I could probably eat a whole Cantonese roast duck by myself as my final meal, I’d slip away happy and content. It’s not an extravagance, all you’d have to do for me is go to any Chinatown and pick one up from a roast meat shop. But imagine if you went to the wrong shop, I’d curse you with my last breath. Real soul food is comfort food unique to oneself, only you know what makes that dish just right and satisfies your soul. So in as much as it’s in my own interests that you buy me the best roast duck you can possibly find on my last day (hopefully not soon) here’s an updated Birmingham Chinatown Roast Meat Battle. You might also find it useful when deciding where to eat the best dish Birmingham has to offer, triple roast rice 三燒飯, which includes crispy belly pork 火腩, char siu pork 叉燒 as well as roast duck 燒鴨.
The original BCRMB can be found on smokeandumami. Two years ago we found New Sum Ye to be the best of the bunch and following on from it the inimitable Jay Rayner reviewed and found it most enjoyable too! So let’s see if they can hold on to their crown. To be completely fair, I ate all of these at lunch where they should be at the freshest. I order a triple roast with a duck leg and a cup of tea.
New Sum Ye 新意美食
B105 The Arcadian, Hurst Street, Birmingham B5 4TD
Tel:0121 622 1525
Yet another renovation at this popular cafe sees a rejig of the kitchen, the roast meats are no longer on display to the street but are now hanging in an internal window. A downgrade in my opinion and an impediment, I like to see the quality of the roasts before entering these places. Never mind, based on previous performances it’s sure to be decent. First up, the plate looks a mess, if the fierce little boss lady isn’t doing the chopping then there’s a slackness to the presentation. In particular the belly pork is scrappy with the skin detached from the meat, but oh my it’s tasty. Char siu is overly sweet, wooly texture with no char flavour. Duck leg generous, nicely roasted, flavourful but a touch of dryness. The rice is excellent, fluffy with separate grains and the baby pak choy is refreshing. Chilli oil is delicious, not too hot with deep soy bean flavour. Freshly made silken tofu in a light syrup 豆腐花 is provided free, cleanses the palate and aids digestion. It helps to ease the pain of paying more than a tenner for the meal.
Duck 3.5 (out of 5) Pork 4 Char siu 3 Other 4.5
Total 15 (out of 20)
£10.20 (£8.20, £1 duck leg supplement, £1 tea) ouch!
China Town Noodle Bar 中華美食
2 Bath Passage, Birmingham B5 4SZ
Tel: 0121 622 4746
They really need to fix the door to this place. It blows open so on the coldest and windiest of days, the alleyway where the China Town Noodle Bar lives channels the British winter straight into your face. Not really an authentic Cantonese dining experience. The plate arrives here looking like it’s been chopped by your little sister. Which is fine if your sis is the boss lady at New Sum Ye but not here. Only a duck drumstick provided, a little bland and under roasted but juicy. Char siu is thin with a winey flavour. Crispy pork belly is not crispy and tired. Rice is claggy and Chinese leaf soggy. Chilli oil is bland too, providing minimal oomph.
Duck 3 Pork 2 Char siu 3 Other 2
£9 (£7.50, 50p dls, £1 tea)
Ken Ho 双喜
41-43 Hurst Street, Birmingham B5 4BJ
Tel: 0121 622 1323
A proper Cantonese restaurant rather than a cafe or specialist roast meat joint. My favourite place to yum cha at the moment, where I couldn’t help noticing that the roast meat here looks exemplary. A generous portion chopped with care and skill, each meaty element in proportion to each other. Duck leg (no extra charge) roasted so that the skin is thin and appears fatless. Though that fat has actually rendered into the meat so it slips off the bone in juicy morsels. Char siu, cut thickly so that you can appreciate the sweet tenderness, could do with more char flavour but is a fine specimen. Crispy belly pork is almost perfect, the meat and fat is so tender that it’s almost fluffy. The crackling thick yet impossibly light. I’m only deducting half a mark because it’s slightly uneven and dark. Rice is standard with token Chinese leaf hiding under the mound of meat. The chilli oil is nice and fiery. You are paying restaurant prices here, though as part of a lunch with dim sum it’s one of the best meals you can eat in Birmingham.
Duck 4.5 Pork 4.5 Char siu 4 Other 3.5
£10.30 (£9.50, 80p tea)
Peach Garden 桃園
34 Ladywell Walk, Birmingham B5 4RX
Tel: 0121 666 7502
The old stalwart has gone through a major facelift. What was the whole of old place is now wholly kitchen, the new dining area doubles the footprint of the cafe. Cafe is a loose term, there is table service but no table cloths, ok it’s a cafe. The roast meats here are proudly exhibited in the window to lure roast connoisseurs in with a display of glistening bronzed flesh and dripping juices. I’m charmed in like a cartoon hound. The expansion has paid off in spades, all the roast meats here are fresh and have had the right amount of resting time. The duck leg has good flavour and is roasted well so that the fat is rendered but is slightly less juicy than the Ken Ho example. The skin of pork belly is light and crisp, the meat well flavoured with a touch of pink to the flesh, a sign that nitrite is used in the spice mix. The meat is a little dry. The real revelation is the char siu, usually the runt of any triple roast, this was the star. Cooked to perfect doneness, initial chew giving way to juicy savouriness. A touch of sweet and a little char. I saved a piece as the final bite it was so good. A generous portion of each meat on the plate, chopped neatly on top a good amount of fluffy rice and Chinese leaf. The chilli oil is full of solid bits and is the perfect fiery foil to the meat and rice. Tea is free.
Duck 4 Pork 4 Char siu 4.5 Other 4
£8.10 (£7.20, 90p dls)
Malaysian Delight 馬來風味
8 Ladywell Walk, Birmingham, West Midlands B5 4ST
Tel: 0121 622 3909
The name of the restaurant might lead you to think it’s not a Cantonese roast meat place at all. But with Chinese chefs this cafe has always served up some decent roasts alongside Malaysian classics like Assam laksa and nasi lemak. If further proof is required then the hanging roast meat display is the most prominent in the whole of Chinatown, facing the main road for all to see. Not usually as much meat on display as Peach Garden or New Sum Ye so you need to get there early for the best cuts. The plate I had was fine indeed. The roast duck is flavourful and juicy with the meat slipping off the bone easily. I’d have liked more as only a drumstick was presented. The roast belly pork was a little tough and the crackling although thin could have been crispier, good flavour meat and well seasoned. Char siu was a great cut of meat, a good ratio of collar collagen for a nice bouncy texture. The flavour was a little sweet for my liking but there was a good char flavour too. Rice was slightly too cold and firm served with a measly amount of pak choi. Typically for a Malaysian cafe the chilli oil had plenty of shrimp flavour and had good heat. Overall portion size was a little on the small side.
Duck 4.5 Pork 3.5 Char siu 4 Other 3
£9 (£7.50, £1 dls, 50p tea)
Joint winners! Peach Garden and Ken Ho have the best roast meats in Chinatown*. As a single plate of food Ken Ho probably edges it but pricewise Peach Garden is unbeatable. For £7.20 you have a triple roast and a cup of tea and know that you absolutely cannot eat a better meal for the money in Brum. I admit I’m a little biased but if you can convince me otherwise then I’m happy to hear you out. Just remember if I’m about to croak it then I’ll be even happier if you bring me some soul food first.
*This is not an exhaustive list, there are the other Chinese restaurants like Ken Ho that serve roast meat and places like Cafe Soya or Min Min but these do not have a reputation for good roasts so I’ve excluded them from this battle. Maybe in round III.