Lame duck excuses

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 November, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 November, 2000, 12:00am

BUSINESSMEN loved the restaurant. In the early 1980s they treated their overseas clients to dinner at the newly opened Peking Garden in Tsim Sha Tsui, which was famous for its duck.

The delicious meat and the creative way of eating Peking duck (rolled in a thin wrapper with slices of cucumber and spring onion) was fascinating to foreigners, as well as an entertaining show. At the time, cooks would prepare the whole duck on a small cart in front of the diners. The smell of freshly roasted duck filled the air, and it was wonderful to watch the cooks skilfully carving the duck.

Today, its popularity seems unchanged. On a Friday evening, locals and Western tourists crowded around the reception desk waiting for tables. Traditional furniture adorns the small lobby, Chinese paintings hang on the white walls, and the restaurant still looks formal and elegant. Three friends and I entered with high hopes for a good dinner.

The starter was our favourite: chilled bean vermicelli with shredded chicken ($70). Served cold, the dish is a summer delicacy. Mixed with peanut sauce and crispy cucumber, it was cooling and refreshing. Seafood and vegetable soup ($80), which contained shrimp, fish and egg white, was also simple and delicious.

When it comes to Beijing cuisine, one just can't give the dumplings a miss. In northern China, they're sold by the catty, and $1 will get you a full meal of them.

At Peking Garden, a bowl of 10 boiled vegetable and pork dumplings cost $50. Served in a hot soup, they were smooth and juicy, and even better dipped in red vinegar.

Our next dish of braised bamboo shoots with black mushrooms ($98) was disappointing because the mushrooms were rough and of low quality. Braised Tien Tsin cabbage with Yunnan ham ($76) was also unimpressive, because the salt in the Yunnan ham overwhelmed the delicate flavour of the fresh and juicy cabbage.

We waited at least 30 minutes for the barbecued Peking duck ($320) to arrive. Finally, a waiter rushed over with it. 'This is your duck,' he said, before disappearing with it.

After another wait, the duck returned, already sliced, on a plate.

'Where is the slicing show?' we wondered.

Even before tasting the duck, we were unhappy. Instead of being neatly arranged, the duck slices had been carelessly tossed on the plate. The meat was sliced too thick and tasted heavy and greasy. 'Who would pay $320 for this? This is worth at most $150,' a guest commented.

I asked a waiter why the duck hadn't been carved at the table. His explanation that the restaurant was busy because of a banquet in the next room was unsatisfactory, and a complimentary platter of sliced fruits did not compensate.

The meal for four was expensive at $816.

Peking Garden, 3/F Star House, Tsim Sha Tsui, Tel: 2735 8211. Open: Monday-Friday 11.30am-3pm, 5.30pm-11.30pm (opens at 11am Saturday and Sunday)

Graphic: feastglo