Battle of the Roast Duck: Four Seasons vs Chan Kwong Kee

We sample roast duck from the posh FOUR SEASONS CHINESE RESTAURANT at Capitol Piazza and the gritty CHAN KWONG KEE ROAST SHOP in Loyang industrial estate. Which one fares better?

Four Seasons Chinese Restaurant
Four Seasons Chinese Restaurant
26 May 2015

Four Seasons Chinese Restaurant

#02-27-29 CAPITOL PIAZZA, 13 STAMFORD RD, S178884. TEL: 6702-1838.
Open daily. 11am-10.30pm. Last orders 9.30pm.

“It’s the best roast duck I’ve ever eaten — you have to go,” an SQ flight steward once told us while we were on a solo flight to London many moons ago. We never did make it to Four Seasons Chinese Restaurant in Bayswater, even on subsequent trips. Who had time for Cantonese duck in the UK when there was British food to conquer?

Well, lucky us — an outpost opened in Singapore’s Capitol Piazza over a month ago. The 150-seater was brought in by the London-based Royal China Group which also runs the Chinese eatery of the same name at Raffles Hotel. And we are here on a Saturday night, just in time for last orders. The spanking new mall is deserted. So too the capacious restaurant, with only two other tables occupied. We feel slightly sheepish — the waiters were probably hoping for an early night. Even then, they are polite. And perhaps a little too eager.

THE LOOK: The restaurant’s outpost here, like in cities such as Bangkok, is fancier than its English branches. Still, it’s all very early ’90s. Maroon upholstered chairs, too-bright lights, and an aura of nondescript-ness.
 

Four Seasons Chinese Restaurant
Four Seasons Chinese Restaurant
26 May 2015

Four Seasons Chinese Restaurant

THE FOOD: Given the late hour, all our food arrives in a hurry. We worry about the duck being soggy. “Oh, our ducks are mostly cooked in the morning and afternoon, so it makes no difference anyway unless you arrive right after we roast them,” chirps a lady, who we suspect is the manager.

Unsurprisingly, the duck is soggy. But according to our friends, that’s how it’s often served in London too. “Roast duck can’t have crispy skin, unless it’s made Peking duck-style,” insists the slick, smiley manageress. Not from our experience, we think suspiciously. Because our expectations are so low, the Roast Duck (pictured above: $36 for half a duck; $68 whole), made with Dutch birds, turns out half-decent. Yes, the skin is flaccid and some parts of the fatty meat so leathery we have to yank at it. But it is well marinated, luxuriating in a moreish soy-based sauce that seems kissed with herbs and shallots. Still, for this price, the bird should be flawless.

Four Seasons Chinese Restaurant
Four Seasons Chinese Restaurant
26 May 2015

Four Seasons Chinese Restaurant

THE FOOD: The House Special Pei Pa Beancurd (Above right: $28) is quite pleasant: minced seafood mixed with tofu and fried into softly springy nuggets, along with some veg and brown gravy. And those are the high points of our meal. The Combination Barbecued Meat (Above left: $28) consists of ho-hum roast pork belly and bone-dry char siew. Meanwhile, the Lotus Leaf Wrapped King Prawn Fried Rice ($28) is so bland we have to douse it with sauce from the duck to render it palatable.

VERDICT: Steep prices for mediocre food. By far not the best roast duck we’ve had, especially when Singapore isn’t exactly deprived of great Chinese restaurants. This isn’t London, after all.
 

Chan Kwong Kee (S'pore) Roast Shop
Chan Kwong Kee (S'pore) Roast Shop
26 May 2015

Chan Kwong Kee (S'pore) Roast Shop

#01-06, 4A LOYANG LANE, 64+4 FOOD COURT, S508923. TEL: 8717-6020.
Open daily except Sun. Weekdays 11.30am-8pm; Sat 11.30am-2pm. Last orders when sold out.

Over at the other end of the island in the boondocks of Loyang industrial estate lies another roast duck specialist. It looks like a typical roast meat stall in a dingy canteen frequented mostly by factory workers. Simply put, it’s the sort of place we usually scurry past to get away from leering men and greasy spots on the floor. But Chan Kwong Kee Roast Shop — strung with gleaming ducks, chicken, and pork — attracts snaking queues at lunchtime. Sometimes you have to wait up to 30 minutes. And that’s why the duck here is always fresh (don’t bother with the other middling meats). A thin, weary-looking man, Mr Chan, tirelessly hacks the roast birds and pork to feed the hungry crowd. The Hongkong native says he’s been running this stall for 20 years with his Singaporean wife. He also cooked for a living in his hometown.
 

Chan Kwong Kee (S'pore) Roast Shop
Chan Kwong Kee (S'pore) Roast Shop
26 May 2015

Chan Kwong Kee (S'pore) Roast Shop

THE FOOD: We pop by bright and early at 11.45am on a Saturday to beat the queue, and also to ensure our duck is fresh out of the oven. We learnt our lesson the hard way: we once went at 1.30pm only to find the famous duck sold out — being hangry after a 30-minute drive to Loyang is no fun.

We order half a Roast Duck (Above: $23; $45 whole) so that we get all the good bits, which you don’t typically get from single portions. It is a joy to watch Mr Chan lovingly plate the golden-brown glistening meat, first draping it with boiled cabbage, then drizzling the lot with an umami dark sauce, what looks like duck drippings, and tart plum sauce. The Malaysian bird is pretty good: faintly crisp, thoroughly salted skin cloaking not-too-fatty meat perfumed with spices. Our only grouse: some parts of the flesh are a bit too chewy — perhaps because the warm bird didn’t have ample time to rest outside of the oven. Still, it’s better than what you get at some, ahem, swankier restaurants.

VERDICT: Fairly delectable, affordable roast bird. If you can be bothered to make the trek to Loyang, that is.
  

Report a problem