From the 10th floor of the Royal Garden Hotel, you get a glorious view of Kensington Gardens and the Round Pond with its greylag geese and mute swans. But you're not here for the geese or the swans. You are here for the duck.
Like its two sister restaurants in Singapore, London's newly opened Min Jiang is dedicated to the art of Beijing duck (get used to it – the Olympics weren't held in Peking). They will ask if you want to pre-order it when you ring, and ask again when you arrive. It could get annoying, but for one thing: the duck is very, very good.
This is Beijing duck as it should be; with a bird weighing between 2.3kg and 2.5kg, between 45 and 48 days old, roasted in a wood-fired oven, carved with precision and presented with care and skill.
Ask most high-street Chinese restaurants where their duck comes from, and they will say "the kitchen". Here, the Hakkasan-trained manager Jason Li tells me it is from Silver Hill farm in Ireland, the same duck featured by Heston Blumenthal on his TV series In Search of Perfection.
The glossy, lacquered duck (£50 whole, £25 half) is brought to the table, head tucked coyly behind its neck, for the ceremony. First, the skin of the neck is expertly carved by one of the three specialist duck chefs and presented as an appetiser to dip into granulated sugar. Then the breast meat, with its half-moon of skin, is presented in precise, overlapping rows, with either a hoisin-based sauce, shredded spring onion and cucumber, or a more interesting option involving garlic paste, radish and tientsin cabbage. Either way, your duck is nappy-wrapped in divinely light, steamy, fragrant pancakes as you watch. It is so good – rich but light, sweet but not cloying, juicy but not fatty. The pancakes themselves are diaphanously light. I make my own at home, and I am in awe.
Much thought has gone into reclaiming this cliché of Chinese cuisine, with six different cooking options for the rest of the duck meat. The best is finely shredded and tossed in a blisteringly hot wok with slivered vegetables and thin egg noodles, but any of them would be better than the usual drab, bland, grey stir-fry.
Chef Lan and his team will no doubt become famous for their duck, but the intelligently tailored à la carte menu has a subtle Shanghainese and Sichuan influence, found in dishes such as tender, saucy Wu Xi spare ribs (£8.50) and a rather lovely Sichuan hot and sour soup a-tingle with chilli oil (£6.50). Vegetables can be exquisite, especially the babiest of baby pak choi cabbages (£7.50) coated in a light, fragrant garlic sauce. A gently cooked, unquestionably fresh fillet of sea bass (£18) is topped with a gritty crust of soy-bean crumbs; interesting, but not as successful as its Hunanese equivalent. There are also several quite contrived desserts, such as a silky jasmine-tea tiramisu (£7.50), and by day, a very refined dim sum service.
The natural match for Beijing duck is Pinot Noir, and the contemporary wine list carries a sufficiently duck-friendly, bright, smooth 2006 Wild Rock Cupids Arrow Pinot Noir from New Zealand (£38).
With its long penthouse space, spacious tables, fine linen and Great Wall of vases inspired by the late Ming and early Qing dynasties, Min Jiang is a light-filled departure from the dark, Shanghai nightclub style introduced by Alan Yau and David Tang. And it is different, bringing us a taste of Chinese fine dining, Singaporean style – meaning lighter, more refined cooking with less oils and animal fats; and a subtle clarity of flavour instead of wham-bam flavour hits.
Service is notably good-natured and watchful, with just a few too many solicitous visits per minute to be truly relaxing. But who cares about service, décor or views? You know why you're here. They know why you're here. Even the duck looks as if it knows why you're here.
SCORES: 1-9 STAY HOME AND COOK, 10-11 NEEDS HELP, 12 OK, 13 PLEASANT ENOUGH, 14 GOOD, 15 VERY GOOD, 16 CAPABLE OF GREATNESS, 17 SPECIAL, CAN’T WAIT TO GO BACK, 18 HIGHLY HONOURABLE, 19 UNIQUE AND MEMORABLE, 20 AS GOOD AS IT GETS
Min Jiang, 10th floor, Royal Garden Hotel, 2-24 Kensington High Street, London W8, tel: 020 7361 1988. Lunch and dinner seven days a week. Around £110 for two including wine and service
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