Back in the day when planes were in the air and international travel was possible, we had the most amazing duck tasting menu in Yilan, Taiwan. It’s been four years since then, but we still can’t forget the best duck soup we’ve ever had in our lives.
It was May 2016, and the first time we visited the east coast of Taiwan. The plan was to stay in a couple of hot spring hotels in Jiaoxi and train down to nearby Yilan for their well-known cuisine.
One famous restaurant that we had to try was Red Lantern (红楼) located in the Silks Place Yilan hotel. More specifically, we had to have their 樱桃霸王鸭五吃 tasting menu, which uses one whole Cherry Valley duck. Advance reservations were made, and we arrived at the Yilan train station on a warm Tuesday afternoon.
Yes, that’s a giraffe sticking out of the station roof. Bonus points if you also realised that it was in the style of 几米, the Taiwanese illustrator also known as Jimmy.
The Wife is obsessed with 几米 and I used to lug his latest books back from Taipei when I was shuttling up-and-down for work. I think we must have more than 20 of them at home now.
So, it was a pleasant surprise to see many of his art installations scattered throughout Yilan, which made the 10-minute walk to the restaurant very enjoyable. Turns out he was born in Yilan, which explains the train station giraffe.
The 10-minute walk turned out to be much longer given the many distractions along the way. We eventually reached the hotel and wandered over to the restaurant, which had bright bold colours and decor which kept true to its name.
The restaurant was full but we were promptly seated. Another reminder to always make advance reservations if you don’t want to be turned away and leave disappointed.
On the table was a stand with the backstory of the Cherry Valley duck. tl;dr our duck is fantastic!
In addition to making seat reservations, we also had to make a specific reservation for the tasting menu so that they would set aside one duck used for the entire menu. There were five courses, with each one featuring different parts of the duck.
The first course was an appetiser plate featuring a combination of braised tongue, wings and web, served with a side of pickled cabbage. Now, I’m a huge duck fan and I’ve had liver, gizzard and even intestines, but it was my first time trying duck tongue and web.
I took tentative first bites and found that the textures were not as strange as I’d feared and ended up quite enjoying them. The braising liquid was very flavourful, and the strong taste was balanced by the sharp pickled cabbage.
The chef then came out to present the roasted whole duck. Just look at how pretty it is.
He then proceeded to slice off the skin, carve out the meat and hand them over to his assistant to prepare the next two dishes.
The duck nigiri made with the crispy skin was assembled on individual spoons and fanned out on the serving plate. In between the skin and rice was a creamy cheese sauce which helped bind the two, and provided a rich foundation to the dish.
The duck crepes were made using the previously carved meat, topped with Yilan 三星葱 (green scallion) and wrapped in crepes made with the same scallion. The sauce used this time was the more traditional hoisin sauce, making it closer in taste to traditional Peking Duck crepes.
Some of the leftover meat was plated and left on the table to be enjoyed as-is, with the remainder stir-fried and served with lettuce leaves to make wraps. A jug of cold green tea was also served to help cut through the greasiness.
The star of the show was definitely the final dish — double-boiled bone soup with Chinese cabbage. Made with the remaining duck carcass and enriched with broccoli and sweet Chinese cabbage, the soup was the most amazing dish of the day.
Simple and hearty but with so so many layers to its flavour. We’ve had many different types of duck soup, but nothing comes close to the one we had at Red Lantern that day. I would even say that no other soup, of any type, can compare. It was that good.
It probably goes without saying that the two of us didn’t manage to finish everything on the table, despite our utmost efforts. We did try asking beforehand if we could order half-a-duck, but the minimum order was one, so we did as much damage as we humanly could.
There was a comfortable couch outside the restaurant, and I proceeded to take a nap to digest all the food. The nap lasted more than an hour, so it was good The Wife had Candy Crush to keep her entertained.
We took a long and leisurely stroll back to the train station and caught the local service back to our hotel to soak in our in-room hot spring. Our dinner that night was the memory of a nameless duck that gave its life for one of the best meals that we’ve ever had the privilege to enjoy.