I'll admit upfront that when it comes to food (and everything else) that I'm difficult to please. I'm picky, critical and sceptical. The way I see it, I've got two scarce resources that I have to carefully and efficiently allocate. The two scarce resources being (a) my sort-of-hard-earned dosh on food, and (b) the recommended daily calorie intake. Of course, on the off chance that I win at least $10 million from the lottery (still waiting), then no more would I need to undertake such ponderous cost-benefit analysis (and it's implied that I'll totally let myself go and become like Jabba the Hut...and when I reach that point, the I'll go for a nip and a tuck).
Further to being picky, critical and skeptical, I'm also prejudiced. So when Beaker picked Simon's Peiking Duck for a family dinner, it being located in Box Hill, all of my cantankerous radars when on red alert.
Beaker is a fan of Simon's ducks. Once a upon a time, Simon ran a Peking duck restaurant somewhere sort of near the city (zone 1). Mr S was famed for his delicious ducks, and had developed a cult following. Time passes, and Simon closed/sold his restaurant. Until a few years ago, he opened up his new restaurant in Box Hill.
SPD is located in a local shopping strip. Inside, it's like...wow... how do I describe it? Lots of blingy and auspicious red and gold colour, with tables incredibly packed in. I mean, I know some cheap eats Asian places rely on a quick turnover of diners and are quite cramped. But this was taking it a whole new level. I'm surprised SPD isn't breaching a fire safety code. It is no exaggeration when I say there is no room to walk. I wonder why SPD bothered to put individual tables in - it would probably be more comfortable and practical to set up the room in big long communal dining tables.
Beaker perusing the blingtastic menu
We came for duck, and duck we got. We ordered two ducks for five adults and one hungry child. The deal is for each duck, you get 16 (or thereabouts, I forgot the exact number) pancakes. Then the remaining duck meat is cooked into a noodle dish of your choice, and the bones are made into a soup. Pretty much everyone who were dining ordered this deal. Plus, there was quite a regular stream of people getting the Peking duck deal as takeaway.
Lo and behold, Simon, resplendent in his bow tie, comes out to carve up each duck. This was a bizarre experience. I would like to say this was quite a show for the right reasons, but it was a show for all the wrong reasons. Firstly, Simon hacks up the duck - there is no other word for it. Compared to the skills, finesse and showmanship that you'd get at Quanjude (which I blogged about in Feb 2012), this is really a hack job.
Secondly, Simon then hurls the pancakes at you. Now, this ain't a graceful movement. If you think of teppanyaki places, the food is thrown in a graceful, controlled manner, with flair. Simon hurls and misses. Some of the pancakes (which were luke warmish) land on the plates, while some pancakes flop onto the table - if you're going to do this, you should do it accurately. Frankly, I didn't pay to eat food that gets dropped on thet able. He then goes on to demonstrate how you should eat the duck and touches all the food to show you. There are exactly 16 cucumber and spring onion slices (to match the 16 pancakes). This cringeworthy show is replicated at each table.
So we get to the duck. The menu harps on about the technique Simon uses to make his famous ducks. What we tasted was a fatty, oily duck. It looks and tastes like the duck is cooked ahead of time, and when it comes time to serving, it is deep fried in lots of oil to crispen up the skin. The meat itself is quite bland. Having read the reviews, it seems like a lot of people come to this assessment. The pancakes were warmish and oily - they've been panfried and not steamed.
My serve of the udon
For the noodles, we opted for the remaining duck meat to be cooked with udon. One good thing was that the udon was cooked al dente...
...and rice noodle. Both were nudging average - bit salty and oily. I'd rate this as foodcourt quality.
We also ordered a vegetable dish. This was also weird. When we were placing our order, we were being a bit indecisive. Initially we opted for kangkong stir fried with belanchan.
The kangkong before we all started eating it
However, we eventually chose spinach stir fried with garlic. When the dish came to our table, it was kangkong. We assumed that the waitress had jotted down our order incorrectly - not unreasonable given that we were changing our minds alot when we put the order. We weren't fussed and started to eat the kangkong.
Our rightful spinach
Seconds later, another waitress comes out with another dish; she was telling us that this new dish (the spinach) was our vegetable dish. We told her that it's okay, and that we had already started eating the kangkong. She then took the kangkong away and gave it to the table behind us (who had ordered it)! Yes, she gave the table a dish that had already been partially eaten by us. And that table had no idea of what happened and started to eat the kangkong. I mean, god, words fail me.... what the frack?!
The soup is served last, which I imagined the intent was that it'd be a soothing broth to end the meal. What it was was a salty, greasy, below-average soup.
Duck me! This was weird, bizarre, gobsmacking experience. Beaker still likes SPD and would return. For the rest of us, we'd rather go elsewhere.
Apparently Simon is a bit of duck Nazi. If you're not prompt and are late for your booking by a few minutes, he gets shitty and would kick you out. Because he micro-manages the Peking duck experience, don't bother asking for more cucumber or spring onions. This was a(nother) negative for us, as we like to eat our Peking duck with a generous amount of cucumber and spring onions. Despite all this, SPD is undeniably popular. The place was packed.
I'll try to end this review in a positive note. Here goes: if you want to eat greasy duck that's been manhandled and be packed in like battery hens, then SPD is the best place for it! :P
Food – 5
Ambience – 5
Service – 6
Price – 6.5
Simon's Peiking Duck
197b Middleborough Rd
Box Hill South 3128
Telephone: 9898 5944