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Beggar’s Chicken at David’s

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To celebrate the beginning of winter,  Melbourne Food and Wine invited restaurants throughout Melbourne and Victoria to participate by throwing a roast dinner for the month of June.

What a brilliant idea.

I eagerly pored over the 20 page list of events. The one that really stood out to me, was the Clay Roasted Chicken Feast at David’s Prahran to be held on June 24.

‘Roasts’ are traditionally a western dish, I loved David’s Chinese spin on this ‘Roast Collection.’

Beggar’s Chicken is one of the greatest culinary traditions of China, originating from a romantic legend from the Qing dynasty in the Hangzhou region.

Legend has it that a starving beggar stole a chicken, wrapped it in leaves and mud. He was pursued by the officials, so he threw it into a hole. He had no utensils to cook the chicken with, and also could not risk being caught, so he built a fire in this hole and created an underground oven. Whilst cooking the chicken on the fire, the mud formed a tight clay crust around the chicken. The chicken’s clay crust was cracked open, revealing a tender aromatic bird. He realised he was onto something, so he began to sell this to villagers. Impressed by the flavours, the Emperor added Beggar’s Chicken to the list of dishes served at the Imperial court and it has been a traditional Chinese dish ever since.

I had had this dish once prior, and I have never seen this dish on a menu in Melbourne (though admittedly I haven’t looked). I jumped at the chance to have this, and quickly gathered together some of my good friends for the dish. The event was a one-night only event, and required pre-payment.

For $55, we had three courses, two glasses of wine and tea.

Entree: Mustard Cress Salad with finely chopped special Chinese vegetable & dry bean curd and Baby Bamboo in a sweet soy sauce
Glass of Sauvignon Blanc

Main Course: Beggars Chicken stuffed and marinated with shrimps, pork, shitake mushrooms, ham, spring onion and carrots, wrapped in lotus leaves and clay.
Glass of Pinot Noir

Dessert: Sweet “Ye Ba” with creamy custard encased in sticky rice and steamed in a banana leaf
Signature tea

We arrived at David’s, located in Cecil Place, just off Chapel street.

Once our party had arrived, we were promptly brought our entree

The mustard cress salad with dry bean curd was light and refreshing. The baby bamboos were delicious! Lightly pickled, sweet with a wonderfully crunchy texture. I couldn’t get enough of these. We had these with a tasty glass of Sauvignon Blanc – I didn’t catch what it was..

Then onto the main event; The chicken was brought to the table, and then we realised it was a chicken each. We hadn’t expected this, traditionally, we get one large bird to split between a few. Now I understood why full pre-payment was required.

The waiters brought each chicken in its clay encasing to our table, and offered to have us bash the chicken to break the clay casing. The clay broke into pieces, revealing our chickens, wrapped in lotus leaves.

The chicken was perfectly roasted, and was stuffed with sticky rice, shrimps, pork, lotus, shitake mushrooms, ham, spring onion and carrots.

The chicken was delicious, the skin tender and juicy and falling off the bones. The stuffing was a highlight – wonderfully flavoured sticky rice, which had collected the juices from the chicken.

The chicken came with a glass of Shiraz – unlike the Pinot it was supposed to come with. This was the only disappointment of the whole night – the Shiraz was slightly too heavy for the delicate chicken.

As if a chicken each wasn’t enough, we were also given a nice stirfry of vegies – including bok choy, broccoli, shiitake mushrooms and carrot.

To finish, we had a sweet ‘Ye Ba’  – whatever that means. Within the banana leaf, was glutinous rice mixed with a creamy custard. I didn’t love this dish but my dining partners loved it. It was accompanied with a sliver of coconut ice-cream. This was served with Chinese tea.

All in all, a delightful night. Wonderful food with great company in a beautiful restaurant. David’s has been award one Chef’s hat by The Age Good Food Guide for the past eight years, and has also been included in the list of the Top 50 Best Chinese Restaurants outside of China. The night overall was excellent value, with fantastic produce cooked perfectly. Can’t wait to return to try more of the menu.

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David’s

4 Cecil Place, Prahran

Tel: 03 9529 5199

Hours: Lunch: Mon-Fri noon-3pm; Sat-Sun 11.30am-3pm

Dinner: Sun-Thu 6-10.30pm; Fri 5-11.30pm; Sat 6-11.30pm;

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Written by glutamatejess

June 28, 2010 at 12:38 am