For those who frequented The Opposite
House’s alternative night club Punk,
Jing Yaa Tang still comes as a bit of a
shock. Shadows of the space’s former
life remain: where once there was a DJ booth, now there roars a date wood-fired oven; where heady beats would
once reverberate, now the aroma of
rendering duck fat dominates the
From plates of duck tongues
to pumpkins stuffed with botan shrimp
and celadon bowls of poached cherry
tomatoes in fragrant osmanthus, all the way to the smouldering heat of koushuiji with fresh Sichuan
peppercorns, it’s easy to forget you
came here for duck. The signature of
the house is no less excellent, and
remains peerless as far as we’re
When Jing Yaa Tang was first announced there was much chatter about the involvement of celebrity chef Alan Yau, owner of Michelin-starred, London-based Chinese eateries Hakkasan and Yauatcha. In the end his role turned out to be less prominent than some had speculated: he oversaw the décor’s design, provided about a third of the dishes on the menu and gave a nod to the rest, which were prepared by the in-house chefs. Still, while it’s not really fair to call this ‘an Alan Yau restaurant’, Jing Yaa Tang has plenty else to commend it.
Perhaps the best time to enjoy Peking duck in the capital is during her cooler months. With temperatures hovering around zero degrees Celsius and low humidity levels, Beijing’s winter evenings aid in giving the duck skin the extra crispiness that comes with the requisite overnight wind-drying process after a bath in aged vinegar, molasses and spices. At Jing Yaa Tang, the duck is nothing short of refined. Roasting over an open flame with date wood lends a subtle fruity smokiness. The crackling skin is glossed and lacquered when served. As with traditional duck houses in Beijing, diners roll up a gourmet duck pancake, flavouring it with homemade sweet fermented sauce and accoutrements of finely julienned cucumber, melon and leek. We welcome the addition of crunchy garlic sprinkles, which add a fun and appealing layer to the wrap’s texture. The result is an elegant dish that very few restaurants can consistently accomplish.
An order of an entire Peking duck (priced at 238RMB) comes with a complimentary portion of stir-fried shredded duck, bamboo shoots, Chinese sausages and mushrooms plated on a gourd-shaped porcelain dish. It was so immensely addictive it almost stole the show.
As with many fine-dining menus, some of the most inspired dishes come from the appetiser section. This is where chefs typically liberate their imagination to make an impression without leaving the culinary ‘safe zone’. For Jing Yaa Tang, the golden and red pearls of chilled cherry tomato (48RMB) will be palatable to even the most skittish eater. Using a sweet reduction of huamei, a Chinese sour plum pickled with salt and sugar, the cherry tomato skins are removed and allowed to soak in the juice. A creative idea expertly prepared, it proves a perfect companion to the bird. Cool on the bite, it is a refreshing contrast to the warm duck, while the sweet, tart juice cuts right through the heaviness.
Vegetables are presented the Chinese way – offering a favourite seasonal vegetable in a variety of preparations. The options are plentiful and portions generous. Start with something as modest as broccoli with oyster sauce (48RMB) while water spinach, wok-fried with chillies and tofu (48RMB), veers to the opposite end of the spectrum. Sharing a simple, delicious, filo pastry-like shouzhuabing(18RMB) will leave diners particularly happy.
Jing Yaa Tang, however, comes with flaws. The Sichuan dishes lack fire and flavours were off-balance. Punchy vinegar notes envelope every piece of gongbao chicken (58RMB) so completely that it is difficult to enjoy what is supposed to be a balanced marriage of spicy, sweet, savoury and sour. Other Sichuan dishes were tame, missing the characteristic numbing mala.
Sadly, Jing Yaa Tang’s location doesn’t do it justice. Occupying the basement-level space once filled by Punk, and just opposite The Opposite House’s mainstay restaurant Sureño
, the location could potentially be a letdown if one is expecting the kind of atmospheric traditional setting seen in many high-end duck houses in the city.
Nevertheless, Jing Yaa Tang still makes a great place to stop for first-rate duck and a few classic dishes. Once seated inside the restaurant, served by respectful and knowledgeable staff and nibbling on crunchy duck skin, it is easy to imagine that you are in a classy dining hall of modern royalty, enjoying a relaxed yet distinguished meal.