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Duck into this spread
Royal London Duck
#04-21/22/23 Mandarin Gallery
Open daily from 11am to 10pm
YOU are by now familiar with Brexit. Here's an introduction to Quack-xit - which is what happens when all the ducks in the UK vote to "Remain", lose the referendum and find themselves shipped over to Singapore where they appear on the menus of restaurants with the words "London Duck" in their names.
Whether they're from Ireland or plucked from the waters of the River Thames, British ducks are the mark of quality for local diners enamoured with the plump and juicy roast meat hanging in London's Chinatown eateries. Four Seasons of Bayswater started the ball rolling when it opened in Capitol Piazza, only to be quickly followed by London Fat Duck in Scotts Square. Now, the original partners of London Fat Duck - Fei Siong and Akashi - have split up and the former has set up shop in Mandarin Gallery with a scaled-down menu.
Royal London Duck has the requisite fluorescent brightness, PVC upholstered seats and plasticky laminate table tops that are in accordance with the London Roast Duck Restaurant Design regulations. In other words, this is what a London Chinatown restaurant owner would do if he were forced to go upmarket.
Here, it sticks out like a very bright thumb among its more muted, casually chic neighbours on the fourth floor of Mandarin Gallery. Kind of like the bright-eyed new kid in school who wants very much to make friends, the staff are enthusiastic and welcoming, so you don't feel the slightest bit out of place in the rather empty dining room. It's still so new that you can barely find the entrance for all the congratulatory flower stands that surround the restaurant like a flowery fortress.
Expect nothing less than a functional, quick-service meal with roast duck as the main event, along with the usual Cantonese restaurant classics such as a small dim sum selection, char siew, congee and noodles. It's not a big menu so selection is quick and easy.
We've learned from previous experience never to order roast meats in a combination platter because you invariably get the less choice bits. So we get half of a Royal London Duck at a decently priced S$25 (S$48 for the whole bird). The skin comes in a dark golden sheen - it's not at all crisp so you don't have to feel too guilty about wasting the best part if you're the health-conscious sort. There's a lot of meat on the bone, which means that the air-conditioning does not dry it out. Even when you bring home the leftovers, it's still good to eat. It's not something to rave about, but it does its job, and is definitely a better bird than its Malaysian counterpart.
While we generally like sticky, caramelly char siew (S$16.80), this version is royally sweet and cloying, which somehow accentuates the dryness of the meat. A much better bet is the crispy pork noodles (S$8.80) which our server suggests instead of a whole plate. Here you get decent al dente thin noodles tossed in simple sesame oil and oyster sauce, topped with cubes of juicy fatty pork with a decent layer of crackling skin.
Give the congee a miss - this sticky, tasteless gruel is made worse by rubbery scallops, wafer thin slices of sea cucumber and hard bits of yu tiao. What a waste of S$9.80. You get more joy with a cheaper and satisfying bowl of prawn wonton soup (S$7.80) - bouncy parcels stuffed generously with shrimp.
The buns that made the original London Fat Duck famous are also available here as Royal London Duck Black Pepper Sauce Buns (S$5.80). We'll never understand the appeal of charcoal grey buns, but if you overlook that you'll be rewarded with a buttery, crumbly topped bo lo bun stuffed with diced duck sauteed in a piquant black pepper sauce that stops just short of overpowering the meat. It's a lovely balanced mixture of savoury meat and bun that's a good change from conventional char siew.
And also not to be missed are the charcoal lava buns (S$5.20 for three) which are dead ugly black steamed sponge balls but oh-so-fluffy textured and filled with volcanic hot spurts of salted egg yolk cream.
For a no-frills space, we're impressed with the attentive service and constant offers to change your plates. Food-wise, this is functional, no-brainer food - the kind that you can enjoy as a quick meal when you have no desire to make decisions, and it makes great take-away too. And just like the British pound, what's bad for the ducks is well, good for us.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: BT pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.