Saturday, 25 July 2015

Review: Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck is Super

Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck has been hovering in the lower ranges of the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants since the list's inception in 2013, peaking at a very respectable No. 40 in 2014.  I recently made my maiden visit to this old reliable, and was mightily impressed.



This is not going to be one of my usual blow-by-blow reviews, as we consumed rather a bit too much wine and the lighting is rather treacherous if you are trying to take decent photos.  Rather, I thought I would focus instead on what I think makes this place great and why, despite the fact that it is arch-traditional with nary a skerrick of dry ice or alginate in sight, it more than merits its place as one of Asia's best restaurants.

To start with, the duck.  Yes it might surprise you that in this age of rampant self-promotion, a restaurant that calls itself "Super Peking Duck" actually lives up to its billing.  Plated in the traditional Beijing style, the duck comes in three services: crisp skin (on its own), more skin from the breast, but with a thin slice of subcutaneous meat (this is served the popular way with thin crepes, cucumber, scallion and hoisin sauce), and the remainder of the beast done whichever way you want.

Beijing-style, with skin and flesh served avec les crepes
I have to say that this is one of the best Peking Ducks I've had, and bearing in mind I'm not one to order Peking Duck at the drop of a hat, it's definitely the best I've had in recent years.  Every element is precise: the first skin-only course is trimmed into perfect rectangles, ideal for picking up with your chopsticks and enjoying in a single, crispy, mouthful.  The crepes are thin and elegant, yet resilient against the weight and moisture of duck and hoisin sauce.  A classic pairing with a 2005 Michele et Patrice Rion Chambolle-Musigny "Les Charmes", which seems to be coming out of its slumber.

But the beauty of this place is, of course, that it prepares far more than excellent Peking Duck.  The crispy skinned roast pork is superb, as is the salt and pepper whitebait and crispy battered tofu.

Cantonese-style Roast Pork
A dish or two did fall a little flat.  Away from the roast / BBQ station, the salt-baked chicken looked and tasted pretty average.  Thankfully, the French beans tossed with minced pork and garlic managed to save the day, charry and smoky yet fresh-tasting and full of crunch and vitality.  It is the kind of vegetable dish that even the most unrepentant meat-eater could not say no to.

Now I turn to the reasons why I think this place resonates with me, and why it has remained so resolutely successful both financially and critically.

1.  Value - Look, good food is a given when I am compiling a "reasons to love" list, and the food here is a few cuts beyond being merely good.  But Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck manages to deliver quality and value.  A full Chinese banquet (admittedly without seafood) cost around $58 a head.

I love Jade Palace Seafood Restaurant as much as the next wine drinker, but if I'm asked to choose my favourite Chinese restaurant in Singapore, I now have a new contender.  But there is no need to need to make a choice.  Jade Palace does great seafood, while Super Peking Duck specialises in roast meats; it's horses for courses.

2.  Wine Service - Chinese restaurants have traditionally been where dust-gathering stock of industrially-produced wines go to die.  An alternative to this direst of fates is to compile a great value list of less common gems, as has Jade Palace, or to waive your corkage completely, as Jade Palace also does.  I did not look at the Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck wine list, because we already had too much wine at the table, but corkage was waived.  I asked our host which palms he greased to get free BYO, and he reassured me that corkage is waived here all day, every day.  The clincher was when they brought some very decent Schott Zwiesel Bordeaux glasses to go with the 1995 Château La Lagune.

On the downside, when I asked for a Burgundy glass for my Rion, the staff looked at me as if I had uploaded a video onto Youtube insulting Lee Kuan Yew (I hadn't).  


3.  Hospitality - Despite having been a mainstay on the Asia's 50 Best list since its inception, ITSPD does not seem to have tried to capitalise on its fame.  Prices remain as reasonable as ever, and they have not tried to revise their corkage policy or impose fixed tasting menus on their clientele.  

Contrast this with a certain other restaurant in Singapore, which I heard doubled its corkage soon after it made its debut on the 50 Best list.  Not only is this cheeky as hell, but it shouts a big "f*ck you" to all of its customers who had supported the place from the start.  I appreciate that the hospitality business is a business, but people who keep telling me that forget the first word in that term.  Hospitality.

4.  Authenticity - This is a term that seems to have attracted much heated debate recently.  Regardless, one cannot dispute that the food at Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck is traditional.  There are no whiz-bang tricks with liquid nitrogen, spherifications, there are no trendy claims about foraging or locavorism, not even any attempts to blend in any fusion elements.  This is honest-to-goodness, soulful and traditional Chinese cuisine.

It's a funny thing, isn't it, that it's always the restaurants with a back story, the lawyer / banker who became a chef, the foraging locavorian restaurant, the restaurant with a home garden, the chef with a "philosophy", which attract the media headlines.  Media need back stories, some hook on which to hang a story about a restaurant whose culinary merit may not otherwise justify the column inches.  I'm glad that in this instance, despite the lack of breathless media coverage, Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck is delivering the goods, as it has been for years.

And I am also glad that the 50 Best got it right in honouring Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck.  I have lamented on various occasions that the World's 50 Best (and to a lesser extent, Asia's 50 Best) are slaves to trendiness and the next big thing.  The inclusion of a restaurant like Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck shows that there are still some sensible voters on the Academy, and helps to preserve the credibility of the list in highlighting the diversity of its featured restaurants.

IMPERIAL TREASURE SUPER PEKING DUCK
290 Orchard Road
#05-42/45 Paragon Shopping Mall
Singapore 238859
Tel: +65 6732 7838
BYO Policy: BYO corkage-free, seven days a week.  Please click here for a list of Singapore restaurants which allow BYO, and their corkage policies.
Reservations highly recommended.  

3 comments:

  1. This is a great recommendation Julian, I'll add it to the list. I agree with your comments about the faddy aspects of dining in Singapore too - well said!

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  2. Thanks Victoria. I'm just embarrassed I didn't have the chance to visit earlier! Super Peking Duck is a great restaurant and deserves every accolade it gets.

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  3. Excellent post. I seem to remember this place from a Singapore visit a couple of years back but as you say once it falls off the map it gets difficult to revisit. Can't remember the Duck but I do recall Excellent Siew Yoke. Free corkage is useful to know too. Have to return with a couple of decent Burgs one day. Cheers!

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