We’re all getting out and about again – but things ain’t what they used to be. Right now, crowds and confusion dominate the first three days of the week, but venture out Thursday-Sunday and every day, in most restaurants, is like – well, Sunday. At many restaurant tables, hand sanitiser sits were the cruet once belonged. Impromptu walk-in experiences are almost a thing of the past; as for parties, big groups and celebratory gatherings… forget it, for the foreseeable future at least. But hey, talking of at least: at least we’re working out how to be ‘out there’ again… and many of Bath’s best-loved independent restaurants are fighting the good fight to make the ‘new normal’ – well, normal.
The Peking Restaurant has kept the familiarity flag flying in Bath for over three decades, making it not only the city’s longest-established Chinese restaurant but one of Bath’s longest-established restaurants, period. It’s one of my go-to hotspots when I know what I want, and I know what I want will be very, very good here: aromatic lamb with pancakes, lemon chicken, Kung Po king prawns, crispy beef, monkfish with ginger and spring onions – I don’t really even have to read the menu anymore, but I read it just because I love it, and then I order what I love.
But hey, hang on! A Tasting Menu… at The Peking? A different chef… at The Peking? Only 10 diners… at The Peking? Yes. Because for one night (not quite*) only, Peking proprietor Jun hosted a pop-up hosted putting chef Jacky Chan – a fascinating guy with an illustrious CV (read all about him in our original news story about this event here) – centre stage for the Stage.Jacky event.
It feels a little odd to be in The Peking without the bustle and buzz of the usual peak time vibe around us. But odd, these days, is commonplace, and the restaurant’s fuss-free space lends itself well to both this and every ‘new normal’ occasion. The overall modus operandi, however, is very much business as usual: the staff are always, always lovely here, and Jun mixes and mingles with his customers like the old friend that he’s become to his Peking stalwarts. But tonight, there’s a sense of anticipation in the air that has nothing at all to do with the imminent arrival of prawn crackers with our beer and everything to do with that feeling you get only when you know you’re about to experience something very, very special.
Chef Jacky is softly-spoken man who delivers his plates to our tables with a refreshing minimum of pomp or ceremony, leaving his food to speak volumes for him… and from the very first glance Jacky’s food not only talks, but deserves to be talked about.
An amuse bouche involving roast cherry tomatoes that look like roast cherry tomatoes but reveal themselves, once in the amused bouche itself, to be something very savoury, and very beautiful. Another bite of subtly complex Asian-infused deliciousness on a crispy seaweed nest. Are these precursors a taste of things to come? Oh very much yes… and then some.
Silky, opalescent sous vide scallops served with plums in wine, sauce and fresh sliver form on a bed of slippery potato glass noodles. A plump, sturdy little slipper of very fresh red mullet proving its worth as the ideal partner for a well-balanced smattering of umami delivered by depth-charge dashi and an equally intense fish foam, with spring onion oil sharpening and uplifting proceedings (see pic.) A fat, pink langoustine almost adjacent to a prawn ‘sausage’, intense salted duck egg turning the flavour volume up to 11 while mustard foam, langoustine mayo and cauliflower rice add further interest, complexity and texture at every turn. Two neat, soft slabs of duck breast with a rich, indulgent ingot of duck liver pate, zhenjiang vinegar roasted shallots cutting boldly through the intrinsically gamey flavours and Chinese roast duck sauce bringing an almost-but-not-quite sense of familiarity to what is, ostensibly, a sharply astute makeover of an erstwhile classic combination. And the show isn’t over yet…
There’s a pre-dessert before the dessert ‘proper’: a jelly involving essence of tomato and honey topped with basil cream (forgive me, Chef Jacky, if I’ve got the combination description wrong here, but boy oh boy, this little taster was so right, for me) and deep fried milk – yes, deep fried milk! – with yogurt gelato, beetroot and Japanese pickled ginger. I wouldn’t have ordered either dessert, but now they’re both all I want to eat after a meal, ever.
Presentation throughout is impeccably elegant: colours, shadow, space and the crockery itself are all given due consideration but with scene setting, not scene stealing, at the epicentre of the design. Not a single element on any plate doesn’t deserve centre stage; every dish is fabulous but not flashy, fascinating but not faddy. Yes, there’s an indisputable Asian theme running throughout the menu, but homage is paid equally to both classic and modern French sensibilities too; like, wow. Real, proper wow.
Old meets new, nostalgia meets reinvention, and life goes on. Next week I’ll be back in The Peking, raving about my old faves. At the end of September (date tbc*, but I’ll be very quick off the mark in giving you plenty of notice), I’ll be back in the audience when Stage.Jacky returns to the restaurant for an encore. And right now – for what feels like the first time in a very long time – the future looks bright.