Leung’s latest venture in Singapore comes hot on the heels of its Hong Kong counterpart, which opened in November 2017
Celebrity chef Alvin Leung is quite the character. A judge on MasterChef Canada, he counts three Michelin stars under his name (for Hong Kong restaurant Bo Innovation) and is easily recognised by his shock of coloured hair and tinted glasses. So imaging our excitement when we learned that he was opening a new restaurant in Singapore, Forbidden Duck. And just six months after its sister outlet opened in Hong Kong, too.
A media tasting was held just days into Forbidden Duck’s opening in May 2018. The 98-seater restaurant is located at Marina Bay Financial Centre (MBFC)’s Ground Plaza, where the former Crystal Jade Prestige once stood. Two private rooms seat 12 pax each, and are available for bookings with a minimum spend of $800.
Leung joined our merry band of journalists for the tasting, in between entertaining clients. The London-born, Toronto-raised chef explained that the restaurant’s concept is based on his childhood memories, as well as his love of Peking Duck.
In the 1970s and 1980s, he described, there were few, if any, restaurants serving Northern Chinese cuisine in the West. Chinese immigrants to the West tended to be of Southern, mostly Cantonese origin. This meant that Cantonese restaurants were in plentiful supply. One of Leung’s favourite was the now-defunct China House in midtown Toronto, which served – surprise, surprise – Peking Duck.
Forbidden Duck’s menu is therefore a not-entirely-strange melange of Peking Duck and Cantonese classics, such as dim sum. These are given Leung’s signature contemporary twist. To pay homage to Singapore, Leung also incorporated some local influences for good measure. Think calamansi zest, laksa leaf and pepper crab.
Sampling the dishes, Audemars Piguet’s slogan: “To break the rules, you must first master them" sprang to mind.
If the inventiveness of the dim sum was any indication, then Leung’s mastery of the classics was indisputable. I especially relished the Pesto Duck Spring Roll, which released a lovely basil perfume the moment I bit into it. The freshness was atypical, and lent the roll so much flavour that no further dipping sauce was needed.
The Duck in Two Ways – Laksa Style was equal parts amusing and satisfying. Amusing, because of the local sensibility, and satisfying because of how Leung balanced the flavours and textures so well. The richness of the diced duck and bamboo shoots. The gratifying crunch of the tau pok (fried beancurd) strips. The liveliness of the shredded laksa leaf and calamansi garnish.
There were other twists, too, like the use of duck tongue, in place of prawn, for texture, in the Steamed Black Truffle and Duck Tongue Dumpling. Or in the Iberico Pork Char Siu, where, in an attempt to present a healthier alternative, Leung uses a leaner cut with an ever-so-slight char.
The piece de resistance had to be the Signature Slow Roasted Duck, of course.
Here Leung treads a path well-trodden. The duck is slow-cooked, without marination, in an oven for three hours before being roasted at higher temperatures during the last 30 minutes. This process yields the perfect combination of tender, juicy flesh and crispy skin, and showcases the natural flavours of the bird.
The roasted duck is allowed to rest before being sliced. Departing from tradition, Leung uses butterfly-shaped steamed buns flavoured with calamansi to encase the meat, instead of the usual chun bing (spring pancakes). This is accompanied by condiments such as hoi sin sauce with calamansi; sesame oil; garlic; sugar; and smoked sea salt.
While I enjoyed the delicate flavour of the duck, I found the combination of thick-cut meat and voluptuous buns a tad too unrefined, too antithetical to the original spirit of Peking Duck with its wafer-thin slices of duck and papery chun bing.
Leung’s efforts at reinventing this dish must be lauded, though I cannot help but feel that some things are better left untouched.
8A Marina Boulevard
#02-02 Marina Bay Link Mall