw at the new concept M&C Duck, but its menu is even larger than Empire City’s. Beyond dishes from the north, there’s also dimsum.
M & C Exterior
A no-reservation policy has been installed, meaning a line will permanently be out front of the restaurant. In turn, it will attract even more attention for that. When the host eventually calls your number, you are led into the relaxed, pine wood decor that is definitely not your parents’ Maxim Chinese banquet hall. Neither are the rubber-ducky shaped chopstick holders – very cute for Instagramming.
One immediate advantage M&C has over Empire City is the price. The Peking Duck is HKD288 for the whole bird and only HKD150 for half. But quality-wise, there’s a slight difference. The slicing technique at M&C is not comparable to the refined standard at Maxim’s more authentic Northern China outlets like Peking Garden, where they charge about HKD400 for a whole duck. The fowl’s skin colour is not as glistening or appealing. It’s also not as crispy. But otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with its succulent meat and fluffy wrap.
Like Empire City, it’s a more accessible product for casual diners who like the hands-on tactile fun of making our own greedy little pockets without the formality of family dinners. That’s why you don’t get a master chef slicing the duck table side. In M&C’s case, the young preparers at the storefront window look like they only started learning the trade two weeks ago.
M&C has no set meals, so we rounded out our dinner with several other items. The enticing-sounding Strawberry Glazed Pork Ribs with Apple Salad (HKD98) was not as interesting in taste. Plus, it was drizzled with some mayonnaise. It’s a popular combination for many locals, but, personally, I find gooey melting mayo-based dressing on warm ribs disgusting.
Cod Fish in Rose Sauce
More interesting was the Cod Fish in Rose Sauce (HKD68 per portion). The fish, very flaky and tender, is presented with a Japanese aesthetic. Then, placing the rose-tinged dip in a large rose petal was an especially haute touch.
The best dish of the night was the Pea Sprouts with Cordycep Flowers (HKD88). Served in a nourishing chicken soup, the cooked cordyceps – they aren’t the super expensive worms but a shoot grown from its offshoot – weren’t just there for their health properties but added a rich, smoky dimension to the pea sprouts’ lovely texture.
Pea Sprouts with Cordycep Flowers
One caveat about M&C, they charge for basics like tea (a fancy tea menu starts at HKD25 per serving and even a glass of warm water is HKD10). I suppose it’s a small price to pay when everything else is so inexpensive. The dinner for two at M&C Duck totalled HKD507, compared with Empire City Roasted Duck’s two person set for HKD548. But if we’re just talking Peking Duck, Empire City wins by a beak.
Empire City Roasted Duck, Shop 221, Level 2, K11 Mall, 18 Hanoi Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, Tel: 2628 0662
M&C Duck, Shop 3319, Gateway Arcade, Harbour City, 17 Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, Tel. 2347-6898