Maybe it’s the huge expectation that comes from approaching the first Shanghai outpost of one of Beijing’s finest roast duck restaurants, but we swear we can smell wafts of fruit wood when we enter the ground floor of the Réel Department Store in Jingan that houses Da Dong. The anticipation builds as we take the lift to the fifth floor and are greeted with a delightful aroma that this time is unmistakable. Da Dong has arrived.
With five branches in the capital (and two more on the way), celebrity chef Dong Zhenxiang has established his duck chain as the go-to Peking duck joint and it’s a surprise that it’s taken him this long to expand south. If he was concerned over how popular the cuisine would prove in Shanghai, he really needn’t have worried; the restaurant has been consistently packed since it opened last month. With only a few tables available for booking, that usually means eager customers need to wait for a seat, but Da Dong’s policy of providing free-flow soft drinks and wine to those queuing softens the blow.
And when you do get to your table and the golden-brown duck is carved and served in front of you, it’s clear that the wait has been worth it. The classic ‘super lean’ whole roasted duck (268RMB, plus 8RMB/person for the traditional pancakes, plum sauce and other accompaniments) is supposedly healthier than the versions served by Dong’s competitors, but the important thing is that it’s certainly tastier.
The rest of the menu provides some interesting asides – the lightly aniseed tasting aubergine (46RMB) is one particularly tasty dish, and the restaurant also offers a lengthy selection of high-end seafood including braised sea cucumber (from 258RMB/70g) – but don’t let these distract you from the duck. It’s a masterful and thoroughly welcome arrival from up north.