You should sample some real Hong Kong fare before Christmas.
Andy Woo bought Fortune Duck restaurant on Gouger Street in the middle of 2017 and shut the doors to the public while he set about transforming the 65 seat restaurant in one of the most iconic spots – opposite the entrance to the Adelaide Central Markets – in Chinatown.
CityMag had previously lamented the closure of Cork Wine Bar in a nearby spot, and assumed Fortune Duck had gone the same way, priced out of the rental market.
The opposite was true. Andy and his team of young Hong Kong expats were not closing down for good, but rather they had shuttered the existing restaurant to overhaul the tired, old institution.
“I was an original customer of Fortune Duck and regularly come in to have the duck,” says Andy, sitting in the middle of his recently rebuilt restaurant. It’s quiet without the clatter and natter of diners around us. It’s daytime and Andy’s restaurant is currently only open for dinner.
For two years Andy worked with Adelaide design firm Enoki to reimagine the quintessential Chinese restaurant in Adelaide. But not all the time went into design and build – Andy hit roadblocks with various contracts along the way that frustrated his progress.
Gone are the paper menus Blu Tacked to the walls, the cream tiles, the yellow chopsticks, paper serviettes and white China bowls. The fluorescent lights have been replaced by the warm glow of a large red neon on the back wall and elegant, angled-down lights now illuminate a large-scale mural by Adelaide artist Billie Justice Thomson.
The BBQ section is the only thing that remains in an otherwise completely new restaurant.
“Previously it was quite a traditional restaurant as Fortune Duck,” says Andy.
“I think their BBQ section is quite good, so when I took over I decided to keep the BBQ section, but I want to bring something more interesting to Adelaide that’s better representative of Hong Kong food.”
The revitalised restaurant has been renamed F. Duck. Andy hopes passers by might bring their own interpretation to his restaurant’s deliberately ambiguous name.
“I want to leave some more space for people to think about what ‘F’ means,” says Andy, with an ever-so-slightly-raised eyebrow. “Fortune or Fantastic or… another ‘F’ word – they can think about it,” he says with a chuckle.
But the food and service is really at the core of Andy’s provocation.
Chinatown in Adelaide is known for surprisingly good and fresh food for a modest price. It is known as a late-night dining destination with cheap corkage. Chinatown is also known for following a formula, where restaurants seemingly come in pairs, two doors down from each other (or across the road) and serving the exact same menu at slightly different price points.
Chinatown is not known for knives and forks and linen napkins, but plastic chop sticks and paper serviettes.
F. Duck flips the table over on this Chinatown cliché.
The upscale eatery is delivering refined dishes with creativity and flair we’ve not experienced since Little NNQ opened up down the road. The staff are sweet – not surly at F. Duck. And the wine list is considered and consistent.
Hong Kong cuisine in Adelaide’s Chinatown to date has been dominated by what Andy calls “Cantonese-style” food. Think sticky-sweet honey chicken and oily brown, hokkien noodles.
“Hong Kong food is kind of like everything mixed together,” says Andy.
“Hong Kong is a big, international city and they’ve got many cultures there. It’s kind of similar to Australia – ruled by the British before, so we have the heavy influence of British culture.
“Other people from other countries, they all stay in Hong Kong and they have their food and it tastes very nice and Hong Kong people take that and make it as a Hong Kong style.”
That means you’ll find Macau-Portugese baked vegetables at F. Duck, alongside possibly the best shallot cake we’ve ever tried – dipped in soy sauce with a sprinkling of cinnamon over the shallow dish of dark brown liquid.
The presentation of the meals, the crockery and glassware – everything – has been considered.
“For me, I think design is important and the dining environment is very important,” says Andy.
“When you walk into a restaurant, before the food comes, the environment gives you a good feeling about the restaurant. That’s why I did some research about the design firms and that’s when I discovered Enoki and Susanna (Bilardo, director of Enoki) did the design of the space and Judd (Crush, director of Enoki) did the graphics and the signage.”
Open since February this year, we’ve walked by F. Duck on several occasions wondering when they would be fully open to the public. At first there was a young woman at a laptop inside working late into the night, then came a sign saying the restaurant would open for a few hours on select nights and to be “patient” while they perfected their menu and service.
“Of course I would like to rush,” says Andy when we ask him about his slowly, slowly approach to opening.
“But I want to make sure things are good enough to serve the customers first, before I fully open. Because I shut for a long time already, I don’t want to disappoint my customers. If they wait for a long time already and then come in and try and feel disappointed then that’s really not good.”
The food at F. Duck is anything but disappointing. This is the level up Chinatown and Gouger Street needs at a time when food and drink culture in our city is booming and boasting a world of innovation and contemporary ideas.
At F. Duck we find the best of the old and the new. Here you can order roast duck – prepared over seven days, dry aged, and crispy golden skinned – alongside a dish we’ve never tried, duck karaage.
“Hong Kong is part of our brand,” says Andy. “I want to introduce Adelaide to our Hong Kong food.”