Closed oven is duck master's secret

Updated: 2012-04-01 08:17

By Ye Jun in Beijing (China Daily)

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Closed oven is duck master's secret

The creative grilled duck chop kebab doesn't taste greasy. [Ye Jun / China Daily]

Closed oven is duck master's secret


Bianyifang has a good name. The word bianyi is a homophone with the word pianyi, meaning "cheap" in Chinese. Bianyi, instead, means "convenience". The founders of the restaurant aimed to provide a convenient meal to its customers.

In Beijing, Bianyifang is a lone Peking roast duck maker, known as the only big restaurant chain providing closed-oven roast duck.

Set up in 1416 in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the eatery uses a technology with 600 years of history. That's much older than Quanjude, which was founded in 1864.

The open oven roast duck technology, which Quanjude and many other roast duck restaurants now normally use, is actually an "improved version" of closed-oven roasting skill.

Because it is closed-oven, Bianyifang claims its roast duck is healthier, because it does not get in direct contact with fire and smoke. But the skin is as crisp, and duck meat as tender.

Being a State-owned company, many direct-operated branches of Bianyifang look a bit old-fashioned in terms of interior dcor. But newly opened Bianyifang Shimao Department Store joint is a franchised store, allowing more capital, and freedom in designing.

It is safe to say it is the most beautifully designed Bianyifang eatery I've been.

There is a public dining area with a very high ceiling, which makes it feel comfortable. Another area has beautiful square lanterns and wood columns.

Several half-closure areas are decorated with beautiful traditional Chinese paintings of birds and flowers. A room with three roast duck ovens has glass windows and customers can see how chefs make your duck.

It is clear the restaurant's chefs try to make their dishes look new and innovative. Some are successful, a few still have room to improve.

Steamed pumpkin slices are a good choice: they tasting not bad, although they don't look very nice. In another dish, the kitchen tries to make duck breast in the way of the traditional braised pork slices with brown sauce. It appears to be a creative idea, although one feels the sauces are not in perfect harmony with the duck.

But when it comes to traditional dishes, the chef becomes confidant again, and turns out some good ones.

Steamed eggplant chops with diced nut and vegetables is a good appetizer. Jellyfish with preserved lettuce slices is not bad. Fried eggs with fermented soybeans and sliced bell pepper is a winner.

I've seen other roast duck restaurant trying to do a duck chop kebab, but never as successfully as at this restaurant.

The chef understands that duck has to come with the skin, because the fat underneath is essential to the good flavor. At the same time, part of the duck fat is roasted outside so the grilled duck chop kebab doesn't taste awfully greasy. Therefore it becomes the most flavorful duck kebab I've tried in Beijing.

I would not order potato braised with fresh abalone, or red-braised big prawns in clay pot, if I'm paying the bill. But I will have dry-braised pork meatball, a classic Shandong dish, nicely matched with a vegetable version, and two sauces - one salt with white pepper powder, another mayonnaise.

Finally, their duck looks nicely golden and shinny. But I didn't understand why it was a bit cold when I tried it. So was the flour pancake, although it was served on a heater with a tiny candle. It wouldn't be fair if I said the duck skin was not crisp, and meat not particularly tasty, if I've not tried it hot.

The average bill is from 100-150 yuan ($16-24) a person. That is not very cheap, but ok within the Gongti Beilu area. The nice ambience makes it worth it.