Who in their right mind goes to Causeway Bay on a Saturday night of their own volition? Masochists, that’s who.
Why else would anyone subject their senses to that proverbial gang banging?
If, as proclaimed by Sartre in one of his more erudite observations, Hell is other people, then Causeway Bay is hell on earth and Time Square is the torturous epicentre of the inferno.
Ascending Time Square is to navigate the nine circles of hell. The primary obstacle of the first circle – the ground floor atrium – is the throng of chirpy teenage groupies surrounding unenthusiastic, melodramatic canto rock stars. On the second circle, you must do battle with the luxury boutiques, and their permanent army of steely-faced of Tai Tai’s.
And so it continues until you reach the tenth circle, gluttony. Who oversees this tenth chasm of hell? None other than the demon chef himself, Alvin Leung. In a corner crevice of the tenth floor is Forbidden Duck, a new Canto-Peking restaurant specialising in, you guessed it, duck.
If there’s one reason for me to do battle with the burning rabbit warren of bubble tea shops and Giordano boutiques, it it’s the promise of Peking duck.
Forbidden Duck’s menu is extensive, containing most of the colonial era Cantonese dishes you’d expect to find. But, I imagine everyone’s thought process is the same as mine when it comes to Peking Duck; order a few token dishes to hide the fact you’re only there for crispy skin and hoi sin. And so, we ordered fried rice, lemon chicken and ginger grouper.
All three dishes were very, very good. The rice was light and fluffy. The chicken was both moist and crispy, with well-balanced lemon tartness. And the grouper was firm, flaky and imbued with warm hues from the well-appointed pieces of ginger. But it was the duck we came for.
Forbidden duck is a departure for Alvin Leung. With four money-sapping Michelin stars under to his name, one can only assume Mr Leung has big bills to pay. What better way to pay them than a midrange shopping mall eatery pumping out a conveyor belt of ducks at $428 a pop?
However, in setting out to make the restaurant accessible and unintimidating, he’s really just made the experience a little bit shit. The wait staff go about their business with a surly efficiency. The 38 dead wildfowl (I counted them) hanging behind glass were more akin to an abattoir than an enticing display of ingredients. And, our table was too small and the gap between them too narrow, so both food and conversation spilled beyond the boundaries of our designated area.
Whether we liked it or not, we were forced to listen to a provincial Englishman explain the geographies of London to his Chinese girlfriend’s disinterested family. “There’s this great area called the Notting hill” he’d proclaim, “it’s really convenient for the motorway”. We continued around the monopoly board, with each stop came an unnecessary the prefix and uninteresting fact (“I had very good fish and chips in The Marylebone once”).
As fascinating as this little diatribe was, I was really looking forward to hearing about the relative merits of the pushchairs Mrs A had been researching. Unfortunately, I lost some of the finer details of the Bugaboo Stroller latching mechanism as I was so engrossed in a review of “a great restaurant called The Aberdeen Angus on The Oxford Street”. Anyway, I digress, back to the duck.
The duck arrived beautifully carved, with a Quartet of vegetables. In addition to the spring onion and cucumber were radish (unnecessary) and melon (just a bit weird). The pancakes were as light and as thin as single ply toilet tissue, but held their structural integrity much better.
Like a Meerkat that caught the whiff of an encroaching coyote, the charming front of house manager spotted Mrs A’s new season Gucci scarf and my camera angled at the duck, and made a beeline for our table. Apparently, “people like us” had left negative reviews pertaining to the duck’s oiliness recently. I wish I could have given him feedback to the contrary, but unfortunately, our duck was still swimming in a viscous pond of oil.
Although the meat was soft and succulent, the skin lacked the requisite crispness. As such, I didn’t eat nearly as many as I would do usually (I think I did five).
You can pre-order slow cooked duck, which might well be less greasy. But they are apparently limited to ten a day and it wasn’t offered to us.
On the Forbidden Duck’s website sits Alvin Leung’s guiding philosophy for the restaurant; “There is no traditional cuisine here, the dishes and cooking methods here all have my own characteristics.” However, nothing could be further from the truth. What Forbidden Duck specialises in is completely conventional Cantonese food, albeit very well put together conventional Cantonese food.
We went for the duck but stayed for grouper. And I suggest anyone going adjusts their expectations accordingly. If you want very good Peking Duck there are better places outside the ring of fire that is causeway bay.
How much? $849
Where? 1001B, 10/F Times Square, 1 Matheson Street, Causeway Bay
Who goes? Masochists