Saturday, 30 July 2011

Restaurant Review: Grape Garden Peking, Willoughby

After the roaring success of my visit to Lao Zhao back in January, I hit up my colleague up for another Chinese restaurant recommendation and he came back with the Grape Garden Peking in Willoughby.

Where Lao Zhao was a cultural experience, Grape Garden was more eccentric. The very friendly chef / owner / waiter runs the show single handedly. You don't really need to look at the menu as he's more than happy to guide you through what to eat. Making suggestions of what would go well together. His friendly and outgoing nature was definitely one of the things that made the evening. He was very happy to talk about the recipes, dishes and different ingredients. Us foodies were lapping it up. The chef was even kind enough to give us a jar of the sugar / molasses that is used to caramelise the skin of the duck after John suggested a recipe for roasting pork with it. (I'm waiting for the dinner invite!)

There were several times when we got told off for talking too much and taking photos, letting the food go cold. In the picture above he got so frustrated with us that he started to roll our duck pancakes!

The main event was our whole roasted duck. It was served in traditional style. A large plate of duck skin (not too much meat) was served with a basket of homemade pancakes, hoisin sauce and shredded spring onions and cucumber. The duck skin could have been crispier, but otherwise it was delicious. The sweet and sticky hoisin sauce got all over my fingers and I couldn't help but lick them clean!

The decor is very stark and the restaurant was worryingly empty on a Friday night, but don't let that put you off. It's a fun experience, the food is good and you'll leave with a new friend in the chef. I liked it.

To start we had a cabbage salad, with tofu and peanuts as an appetiser. The cabbage and tofu had a nice crunch and refreshing quality. The roasted peanuts added a depth to the flavour that was enhanced by sprinkling over some of the smokey chilli dipping sauce.

It was recommended that we ate the steamed fish dumplings naturally without any of the sauces. The fish with garlic chives had a nice subtle flavour.

Next up was a plate of mixed pork and beef fried dumplings. We were instructed that these dumplings should be eaten with the aforementioned chilli sauce and a bowl of vinegar that we were also given.

Our second duck course was handmade noodles with duck bones. I loved the bite in the handmade noodles. I was expecting a bit more duck meat, but it was literally the bones. However, it was fun to suck the meat off the bones and be left with a satisfying small pile of clean bones at the end.

Ordered by Simon purely for the English translation on the menu ants climbing trees, was a plate of vermicelli noodles with minced pork. I was expecting the noodles to be bland, but there was a nice sauce coating them.

I was trying to order a lamb neck dish my colleague had told me about, but we accidently ended up with fried lamb shanks with cumin. What fortuitous mistake! The lamb turned out to be one of the dishes of the night. Two large lamb shanks had been slow cooked before being fried to give them a crispy exterior. The shanks were liberally covered in a cumin and chilli spice mix. Tender meat with spices and fresh coriander. Heaven.

We decided to finish our savoury dishes with spicy eggplant. Not too spicy the peeled eggplant was served with mushrooms.

For dessert we have a sweet sesame pancake. A nice flakey exterior hid a soft, sweet and nutty sesame paste in the middle. A nice sugary hit to finish the meal with, without being too heavy.

This place is a great little secret where you are guaranteed to get a table. Shhh, don't tell anyone.

52 Penshurst Street,

Grape Garden Peking on Urbanspoon


  1. I know the main reason for us going there was the duck but that beautiful lamb stood out foremost. Loved it!

  2. great recap of the night. i'm a sucker for dishes that have funny names :-)

  3. I love this place and the chef is super nice! I tried to go back but no-one ever seems to pick up the phone!

  4. Gosh, those dumplings look particularly amazing!