It’s hard not to see the changing landscape of Sydney. My office is down near World Square and on one side there’s the edge of the old monorail hanging suspended off the edge of the building, the station an old relic as construction hammers out on the road below for the CBD light rail. Small townhouses and residences in the suburbs are bought out and torn down to make way for motorways said to enhance the morning commute experience, or for ten, fifteen, twenty stories high of apartments and units built in such a rush that often doors don’t even fit within their designated frames. Believe me – as a property lawyer, I’ve seen the headache that off-the-plan apartments can be. As Sydney changes, it’s sometimes hard to see the vision that these creators have in mind.
It’s not always a turn for the worse, however. The Old Claire Hotel opposite the UTS building near Central has had a face lift in the last couple of years, not to mention their rooftop pool was the buzz of the summer social scene late last year. The street beside it is a similar story – transforming from a dark lane that one would not feel comfortable venturing through in the evenings to a new dining destination. Off Broadway, Kensington Street now houses those popular restaurants of Kensington Street Social, Automata, Spice Alley, and of course – our destination for the evening – Holy Duck!
Coming from the guys behind Chef’s Gallery, Holy Duck! is their take on a relaxed Hong Kong-style BBQ meat eatery – with the usual Cantonese BBQ suspects of roast pork and duck, but served not only as they are with rice and/or pancakes, but also in the form of baos and burgers. Ordering is done up at the counter, where you pay for your food and collect a table number before seating yourself. There’s a long communal dining table down the centre of the restaurant, and smaller tables along the walls. Night Owl is dining with me for the evening, and we spread out over a generous table for four, and I’m immediately entertained by the battery-run, bobbing “candle”.
It’s a little bit of a shame that there is no BYO or drinks menu for the restaurant. Considering the proximity of the venue to the university, I can only imagine that this would be an amazing place for students to socialise over dinner and a drink. I know that some of the best nights I’ve spent in Hong Kong were with a big box of roast duck and a cold can of beer! We order a bit of everything from the menu to get a decent spread (and for the photos, of course).
First to arrive was the Roast Holy Duck! – Half from the Specialty Holy Duck! menu, served with signature duck sauce and pickled seasonal vegetables ($24). We also ordered some Mandarin pancakes to go with them. I was a bit confused about the Mandarin pancakes – did they mean Mandarin as in the culture or the fruit? Were they Mandarin-flavoured pancakes or a Mandarin-style of pancake? I was reassured that they were the traditional Peking pancakes.
The duck was aromatic and tender, although I noticed that it was slightly bonier and smaller than many of the roast ducks I’ve eaten from Chinese BBQ restaurants before in my life. I also was not so sure about the signature duck sauce, which resembled a boiled down, oily duck broth. The freshly pickled vegetables added a welcome crunch of acidity, but I do think that the dish could be benefited with a simple serving of plum or hoisin sauce instead.
Next came the Crispy Crackling Roast Pork Belly ($16), which we had with taro rice (+$2) and seasonal salad. The crackling on the pork belly was on point, shattering into delicious gelatinous goodness beneath. I was a bit confused with the elements on the plate, as once again what arrived with the dish was an oily broth sauce, and the seasonal salad was a few leaves of green lettuce. The Pommery Mustard Sauce to be served with the dish was squeezed over the lettuce in a thin squiggle. The Kewpie mayonnaise on the pork was delicious as Kewpie always is with anything, but seemed out of place as it’s a very Japanese ingredient and mayonnaise with the gelatinous meat made it an overly creamily-textured mouth-feel. I quite enjoyed the taro rice as it reminded me of clay-pot rice, but the taro chunks were too small and fine in the rice to really add much flavour for me.
We also ordered sides of a small Lotus Root Chips with nori powder and served with Sriracha lemon Kewpie ($5), and a Shoestring Fries Small with Holy Duck! Salt ($4) which came with tomato sauce (or ketchup, to you Americans). Both were crisp, crunchy and moreish – you can’t go wrong with lotus root chips or fries!
At this point I realised that we should probably try one of their burger meals, and so I quickly chose the What the Duck! Burger ($16) with roast Holy Duck!, cucumber and spring onion, lettuce, and orange hoisin sauce. All burgers come with a side of chips and seasonal salad.
I do believe that the burgers were Holy Duck!’s redeeming feature. I was delighted to find the bun was a buttery brioche and generously toasted so that it was piping hot upon arrival. The roast duck was of course boneless and juicy, and had I been hungrier, I would have demolished the whole burger. I noted belatedly that they had even stamped their trademark haloed duck onto the top of the brioche bun, which was both clever and cute.
It’s a little hard to see what they are trying to accomplish with the menu here. The menu seems almost too varied and too simple; and the sauces require some finesse. Personally, I think the half duck/roast pork meals are best left to the shops in Chinatown, as being one of those who truly appreciate Cantonese barbecue meats I felt that it was a bit lacking. The buns and baos are Holy Duck!’s strongest point, and I believe that introducing a short drinks menu would work wonders for those keen on coming in for a burger with a difference paired with a choice beverage.
Old Rum Store, 10/2 Kensington Street,
Chippendale NSW 2008