Every time I see my Leeds-based Aunt and Uncle they seem to have a story about their most recent visit to London - a story which usually includes going to ‘Crispy Duck’ on Gerard Street, their favourite dim sum spot for more years than my aunt would care for me to tell you. And every time I hear about it I think I need to get to Chinatown to try it out for myself. Before completely failing to do so.
Of course food and failure are not compatible concepts in my mind - especially when it involves missing out on copious amounts of saturated animal fat with a side order of those puffy little pork buns that have become the Ewing's must order - so when we recently found ourselves tired and hungry somewhere around Shaftesbury Avenue, there was only one place we were going to end up.
Auspiciously, our visit wasn't long after my Uncle’s 70th birthday celebrations - where we had all walked from the Southbank to Piccadilly and I had asked my Uncle to point out the restaurant to me when our route took us up Wardour Street.
Not that it would have hard to miss, with the big yellow letters and the hooks of roasted poultry hanging up in the window. Although, from the larger, more discrete, sign above the door, it appears the official name is the more prosaic 'Oversea Chinese Restaurant'.
Set on three floors, we were led down to the basement dining area, where the clientele was comprised of fifty per cent Chinese couples, studiously eating dumplings; and fifty per cent couples on first dates, eating the set banquet for two while making nervous conversation. With a raucous family reunion thrown in for good measure.
All of which provided a lively atmosphere and the perfect mix for people watching - although the distractions made attempting to fill in our choice of dumplings on the carbon paper slip with the little Argos ball point pen more difficult than usual. Luckily the pictures and corresponding numbers on the menu made things a little easier.
The Ewing, who was sporting one less tooth than the week before, was mainly sticking to a liquid diet (something that’s very easy with my Aunt and Uncle around…) and so started with a small bowl of wonton soup. While I didn’t sample the soup – 'good and gingery' was the verdict – the wonton I managed to snaffle was plump and tight and stuffed with bouncy prawns and minced pork.
From the roast meat and rice menu I paired the eponymous flying avian with a helping of roast pork belly. The duck, as its name suggests, had a crisp, lacquered carapace which gave way to the soft and sticky meat underneath. The pork belly was even better; wobbling chunks of meat striped with thick ribbons of fat and edged with crispy skin.
Ask for their (super hot) homemade chilli oil, which, along with the soy sauce served with the rice, provides a foil to cut through the richness. This isn't food for the faint-hearted.
When I first got together with the Ewing my two favourite things (apart from her of course) were burritos and turnip cake; two of the only things she didn't really like. Subsequently I've had a Mexican wrap and Chinese snack-shaped hole in my life for the past eight years.
Because of the recent dental work, my wife had already announced she 'wasn't going to eat much', so I took this as the perfect opportunity to order the stir fried turnip cake with chilli sauce, beansprouts, spring onion and finely shredded omelette. Unfortunately, not only did she decide she was quite peckish after all, but she also liked this dish as much as I did. Fortunately it was a huge portion and, well, sharing is caring.
Scallop cheung fun were fine, although retrospectively I wish I'd chosen the barbecued pork version as the bivalve/rice noodle combo was a little too slippery and slithery. More successful were the XO prawn and scallop dumplings with truffle and better still the delicate beef and ginger wontons.
We also ordered char siu buns, which have been the Ewing's favourite ever since we went to Hong Kong a few years ago. These were decent, if unspectacular. Although after years of ordering them every time we go out for dim sum, I think I can safely say I've reached peak pork bun. (Surely not possible - TE)
I've been on my aunt's team at the pub quiz and she doesn't often get things wrong, and her recommendation here is no exception. Good value, central location and, food-wise and it does exactly what it says on the tin - Crispy Duck looks like remaining a family favourite for a few more years to come.