A couple of months ago, good friend and foodie extraordinaire Tom O’malley, wrote a column on the Beijinger about why “Beijing can’t do great chain restaurants” like Hangzhou. Now, having eaten my share of meals throughout China, I know Hangzhou-ren have picky pallets but I’m also convinced that Beijingers are just as discriminating when it comes to food and won’t be outdone..
I set out on a quest to find a chain restaurant, with 10 branches or more all over Beijing, which rated pretty high with the locals… well, low and behold, let me introduce you to the duck nobody knows: Dayali Beijing Duck 大鸭梨烤鸭店 Chain with over 50 restaurants in the greater Beijing area, all pretty much outside the 2nd ring road.. yeah, that’s 50+ branches! By sheer luck, on a Hot springs outing, K-hua suggested to go for duck in their north 5th ring road branch (changpin) for lunch and it was packed to the brim folks… There was a queue well into the 2:00 pm side of things and I am told that each and every dayali branch is pretty much like that: Good affordable Beijing fare in a mid to high end setting.
all the Branches on Dianping
The branch we visited was massive with room to seat a few hundred people, waitresses decked out in faux-fur uniforms and managers roaming the floor to keep things flowing. We were pretty lucky going in a little past 1:00 pm and having a table within a few minutes. Other groups with less people still had to wait. The venue was really elegant and looked fairly new… The menu looked even better! Dishes were affordable for the standard item with generous portions and good presentation, something I’m not used to at that price level.
Having “kao ya” in your name is almost a dare to order the duck (rmb89).. and so we did! for an extra RMB12, we could also get them to make a soup with the bones/skin. A few vegetables, some dried fish flavored with alcohol, flaming chicken wings, noodles and more. I was really curious to see how it would turn out!
The “Drunken Fish” as i call it was first out. Beautifully presented and quite tasty! It wasn’t overly sweet and you couldn’t taste much alcohol but I liked that. A previous encounter with the dish at the Anhui provincial restaurant had me feeling like i was eating dried baijiu! This one was definitely better.. I could have done without the bones though.
The flaming wings were quite the dish: brought to the table with an open fire on the plate itself while the wings were still sizzling in the aluminum foil. A couple of “ohh.. ahh..wow” later, we were biting into some of the most tender chicken wings i’ve had in China. The meat fell off the bone and the sauce had a beautiful BBQ and ginger thing going for it.
The duck came out a bit later and was pretty darn good in my book. mind you, I am not a duck snob and my criteria for a good duck is low: I like it non fatty, tender meat, crispy skin and non-offensive flavor. This duck covered it all! It was not as good as the one i get from jing sun but it was not bad at all.
The rest of the dishes followed the same MO: Good presentation, Solid Taste, Easy on the Wallet and above average service! The only problem we had was asking 3 or 4 different waiters for a ladle so we could serve ourselves the duck soup. The rest of it was pretty darn smooth even though the place was jut non stop busy from the time we went in until we left well past 2:00 pm.
The bill for 5 of us, including duck and what not, was a reasonable RMB40 per person which is pretty darn good nowadays in Beijing, especially for that standard. As we walked out, just about all the dishes we saw on the neighboring tables looked as good as ours did.. Almost made me wanna go for a second round just to try a few more dishes! I left convinced that even after years in the capital, it hasn’t surrendered all its culinary secrets yet… far from it! How can this place still be below the radar with the number of branches they have?
Admittedly, most of these are in strange locations but some are close enough for regular dining, especially for those that don’t live smack downtown Beijing:
Da Ya Li Roast Duck 大鸭梨烤鸭店
San Yuan Qiao / Zuo Jia Zhuan:
Bai Zi Wan:
Xi Zhi Men
Da Ya Li Website:
Dayali Writeup on China.org
CNTV Top 10 Beijing Ducks