Via Panfilo Castaldi 21, the sign just affixed reads Wonton. A large glass door has two handles with an Asian motif. An extremely awaited restaurant, which has opened its doors on the sly and has not needed advertising to get noticed in Milan. This is the kingdom of Peking duck.
Wonton is the third opening by Agie. A Chinese prodigy boy by birth and Milanese by adoption, he does not need any great introduction: he is in fact the owner of the famous Ravioleria Sarpi and of Le nove scodelle in Viale Monza.
First of all, I must immediately underline the kindness and the preparation of the staff, Asian and Italian: despite the minimal style of the environment, the hall staff is perfectly able to put the customers at ease and to know how to advise them wisely on the choices based on to your taste. Agie himself, present at the restaurant, did not fail to introduce himself and exchange a few chats with us. A true gentleman, extremely professional, very attentive to customer opinion.
We are immediately brought the menu, a printed sheet that has all the appearance of being still in progress. It is a rather specific selection of dishes, the result of a long reflection and a wise choice. Each preparation is carefully treated and the flavors are extremely soft and delicate. A great surprise this, which distances itself enormously from the very hot Chinese culinary style very much in vogue in recent times. Four appetizers: massacred cucumbers (with spicy soy sauce and coriander), chicken in green sauce (ginger oil and spring onion, green Sichuan pepper), egg with tea (marinated in soy sauce and black tea leaves, accompanied by cream of cauliflower) and traditional spring roll — which the diner prepares by himself directly at the table, as in the past. As the restaurant’s name suggests, there is no lack of fresh pasta (handmade with organic flour): goutie (ravioli stuffed with pork, cabbage and ginger), vegetable dumplings (stuffed with fresh shiitake mushrooms, celery, carrots, soy noodles), shrimp dumplings (stuffed with prawns, eggs, garlic), vegetarian rice (sautéed with snow peas, fresh shiitake, pack choi, nuanced with peaty whiskey) and Beijing noodles (bacon ragout and fermented soy, seasonal vegetables à julienne). Finally we get to the main dishes: eggplant Hong Shao (cooked in the wok with peppers and spring onions), delight of Buddha (selection of seasonal first fruits from the garden and smoked tofu, cooked according to Buddhist tradition), cha shao (marinated pork belly Cantonese style with crispy honey and spice crust, served with steamed bun and sautéed seasonal vegetables), Cantonese style quail (cooked at low temperature, smoked with tea leaves, pepper and bay leaves), Gong Bao prawns (sautéed in wok with spicy sour sauce and toasted Alba hazelnuts). The desserts for now are only two: a pannacotta with citrusy tones and a ginger pudding. As for the beverage, there is a wine list (bottle and glass), possibility to order Chinese beer and black or red tea.
But the real reason of our “gastronomic mission” was not only to enjoy an excellent Chinese dinner, but to discover the protagonist of this restaurant: Peking duck. It is a very famous dish, symbol of a Nation, well present in the collective imagination and of enormous cultural value.
Agie, a well-known perfectionist, took advantage of two years before opening his new restaurant to study and understand the secrets of preparing this ancient dish. The lacquered duck was in fact the spearhead of court banquets, a delicious and refined food whose consummation was denied to the subjects. The recipe was handed down orally between generations of chefs, thus remaining secret. In 1864 the chef Yang Quaren opened the Quanjude restaurant in Beijing; it is an incredibly important event that has made history. Yang is in fact still recognized today as the first great master of the Peking lacquered duck in history, the one who first eliminated the cooking of the animal in the pan, introducing the cooking method with the hook in the throat suspended in an open oven.
And it is in Quanjunde that Youkang Zhou went to discover all the secrets of the preface, cooking and service of the duck. A complicated job, which lasted forty days, during which he established a great pact of understanding, diplomacy, friendship and trust with the chef in charge of the famous restaurant in Beijing. This is because even today the recipe is not written, but the result of a secret and handed down knowledge.
The preparation of Peking lacquered duck is long and complicated. This is because the chef must prepare it in time, so as to maintain the crunchiness of the skin and the softness of the meat. From Wanton it is possible to eat it only if ordered with notice and for a minimum of two people. The chef, Alberto De Marchi, does not fail to make sure that his preparations are to the liking. Of Piedmontese origin, he was able to put his taste in serving Chinese cuisine and the result is something very intriguing and delicate. Contrary to the cheap choice that many restaurateurs make, that is to buy frozen ducks directly imported from China, at Wonton the duck is local: the preference falls in fact on the Piedmontese ducks or the French canettes de barberie (totally vegetable-fed) . The chosen ducks must have between seventy and ninety days and weigh about 2 kg. The preparation starts from the hand cleaning of the skin, which is then scalded: the duck is immersed in boiling water and then inflated for air under the skin. It is then dried in refrigerated cells. This process lasts a good forty-eight hours and only then is it possible to start cooking. The lacquering that follows the initial boiling is of fundamental importance and the syrup is the true great secret of the chef, a sort of magic potion whose composition cannot be revealed. We only know from Wonton that it is made with water and chestnut honey. The duck is then hooked to the neck in suspension and baked in the oven for fifty minutes. The result is truly stunning. A full and delicate taste, achieved without even the addition of salt. The duck is brought to the entire table and distributed at the time. It is accompanied with very subtle handcrafted crepes, which must be kept on the palm of the hand and seasoned, in addition to the meat, with very thin cut onion, cucumber julienne and the homemade tianmianjiang sauce, made from fermented soy bean paste and sesame oil. And when you think you have finished such a delicious dish, there is a very pleasant grand finale: the advanced carcass and brought back into the kitchen is cut so as to keep the pieces of meat softer and juicy remaining attached to the bones. These pieces are then sautéed with Sichuan salt and pepper and then returned to the table. A courageous and authentic choice, because you have to eat directly with your hands. There is a burning and dirty though, what to say, probably this is the best part of all. Certainly a delicious experience to do and which I think will certainly not disappoint.
📍 Via Panfilo Castaldi 21, Milan 📞 +39 02 3657 4037 💰 $$$