The Cantonese-style roast duck at Four Seasons in London has been drawing people through the restaurant’s doors since the first branch opened in Chinatown in 1990. Having spent the last 25 years trading on this success to expand throughout the UK and across Asia, the newly-opened Shanghai branch is the chain’s first move into China.
Since opening in the still half empty Crystal Galleria in Jingan, Four Seasons has been consistently busy and when we arrive around 8pm on a weekday, the restaurant is buzzing. It’s so busy in fact that we have to wait around 15 minutes for a table. Even while we wait on a chair just inside from the mall, we quickly become aware of a lively, casual atmosphere inside the restaurant with lots of large groups and staff who are friendly, speak great English, and – a real rarity in Shanghai – actually appear to be having a good time.
As soon as we’re shown to a table (surrounded by a slightly odd decor that features fake rhino and horse heads on the walls), our waiter informs us that they’ve sold out of duck. Before we high-tail it out of there however, he adds that they’re currently roasting more and it’ll be a 20 minute wait.
Content to hold on, we order a range of other dishes, the first of which arrives within just a few minutes, as does the free-flow green tea (6RMB per person). The braised pork belly with preserved vegetables (78RMB) is a good start. Simultaneously very fatty and very tasty, on its own the meat has potential to be overbearing, but a side of rice or noodles helps to balance things out, as do the accompanying greens.
The straight-up vegetable dishes don’t fare so well however. The braised stir-fried Chinese broccoli with ginger sauce (48RMB) is all stalks and no leaves, though there’s a pleasant subtle ginger flavour and the dish at least adds some crunch to proceedings.
We pick at a few other openers, but really we’re just biding our time before the main event. And eventually, it arrives: the Four Seasons roast duck (58RMB/quarter, 98RMB/half, 180RMB/whole). The ducks have been thoroughly dried, and rubbed with herbs and spices, before heading into a purpose-built roasting furnace. The skin is dark, crispy and bursting with flavour which results in that wonderful ‘ahh’ sensation that comes from eating well-prepared duck skin. The accompanying sauce is a mix of soy, herbs, spices, and duck juices. It’s thick, salty and deliciously moreish, which is a good thing because it compensates for the duck meat being just a little dryer than you’d expect.
It’s a quality offering and, at these prices, the queues outside are unsurprising – we’ll certainly be back again. However, the Shanghai branch still has some way to go to reach the heights of its roast duck rivals in the city, let alone to match the ‘best roast duck in the world’ title awarded its London counterpart by the Financial Times.
By Victoria Brownlee