Oh, dear, I keep forgetting to write this review. Not, I hasten to add, because it was a bad experience, but because I’m busy and disorganised, and possibly because a surfeit of duck is detrimental to the will. My choice was Mr. Chan in Sea Point, which was recommended to us by friends, who also waved under my nose the seductive possibility of crispy duck with pancakes, one of my favourite things in the multiverse. It would, I thought, also be an interesting comparison to Jewel Tavern, which is our favourite Chinese hang-out. In the event, Jewel Tavern still has it in the “favourite Chinese food” stakes, but I also don’t think it was an entirely fair comparison.
Mr. Chan has an air and ambience that just nicely balances on the edge of clean/plastic/cheery and warm/idiosyncratic/comfortable. It’s open and light, and some of the notes in the decor – the glittery Eastern-style cherubs on the walls, for example – are amusing. It’s also clearly more successful than Jewel Tavern simply in terms of number of tables filled – not all by a long chalk, it’s a big restaurant, but enough to be reassuring. As we arrived a giant drove of Chinese people were leaving, which suggests that it also passes the test of good ethnic cuisine, i.e. actual people of that culture eat there.
We did the usual thing with starters, which is for everyone to order one which we subsequently share, necessitating a certain amount of bargain and negotiation. Lots of crispy and seafood-flavoured things on the menu; the spring rolls were good, not exceptional – a bit pedestrian, perhaps; the prawn rolls were excellent, the chilli squid and crispy ribs were likewise delectable. A good batch of starters, all in all. But no dim sum buns or dumplings on the menu. Woe. I am fast developing an inelegant fondness for same.
The reason I don’t think we enabled a fair comparison with Jewel Tavern is because I’d pre-ordered the whole crispy duck with pancakes, which is in itself a giant meal and which precluded us trying a wider range of dishes. The duck was wonderful; they bring the whole thing out and dismember it for you, and in a most civilised fashion give you a plate of shredded meat and another plate of bones and bits that Jo and Eckie and I waded into while Stv, who doesn’t like to get his fingers greasy, laughed at us. It was rich and tasty and the skin was properly crispy; they’re very generous with their giant piles of pancakes, and the usual trimmings (spring onion and cucumber shreds, plum sauce) were plentiful and good. We ended up extremely full.
It was a good meal; it wasn’t, though, to my mind an exceptional meal. My overall feeling was that Jewel Tavern’s flavours were more interesting, although, as I say, we didn’t have a chance to compare main courses outside the duck experience. I am also now able to say with authority that I prefer Jewel Tavern’s szechuan crispy duck, which has the breading on the outside, to the non-breaded version. It was, however, a good meal and a pleasant evening, and I would not be at all averse to returning for a non-duck run at their main courses.
On the Jo scale: