Quick, what is your favorite food? Can you think of an answer right away? As adults we rarely have to state our preference, but as children it was a regular conversation starter, and even caused some fights — were you Team Pizza or Team Hotdog? I was always Team Chicken Fingers, while my little brother was Team Grilled Cheese, even at McDonald’s. (“One cheeseburger without the burger and toppings, please.”) I still remember in elementary school they would allow us to vote on what we wanted for lunch for one day of the year. I always voted for chicken patty, but every year pizza won — school pizza. School pizza ranks one rung below frozen pizza. Those rectangular bricks always seemed to be burnt or undercooked. What were my schoolmates thinking?!
But I digress. The reason I bring this up is because I think I have a new favorite food: roast duck. And not just any roast duck, the best roast duck in the world.
A few weeks ago we went to Chinatown to buy some groceries and decided to have lunch there. Beforehand I looked on Yelp for a place with good roast duck and we ended up at Four Seasons (a deceiving name, it has nothing to do with the luxury hotel chain). I am not exaggerating when I say their roast duck is life-changing. I have had roast duck all over China, including several times in Beijing where it’s most famous, and nothing compares to the roast duck in this borderline dive joint in London’s Chinatown. The special sauce, the exceptionally moist meat — once we tasted this duck we had “the crave.” Nothing tasted good anymore. All we could think about was this duck. So the next weekend we went to a different, fancier Chinese restaurant in Mayfair. It was good, but we kept thinking about the duck. So afterwards we called Four Seasons and ordered a duck for takeaway to eat for dinner. We drove to Chinatown, I jumped out to pick up the duck, while Stephen drove off to find a place to wait. He ended up getting a ticket in the mail for waiting on double yellow lines, even though he was still in the car. The things we do for this duck…
This past Sunday was Chinese New Year, which seemed like the perfect occasion to eat more duck. On Saturday night we were ready to go pick some up when I decided to call first. “Roast duck?” the guy on the phone said. “Sold out. Sorry.” It was the saddest quasi-sentence ever spoken. But there was no denying the crave. Sunday was the big Chinese New Year celebration in Chinatown. Last year we went for the parade and festivities. This year we went for duck. The guy on the phone assured me they had duck for takeaway, but they weren’t taking phone orders. So we drove down to Chinatown, forgetting one thing — the parade. All the roads leading into Chinatown were closed. There was no way to get to the duck. I remembered that Four Seasons had another location in Bayswater, so we pulled over (hopefully not on double yellow lines) and called them. One whole roast duck was waiting for us in Bayswater — we just had to get there. Which when driving in central London, is easier said than done. We plugged the GPS in and set off. It said we would be there in seven minutes. It took over an hour. Because once you miss a turn in London, it’s over. There’s no going around the block. We ended up on a motorway overpass with no ability to turn around. After driving for 10 minutes there was a roundabout, and then we promptly missed the exit a second time. The GPS kept rerouting as we kept getting more frustrated, all the while our poor duck sat in its takeaway bag, wallowing in its own juices and special sauce. Eventually we were almost back to the flat, nowhere near Bayswater, so we decided to go up, take a bathroom break, and look up proper directions online. We finally made it to the restaurant an hour and a half after they said the duck would be ready. I was worried they would cancel my order, but it was there. We were planning to reheat it at home anyway. So at 3 p.m. (after first leaving the flat at 12:30pm) we finally were able to sit down to our proper Chinese New Year roast duck lunch.