- Best Peking Duck in Melbourne!
- 197b Middleborough Road
- Box Hill, VIC 3128
- 03 9898 5944
- Mon-Thurs and Sun, 5-10.30pm; Fri-Sat, 5-11.30pm; Tues-Fri, noon-2.30pm
- Price Guide
- Duck banquets, $55-$63 (a duck); entrees, $2.20-$6; mains, $16.80-$23.80
Review on Good Food Guide:
RUMOURS that legendary duck man Simon Lay was out of retirement whipped around Melbourne faster than news of a visit from Oprah.
Fans were abuzz with the return of the so-called "Duck Nazi" with his "No duck for you!" banter and all-duck banquets. As he puts it, he's "re-emerged from the earth", stoked to be out of retirement and at the helm of his own specialty Peking duck restaurant.
Open five weeks now, his new joint is a pink-walled affair with gold cat, jade statue and Chinese fans on a Middleborough Road shopping strip.
On a Wednesday, he makes a few thousand pancakes for the night's service; on a Saturday, he goes through about 80 ducks.
But where does he get the birds? "From the Botanic Gardens — but please don't dob me in," Lay says. It's old material, a "dad joke", but it always scores a laugh and is part of the schtick that's made him so beloved. In reality, he has two sources.
Lay's parents were Chinese but he was born in East Timor, migrating to Australia just before the invasion. He learnt the art of Peking duck at a Melbourne restaurant called Dragon Seat but built a following at Collingwood's Old Kingdom, parting ways, he says, because the restaurant ceased to follow his instructions, compromising his "duck reputation".
To prepare one duck, Lay stuffs ginger, shallots, aniseed and five spice salt in its belly, sews it up using a long needle and pumps air between the body and the skin to separate them.
Next, it's plunged into boiling water to shrink the skin, then into a wok roiling with vinegar, maltose and soy and oyster sauces — this is the glaze that gives the skin its shine and flavour. The bird is then hung for six hours to dry before roasting.
For the banquet, Lay presents the duck to the table crisp and glistening; the fat rendered, the meat juicy and moist. He dons surgical gloves and carves hunks of breast and pieces of skin. More plates arrive: 15 lengths of spring onion, 15 cucumber batons and 15 gossamer-thin pancakes with enough stretch and texture to hold the jutting-out pieces of meat and pools of plum sauce. Fold the pancake, "six o'clock, nine o'clock, three o'clock".
Course two is OK: hand-made noodles wokked with the remaining meat and mushrooms, not overspiced so the duck flavour comes through but pretty oily and not as wondrous as course one.
Round three is the soup, a jumble of the bones and bean curd in a cleansing broth of pickled veg, ginger and star anise. It cuts through some of the fat smeared on your lips.
If duck isn't your thing, there's a full menu of Chinese and Malaysian-Chinese classics.
The great waiters can be a bit stretched and another staff member might be a good idea but it's a fun experience and nice to see Lay back in his element doing what he loves as only he can do it. "I was born to work in a restaurant," he says. "I was no good at home."